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Music Makes The Man: “Better Call Saul” Music Supervisor Thomas Golubic And Composer Dave Porter

Composer Dave Porter and music supervisor Thomas Golubic carefully plot Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) transformation musically in “Better Call Saul.” Photo credit: AMC

By: Marjorie Galas

Members of the “Breaking Bad” family – including characters – found themselves reunited when Vince Gilligan/Peter Gould’s  “Better Call Saul” concept was greenlit.  Composer Dave Porter and music supervisor Thomas Golubic were thrilled to reteam on the prequel that follows Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) transformation into Bad’s sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman.  However, they knew their work was cut out for them.

“Ordinarily shows have a pilot where you can come up with the tone – we had to figure out the tone while the train was already running.”

Noting they’d have to redefine their musical mold forged over the “Breaking Bad” years, Porter and Golubic explored styles highlighting the deeply internal, human struggles examined in “Saul.”  To distinguish the story’s smaller, more personal scale, Porter veered from “Bad’s” synth sounds and chose more organic instrumentation including guitar, piano and percussion.  Recognizing early on that the characters would constantly evolve from one episode to the next, Porter also avoided utilizing reoccurring themes or motifs.  Golubic found that, unlike the source music used in Walter White’s world of chaos and comedy, he could exercise a stylistic curiosity in his selections.  Musical diversity that jumps from patriotic songs to salsa rhythms emphasizes the characters’ simmering changes.  While the genres are broad and abstract, they are tied to each characters behaviors and personalities, grounding them in their reality.

Throughout season two, Porter and Golubic not emphasized the shifts that will eventually bring key characters to their “Breaking Bad” personas, but also the wildly different rates these characters, such as Jimmy and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), make their transitions.  Porter has introduced classic rock guitar, Rhodes piano, vibraphones and stronger percussion, allowing the score to become slightly heavier to mirror Jimmy’s loss of frivolity and carefreeness and Mike’s more rapid decent.   Season two found Golubic contributing more world music as well as synth-heavy selections in the sourced music.   For example, to emphasize and attempt at success made by Jimmy and Kim (Rhea Seehorn), Golubic used a Gypsy King’s song followed by a Bollywood number, symbolizing hopefulness and yearning.

As they have in the past, the two men manage their partnership as composer/music supervisor by sharing their ideas for each section and mutually deciding which selection best moves the story forward.  Because Gilligan works edits without temp music, each segment can be approached with a clean slate.

“Vince and Peter can look at the broader picture, Dave experiences the vulnerability of the moment, and I have to look ahead ad rethink,” said Golubic.  Added Porter, “It’s a balancing of viewpoints.  It is very helpful.”

With producers who want to hear their interpretation before sharing their own, Porter and Golubic play through different interpretations of the scene before selecting which music makes the best dance partner.  If their decisions don’t resonate with the creators, they recognize they have ultimately provided a unique perspective that is valuable to the storytelling process.

“Music is the last of the creative choices,” said Porter.  “Sometimes we are able to bring something they haven’t thought of yet.”