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“Behind The Music” – Composers Share Stories, Surprises At Comic Con 2016

Composers from left to right: Christopher Drake, Mac Quayle, Jeff Russo, Tyler Bates, Mike Suby and Bill Brown.

It’s not uncommon for “The Flash” actress Violett Beane and “Falling Skies” actor Drew Roy to receive a strong dose of fan love at Comic Con.  During Comic Con 2016, the action hero actors were able to engage in their own fan boy experience as they stood before an elite group of composers.  Beane and Roy moderated CW3PR’s eight annual “Behind the Music” panel – an event that kicked off the four day long expo in San Diego.

The panel featured “Guardians of the Galaxy, Parts 1 and 2” composer Tyler Bates, “CSI: NY” composer Bill Brown, Christopher Drake, composer for “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and “Yoga Hosers”, Jeff Russo – a two time Emmy nominee for his work on “Fargo” Season One and Season Two, Mac Quayle, also celebrating his second Emmy nomination for “Mr. Robot” (he was nominated in 2015 for “American Horror Story: Freak Show”) and “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals” composer Mike Suby.

Roy and Beane kicked off the panel by asking how the panelists became involved with scoring in the first place.  Russo’s professional background came from performing in the rock group Tonic – a group he’s still involved with.  Writing songs and working on music videos exposed him to the narrative qualities of music.  Quayle began singing in his church choir at the age of six and had a successful writing career in New York as a young adult.  When the industry shifted, he moved to LA and found his passion for writing narratively.  Suby had been giving music lessons when one of his students asked him to score a feature he was working on, “The Butterfly Effect.”  The experience opened him to the world of scoring.  As a young boy Drake was attracted to the scores of films including “Saturday Night Fever” and “Star Wars.”  While he played in bands as a teen, he focused on creating a career as a composer.  Like Drake, Brown was also a fan of John Williams scores and noticed at an early age how music transported a viewer through the story and turned his attention to composing.   Bates, a rock musician who currently tours with Marilyn Manson, never imagined himself as a composer until he was asked to do it.  He described his evolution that has allowed him to balance both worlds.

“I scored 18 movies without meeting another composer, and sharing ideas,” said Bates.  “I was used to working with complex personalities.  Eventually (through the arc of becoming a composer) I learned how to become myself.”

Beane and Roy spoke about the excitement they experience when, as actors, they get to hear their scenes completed with the score.  Noting some composers get to make very exciting choices when working out the score, they had a direct question for Russo regarding the second season of “Fargo.”

“I heard you brought in the USC band when you were (creating the score for) ‘Fargo’”, said Roy.

Russo discussed the excitement both the college drum corps members had as they came into the recording studio, and how that excitement helped fuel the recording.

“The producers wanted a rhythmic theme and we discussed using a marching band,” said Russo.  “We had twelve 19-year-old kids playing their hearts out.”

Quayle worked with the producers of “Mr. Robot” and conducted a “live scoring session” during a promotional table read.  Knowing the scene in advance, he brought his laptop and computer to the read and allowed attendees to witness the process.

To heighten the discussion of surprises during composing scores, special guest Stephen Schwartz joined the discussion.  The renown Broadway composer announced that he is adapting his music of the stage play “Wicked” for the live action film due in December, 2019.  In addition to the thrill he has in expanding the compositions to accompany scene changes and action a stage performance can’t accommodate, he’s writing four additional songs for the film.

Before the panel wrapped with an audience Q & A period, the panel focused on composing music for some of Comic Con fans’ favorite content.  Drake, who scores the animated “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”, described the role music plays in helping the viewers understand the emotions and the drama affecting the animated characters.  While animation techniques are highly sophisticated, it cannot duplicate what a live actor projects through their subtle facial gestures and their eyes.

“Music for animation has to do the heavy lifting,” said Drake, “and fill that void.”

Bates noted the concept of the score of “Guardians of the Galaxy” was based on a rock opera.  Noting he was involved with the original from script phase, his process began with him recording himself singing the phrasing.  He then presented the passages to the director for approval before he fleshed them out with full orchestration.  While the audience was eager to learn what he had in store for “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”, the composer remained tight-lipped.

“There may be some reprisals of some main themes, and there may be a few new themes,” said Bates.