At San Diego Comic Con in 2016, some of television and film’s greatest composers joined fans to kick things off. These composers discussed how their music elevates the high drama, mystery and mayhem in some of the convention’s favorite cinematic stories. Covering a range of topics, they revealed the in-depth scoring process that enliven what viewers see on the screen. The incredible panelists included Jeff Russo (Fargo, The Night Of, Power, Legion), Mac Quayle (Mr. Robot, American Horror Story, Scream Queens, The People v. O.J. Simpson), Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy, Salem, Kingdom), Mike Suby (The Vampire Diaries, Containment, The Originals), Bill Brown (Dominion, CSI: NY), and Christopher Drake (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Yoga Hosers).
Moderating the panel were celebrity guests, actress Violett Beane (The Flash, The Leftovers) and Drew Roy (Falling Skies). The lively and talented duo talked to the composers about the way that music completely transforms their respective shows. Beane noted that on set, they film without hearing the music, but after the score is added in, “the scene all makes sense and totally works.” She continued, “When you’re acting, you don’t get to see that music and when you see the product, it’s so different. It’s so important for the story to work.”
All of the panelists shared a common love for music dating back to childhood, with this passion leading them to enhancing narratives with their scores. Bill Brown spoke of his start in the industry, relating to the audience that “composing was a dream as a kid. I fell in love with melodies and themes.” Other panelists, too, spoke of their deep appreciation for music. Some of the panelists started out in rock bands, such as Jeff Russo, who recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of his band Tonic’s album Lemon Party. He recalled the influence of that part of his career on his composing, sharing “the one thing I take away from being in a band is collaboration, which you also have to do with filmmakers. You have to incorporate someone’s thought into what you are creating.”
Reemphasizing the importance of collaboration for success, Mac Quayle shared his experience working with visionary showrunners like Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, The People v. O.J. Simpson) and Sam Esmail (Mr.Robot). He discussed the back-and-forth process, in which the composers must fulfill the dreams of their showrunners, while also creating compelling music they feel works. Mac also shared about his experience live-scoring a table-read for a Mr. Robot promotional event, noting how exciting and different compared to how he normally works in his studio. Continuing on Mac’s riff of unique experiences, Jeff Russo, discussed his incorporation of the USC Marching Band into Fargo score. He stated that this was key to the success of the piece, which required heavy drumming, relating that “they played their hearts out.”
Christopher Drake examined the differences in composing for animation and live action. “In animation,” Drake explained, “a lot of the music has to do the heavy lifting because it has to fill the void left by live actors.” Mike Suby also discussed how he creates the music for fan-favorite shows like The Vampire Diaries, noting the unique nature of the show and its music, “the characters’ anger is times ten and their passion is times ten. We use many different elements for the show and used a lot of old world music.”
CW3PR’s “8th Annual Behind The Music” panel also included a host of surprises & teases for the future. Stephen Schwartz, renowned composer for the Broadway hit Wicked, came as a surprise guest to announce that the Wicked film will premiere
December 20, 2019—even more exciting, he is writing 4 new songs for it. Tyler Bates, too, teased the new Guardians of the Galaxy 2, saying “the screenplay for the second movie is the best one I’ve ever read in my life.”
All of the composers agreed on the importance of the story and characters in their music. For Jeff Russo, “The narrative is king, the story is king,” he says. Bill Brown discussed how his themes develop and change from season to season of Dominion, noting, “It is magical to revisit a theme and have it still surprise you.” Christopher Drake summed it up nicely, saying, “It’s all about supporting the story.”
The packed crowd left with a new appreciation for television and film music, excited and eager to continue their Comic-Con adventures.