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Changing Components Set The Score

M. Galas

From the interludes in “Glee” to the epic tones of “Game of Thrones,” from building tension in “True Blood” to retaining attention in “Phineas and Ferb,” the music composers who participated in the “Behind the Music with CW3PR” panel at this year’s Comic Con offered their success stories and tips to achieving success.  When the panel concluded, composers Christopher Young, Danny Jacob, Helene Muddiman, James Levine, Robert Duncan, Edward Rogers, Ramin Djawadi and Nathan Barr gathered backstage to share their thoughts on film and television’s current composition landscape.


“Long title themes are very rare these days,” said Robert Duncan, composer for television shows such as “Castle,” “Lie to Me,” and “Terriers.”  “It’s not unusual to be given six seconds for a theme.”


Working on “Castle,” Duncan was faced with the challenge of capturing the masculine essence of the main character, Richard Castle, within seconds.  He developed twenty different versions of the main title track with various themes, a task that was very time consuming and creatively challenging.  In some cases, these short introductory sound bites have a predetermined “feel” that the producers or show creators will request that the title theme encompass.  Duncan recalls producer Brett Ratner asking him to make a track feel “like a Bronx cop.” 


“I thought about what the Bronx meant to me,” recalled Duncan.  “What came to mind immediately was the bucket drumming you hear on the street.  I recorded bucket drumming and used that as a backbone to the opener, and the network loved it.”


For Ramin Djawadi, who’s composed the music for “Iron Man” and the recent re-imagining of “Fright Night” as well as television series such as “Flash Forward” and “Game of Thrones,” the tight deadline schedule for television can prove to be very challenging.


“I treat composing for film and television the same, but the time frame for television is a lot less,” said Djawadi.  “In television you are sometimes given only three days to complete your work.  I try to get the tone of the scene correct, and not worry so much about musical themes.”    


On “True Blood,” Nathan Barr was faced with the challenge of developing a love theme that embodied the romance between lead characters Sookie and Bill that would be woven throughout every episode.  To maintain a fresh approach to the recurring theme and keep his personal interest sparked,  Barr taught himself how to play a series of instruments he hadn’t mastered previously, and incorporate them into the score.


“This kept me from falling into habitual patterns,” said Barr.  “I also try to incorporate musical influences from the Civil War and the 19th century; there are such rich pools of music from those eras to incorporate.”


Danny Jacob has enjoyed the challenge of introducing many musical styles to the animated children’s comedy “Phineas and Ferb.”  Unlike a live-action series, he creates the songs prior to the animated sequences completion; however, he still works with a general theme.  As the show has grown in popularity it has branched out into online entertainment as well as being featured prior to NHL hockey games.  With each new incarnation of the show, Jacob finds he must multi-task, producing pieces of music for each specialized sequence within the same timeline he’s been given for the show.


“It’s a challenge but it’s great,” said Jacob.  “We just keep our nose to the grindstone and do the best work we can do.”


James Levine has also found himself multi-tasking: he composes the musical interludes that bridge the songs and the scenes together in “Glee,” as well as arranging the music for the cast’s live stage tour and recent Super Bowl halftime show.


“I never imagined I’d be creating music for a sports arena,” said Levine.


While he has had the opportunity to create some original songs for the show, his primary focus is to bridge the songs throughout the show.  The acappella theme he created embodies the spirit of high school while also serving as a driver that can intertwine themes from the songs used in the show if he feels there is a purpose to drive that melody forward.


“My goal is to keep it as simple as possible,” said Levine.  “I’m really focused on keeping it pared down.”


As the only woman on the panel, Helene Muddiman feels a stigma continues to be perpetuated throughout the industry against female composers.


“I’m glad you brought up the fact that I’m the only woman,” said Muddiman.  “There is a stigma that women can only write instrumental music or orchestrations, not score an action sequence, and it’s just not true.  The only way we can bring about changes is if you write about it, and break through this self-perpetuating scenario.”