Room Tone


Room Tone

“Room Tone” explores an artist’s conflict — the fine line that separates joy and self-doubt. Along with the broadcast premiere of the short film, native Kansas City filmmaker Morgan Cooper sits down to discuss the inspiration behind the film. Hear his thoughts on inclusion, intentionality and other themes that are adapted from the story based on real-life sound mixer and Cooper's friend, Larry.

AIRED: April 11, 2019 | 0:26:46

- Hi, my name is Morgan Cooper.

I'm a cinematographer and story teller

from Kansas City, Missouri.

I'm really excited for you guys

to check out my new short film, Room Tone.

Stick around after to hear more about the inspiration

behind the film.

behind the film.

- [Lloyd] Sound speed.

This is room tone.

Alright, thank you.

That's a cut on room tone.

- That's a wrap everyone.

Great job today.

(low chatter)

(groovy jazz)

(brush strokes)

- Heh, Lloyd, the archeologist.

- You already know,

take care of the kit, take care of the rent.

- (chuckles) I'll see you tomorrow, man.

- Yessir.

(groovy jazz)


(turn signal clicking)

(humming and tapping)

(car horn honking)

- [Driver Behind] Let's go, common.


(mellow scatting)

(soft jazz plays)

(light switch clicks)

(angelic piano)

(light switch clicks)

(door closes)

(birds chirping)

(mellow groovy guitar)

(reggae music)

- [Film Man] Patio, take one, marker.

(upbeat drumming)

Font lawn, take three, marker.

- Sound speed.

Camera speed.

- Camera speed.

- [Film Man] Garden, take two, marker.

(door opens)

(upbeat drumming)

(upbeat drumming and jazz)

- Hold for plane.

Thank you, that's a cut on room tone.

(jazzy piano)

- [Film Man] Driveway, take one, marker.

- [Director] And action!

- Well today we find ourselves with a little bit

of a not so good situation.

The driveway doesn't wanna cooperate.

Things is not quite as wide

as it needs to be,

- [Son] Yeah, we really got our work cut out for us.

Me and dad just got off the phone with the contractor.

It's a little bit of a setback

but luckily we'll be able to--


- Hey Lloyd,

we're gonna grab a quick OCF with Kaleem here in 10,

and then we're wrapped.

We'll get wild lines first thing tomorrow?

- Sounds good.

- Thanks.


(phone vibrating)

- Alright Kaleem, Ima lob you up real quick.

- Okay, thank you, sir.

- Yeah, no problem.

You got anything in that pocket right there?

- There you go.

- I'm gonna go up under your shirt real quick.

- Alright.

- Try not to take no chest hair with me.

- (chuckles) Thank you.

- That feel alright?

- Yeah, it's good.

- Alright.

So how you been, man?

- Oh, pretty good.

I bowled for the first time in almost 10 years.

- Oh yeah?

- Took the grandkids to the lanes.

- There you go.

I know you bowled that perfect 300, right?

- Uh, 180. (laughs)


But you know, that might have been

the most fun I've had bowlin'.


Back in the day, bowling was my life.

It was so stressful, man.

Trying to go pro.

And then I started to hate it.

One day I just stopped.

I had forgotten why I started bowling in the first place.

- Why is that?

- To have fun. (chuckles)

It wasn't about money, it was about havin' fun.

You know, talk a little (bleep) with the fellas,

you know?

Crackin' a brew.


It is funny how things come full circle.

- Yeah, they always do.

- Mhmm.

- [Film Man] Backyard, take one, marker.

- [Lloyd] Sound set.

- [Director] And action!

- Now we come to the fun part.

We get to set up the backyard.

We got some brand new furniture comin' in.

(weed eater revving)

- Hold for weed eater.

Alright sound is up.

- [Director] And action!

- And now we come to the fun part.

We get to set up the backyard.

We've got some brand new furniture comin' in.

We're gonna bring it in--

(weed eater revving)

- Hold for weed eater.

- Everyone, back in 20.

- Copy that.

(phone vibrates)

We just need 20 minutes, man.

I think he's done.

I haven't heard him for a minute.

- Alright everyone, we're back in.

(bell wings)

(intense drumming)

- Are they feeding you on that set?

- Yeah, not like this though.


- Well you need to stay away from that junk food.

Yeah, I saw it on Facebook.

All that candy and pop.

- Whatchu doin' on Facebook?

- I saw it.

- Mhmm.

- So how's everything goin'?

- Everything been goin' good.

I mean, I'm still workin' on that show,

Father Son Flippers.

And I just booked a four a commercial shoot,

start in about a couple weeks.

So, I mean, I'm doin' good.

- Oh my goodness, I'm not gone see you for another year.

- Keep cookin' like this, you might see me tomorrow.


- (sighs) I'm proud of you, son.

I really am proud of you.

Okay, what else is goin' on.

Somethin's on your mind?

- I just...

Been thinking about playin' again.

- Playin' what, the game box? (chuckles)

- No, mama.


Kinda miss it.

- (deep sigh) Lloyd...

- I know, I know.

- You got a good thing goin' on here.

- Mama, I know.

- And you were miserable.

Always on the road.

Never havin' time for your family, your girlfriend.

Barely eating.

You hit rock bottom because of that piano.

It broke my heart seeing you like that.

- It broke my heart too, mama.


Maybe my heart was in the wrong place.

I mean, my identity was in that keyboard, mama.

Wasn't no fall back playin' or nothin' like that.

Sho' didn't know I was gonna be a sound mixer,

workin' on TV shows, making good money.

- Then why put yourself through that again?

- I wanna play again without the pressure

of trying to make it as a musician, you know?


It's been five years since I say down at them keys.

I just...

I just think I'm ready, you know?

I'm ready.

- I just...

I never though you'd pick that thing up again.



Well if you say it's just for fun.

You know when you're happy, I'm happy, Lloyd.

I'm your number one fan.

And I love you.

- I love you too, mama.

(upbeat jazzy drumming)

(upbeat smooth jazz)


(night club chatter)

- Can I get you anything else, man?

- I'm good.


- Cool.

(jazz mellows)

(door opens)

(deep sigh)

(light switch clicks)



(smooth jazzy keyboard)

(upbeat jazz band)

(upbeat jazzy drumming)

- Action.

- So, Room Tone is a film about a sound mixer

in Kansas City, Missouri, named Lloyd.

in Kansas City, Missouri, named Lloyd.

And Lloyd, works on a TV show, he loves his job,

but he can't let go of an unfulfilled dream.

In Room Tone, I wanted to explore the balance

between creativity and passion and also responsibility.

Room Tone was inspired by a guy named Larry,

a good friend of mine, who I worked on a TV show with.

And over the course of the shoot,

we became really good friends.

He's just a really, really funny, neat guy.

And he had all these really cool idiosyncrasies.

We worked on a home renovation show,

so during certain scenes, it would get really dusty.

So he would take a paint brush and brush off his kit.

And I was always just like,

man, Larry, you can't make this stuff up with this guy.

He's just one of those types of guys.

One day, after a scene,

Larry was doing room tone.

Where your sound guy basically gets 30 seconds of tone

with everybody completely silent.

And it's really important to make sure

the sound and post sounds really smooth

when they make their cuts.

Its' a must on set.

So he's recording this room tone

and everybody's quiet on set when room tone's happening.

And I had this crazy, really weird idea

that came to me.

I was like, I'm gonna write a film about Larry.

And it's gonna be called Room Tone.

So literally, in that 30 seconds,

I can't even explain it,

I wrote the entire film in my head.

Every idea that made it to screen,

happened in that 30 seconds,

which has never happened to me before.

So he calls cut on room tone,

I walk over to him, literally,

I walk right over to him, I said,

hey, just to let you know, I wrote a film about you,

Ima shoot it next month.

And he'a was like, yo, whatever man.

Shut up Cooper, nah, you're not gone do that.

And I did.

That day after we wrapped,

I went to a coffee shop and I wrote it down.

I got it down and I sent it to a few friends

who helped me fine tune some things.

But yeah, that day I came up with the story

and we shot it next month.

I wanted to tell an honest story here.

If you look at Larry and you look at Lloyd,

I mean, they're really on in the same.

- Maybe my heart was in the wrong place?

I mean, my identity was in that keyboard, mama.

Wasn't no fall back playin' or nothin' like that.

Sho' didn't know I was gonna be a sound mixer

workin' on TV shows, makin' good money.

- I really relate with his character when I saw the film.

It's kinda like, what I go through.

Only I was working st PF Chang's

and wasn't cool enough to have his job.


- So Eddie was really the wind beneath my wings

when it came to this film.

And he was kind enough to allow me

to use his music in film.

Couldn't think of a better artist to collaborate

than Eddie.

- I play a lot of everything.

I guess through jazz, I play a lot of American music.

From reggae, soul, hip-hop,

R and B, neo-soul.

It worked out that some of the songs that he picked,

we recorded at Green Lady on our live album there.

It's pretty raw an unedited.

There's no overdubs.

It's just from that, which is out last night there.

I thought the music was very important

and and integral part to the film.

I didn't really get to hear how it was put together

until I saw the first edit.

And then I came in and added some solo piano stuff.

That you hear when he's eating dinner with his family

and stuff like that.

- It's been five years since I sat down at them keys.

I just...

I just think I'm ready, you know?

I'm ready.

- So, coming in at that part of it,

was interesting because I had to be in the moment.

Having to see a set or some action going on.

And then color the moment.

You really have to be careful with

how each chord or harmony sounds.

You know, you're focused on melody and color

and the relationship between

what music really does to human.

Like, what are we really doing?


At the end of the day, I'm improvising that.

We take a couple runs at it,

but every time I'm improvising it

or Coop would give a little bit of direction.

So then I just take that idea that I had

and I kinda shave it down to something that more fits.

It's great.

It's a different way of improvising.

That's jazz.

That's what that word means.

You can't really define it,

but that's what it is.

It's the art of improvisation.

I mean, when I saw the first edit,

I was in awe for a few seconds.

Just because I've heard that catalog and I wrote that

but the way that Morgan used it and put it in the film

and the way in the story you hear it differently.

When he closes the door and the music goes back.

(door opens)

(upbeat jazz)

(light clicks on)

- The first song, I was like,

aw man, I didn't even realize that was us

for a couple seconds.

It just sounded great but it didn't hit me.

So when you don't recognize your own sound,

I think that's really cool.

- Yeah, this is a really important scene,

where our protagonist, Lloyd,

is seeing an old friend, so to speak.

So we gotta capture that in a couple different time periods

throughout this piece.

And I'm excited to see it in context

for the rest of the film.

I think it's gonna be good.

Got my A team on it.

- Hey, you're Morgan Cooper, right?

Can I get your autograph?

- I think it's important.

I'm not a writer, I'm not a director,

I'm a cinematographer.

At the same time though, I'm a story teller.

And I think it's really important

for people in my space to not be afraid

to step outside the box if an idea comes to you.

It was a great opportunity to sit in both seats.

My goal as a creative, isn't just to paint pretty pictures.

It's to, through my platform,

through my abilities and gifts,

to celebrate my culture.

To celebrate my community.

It was really important for me to highlight

the black talent that we have in this city,

both in front of the camera an behind the camera.

The story of making and and the people I made this film with

is just as exciting as the story that we shared on screen.

That's a really powerful thing to me.

And I think it's something that hopefully

can lead to more stories of my community

being told at a high level.

There's so much talent in this city

that I feel is vastly overlooked.

We're not considered a really hot market for narrative work.

It was really important for me

to work with an all Kansas City crew.

At the end of the day, this is home.

Watching them work was just really, really amazing.

And true pros at every level.

Yeah, great experience all around.

You had Harvey Williams, who's a theater veteran.

And then you have Frank Oakley,

who completely just carried this project on his back.

We just really, really inspire each other

with out conversations.

And when you got a Johnny Stark as your first AD,

the bar is raised.

When you got a Ian Tremble as your gaffer,

the bar is raised.

So those guys really allowed me to maintain the bandwidth

to work my actors in the way I'd like to.

I think it's really important to create with purpose.

Because in my space,

it's a very white dominated space.

I work in the commercial space.

You know, I'm shooting these commercials.

Usually the agencies I work with are mostly white.

The directors that hire me are mostly white.

The people who are writing copy are mostly white.

So when people see me, I think often times,

there's a bit of a surprise.

A young, black cinematographer who's working at this level.

I don't want that to be the case 20 years from now

when I look back on my career.

Kind of the industry how it is and how it's shaped

is very much a reflection of society.

People who are in this field

are usually people who are more well off,

who had opportunities growing up.

Who were able to afford film school

and be alumnists at these USC's or UCLA's.

And so you don't see a lot of,

especially below the line,

everybody who isn't producer, writer, director.

They're the day players on set.

And that was also really important to me with this film.

Is to showcase the below the line black technicians

in our space.

Sharing Lloyd's story as a black sound mixer

was really important to me

to celebrate the black technicians in our industry.

Yeah, it means everything to me to give back

and to show that we're out here.

Once again, really walk the walk

when it comes to the stories I'm telling

and the people I'm working with.

- Good, man.

Last day, I'm ready to wrap it all up, man.

- [Camera Man] Was it worth it?

- Yeah, absolutely.


And I learned a few things on sound.

So maybe, you know, if this actin' thing don't work out,

got another side hustle.

- With black films, black stories,

often times, these characters are dreamt up people

of what this writer thinks black people are like.

I just wanted to tell an honest story

and show that hey, we're normal black people.

We have normal stories.

It's not about embellishment, not about this or that,

it's just there.

So many hard working black people that just show up

and just wanna do a good job everyday.

That's it.

So it was really important for me to tell

and show the normalcy of my community.

That's how culture changes.

That's how culture in society shifts,

is when people see these stories

that are honest and sincere.

It can maybe change somebody's thoughts

of what they might think of somebody of color.

And what the black creatives in this city have to offer.

To show that we're out here.

I want to inspire black creatives

to take it a step further with their art.

To not be afraid to tell our stories.

You know, I think of my nephew,

I think of my cousins,

I think of all these people who,

they look at me, they look up to me,

and what do they see?

I want them to know that hey, you can tell your story.

You can wake up and be whoever you wanna be.

You don't have to just be what the society that we live in

thinks you should be.

I hope anyone who watches this film is inspired.

Maybe inspired to pick up an old passion

that they had in the back of their closet.

Somethin' that they thought

they weren't good enough to pursue.

That's really my hope with this film,

is just to inspire people.

(light mellow jazz)


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