One of the questions that I, the interviewer, usually receive is “Where are you from?” It’s very rare that anyone has heard of the Lehigh Valley — unless I mention Billy Joel‘s classic song “Allentown” — let alone have any experiences in it. Here to buck that trend is composer Roman Molino Dunn. I met Roman through social media when he paid a compliment to my interview with the Downton Abbey composer, John Lunn. If you’re in this industry, it means the world when anyone reads your work or compliments it. Overjoyed, I messaged Roman back and asked if he’d like to sit down and chat about his upcoming projects, including one for National Geographic titled Animals of America’s National Parks which premiered on the National Geographic channel and will premiere on Disney+ at some point in the future. In this interview, Roman discussed his experience working with Paul Schrader on The Card Counter, composing the score for a National Geographic project and, of course, the Lehigh Valley.
Coastal House Media: It is a pleasure to actually meet you — it’s always fun to chat with somebody online first and then actually see their face. So you lived in the Poconos, right? I’m from the Lehigh Valley area — not too far away — and would love to hear more about your story.
Roman Molino Dunn: Yeah, I grew up in this very small town called Kunkletown, which most people probably don’t know [about], but if you’re from Pennsylvania, the closest landmark would be the Blue Mountain ski area. So, I’m kind of in the woods, right on the Appalachian Mountain trail.
And then I went to school in the Lehigh Valley — I feel like we were probably not too far.
CHM: Did you go to Lehigh University?
RMD: No, no. I didn’t go to college in [the] Lehigh Valley, I went to grade school and high school at a school called Moravian [Academy].
CHM: Well, it’s always fun to talk to somebody from this area because people are from Pittsburgh or they know Harrisburg or Philadelphia, but Lehigh Valley is rarely mentioned. Before I get off of the topic, what’s your favorite when you do come back if you ever do?
RMD: There is a place called Vegan Treats in Bethlehem and my wife and I are both long-time vegans. That’s one of the few spots in the Lehigh Valley that is unparalleled, so I love going there.
CHM: How did you jump from the little Lehigh Valley, all the way to LA?
RMD: Sure. So after high school, which is when I left the Lehigh Valley, I went off to college and studied in New York City. I did an undergraduate [program] in music theory and a graduate in music composition. And while I was studying that I was also doing what’s called transcription — so I was listening to music and writing out sheet music [as] my job, essentially, and then that turned into arranging music for artists that I was transcribing for.
Then I started taking them to the recording studio and that turned into arranging [and then] turned into producing. And after a while, I had enough clients that it made sense to open a recording studio. So I found a business partner and we opened a recording studio in Manhattan. I did that for about a decade and I still own that recording studio. So I go back to New York a bunch to check in on it; I check on the engineers and record if I have to, but through the recording studio, I started scoring more films because we would do everything you’d think a recording studio would do like recording bands and artists, but we also did commercials and sometimes the commercials would have us write the music for it. And then sometimes those directors of the commercials would go on to direct their own films outside of the agency, and I started getting the phone calls for scoring those. One thing led to another and it’s what I wanted to be doing. So it was kind of this full circle from composing to opening the studio, to getting into composing again and once I started doing like network [television] and studio films, I decided it was time to move to Los Angeles. So that’s how I got here.
CHM: How hard is it to open a music studio? I feel like that can’t be easy, especially in New York of all places.
RMD: Yeah, it’s hard, especially back then. So that was like 11 years ago and home recording was less of a thing — I mean, after COVID, everybody figured out how to do it at home really well — but back then the equipment that you needed and the space that you need, especially in New York City, is really difficult and to get a commercial lease where you can make noise.
And our whole business plan was it had to be in Manhattan. We didn’t wanna do Brooklyn or Queens or anything because we wanted to attract higher-end clients and clients who might be passing through New York or flying in from Europe or Los Angeles, so that was the business plan to make sure it was in Manhattan. And it posed a lot of challenges, but I think it was rewarding in that sense.
CHM: Who was the biggest client that you landed?
RMD: Sure. It’s kind of funny, a lot of the music that I did was for reality TV stars, so I produced a lot of songs for, like, The Real Housewives, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Love & Hip Hop, all of these classic reality shows of the last decade. I also did a lot of songs for Howard Stern and I was on the show a few times. Those were some of the bigger clients in the music world.
Of course, [with] all the films that I’ve done, I still own the studio, so it’s still part of that business. I run the financial stuff through the business, instead of just doing it as a freelance composer.
CHM: I was reading over your credits and I think it was The Card Counter, and it said that you engineered the music, or I think that was the term.
RMD: Yeah, I was a music producer.
CHM: Can you talk to me about that role?
RMD: That was a pretty atypical role in some ways, but a very typical role in other ways. So, like I said, running a recording studio for a decade, you do everything, you record music for bands, you record podcasts, you do ADR for films, and one of the things that I had the pleasure of doing right in the height of COVID too, they hired me to record the soundtrack. So I was the producer, the recording engineer, mixed some of the tracks, worked with Robert Levon Been, who composed most of the music for that, and I’m sitting behind the board hanging the microphones, doing initial mixes, that kind of stuff.
The way that job came about was they were looking for a recording engineer who also scored films because a lot of times when you just go to a studio, you get an engineer, you get somebody who’s used to doing mostly commercial pop music and there are very different needs. You need to be able to sync the music and work as an interim music editor and work closely with the composers.
And Paul Schrader’s sitting there the whole time telling us what to do, so it’s a totally different vibe than a recording session. They knew my background from doing some HBO films and they wanted a composer who could also engineer.
CHM: I didn’t realize you worked that closely with Paul Schrader during that process.
RMD: He was there every day during the height of COVID. And Paul’s slightly older these days and he had some health concerns as he was getting older so we were getting tested every day and [wore] the highest-end masks that we could get — it was quite a scene. I’ll always remember those sessions pretty well because normally when I’m scoring a film, the director just sends me the movie, maybe we’ll have a few initial meetings, and then I go to work. Because they were writing songs — which is why I was producing [and] I didn’t really score that film.
CHM: What was that process with Paul Schrader like? He’s such an interesting figure right so is there any sort of tidbit that you learned working with him that most people just wouldn’t know?
RMD: I don’t know. I mean we had a lot of fun, there was a bit of drinking here and there [smiles]. We spent a lot of time watching movies, which was kind of weird in the sense that normally when people book the studio, you know, we charge hourly for the space and it’s not cheap to go in there and record, so just hanging out, watching movies and drinking was really welcomed. I mean, it’s not atypical for a music session, but it’s a little less typical for a scoring/ producing session.
CHM: Do you remember your first scoring project?
RMD: The very first thing I ever scored was something when I was in college. I went to school for classical music and funnily enough, most of the music I do now for like network projects are not classical they tend to be more hybrid, synth-driven popular music infused with classical. I really, really loved Renaissance and bar music when I was studying and the first thing I ever scored was a period piece called The Summoning of Every Man and it was just period music. So, recorders, violas, harpsichords and all of that stuff. It wasn’t a big project, but it was my first time getting [the] picture and scoring to it. So I think back on that sometimes as like, “Oh, wow, this was the first time.” But most people in my seat tend to remember the first time that they had something [for] like a major studio or a network.
Sometimes I think back to the first project that I had on a major channel as my first as opposed to something little that you did when you were in college.
CHM: Does scoring-to-picture get easier, and do you prefer that over scoring without picture?
RMD: Oh, I think it’s better than scoring without picture. I’ve always considered myself a collaborative musician, and it was that way [when] producing music for artists where it’s like, I’m not writing music for myself; I’m writing music for somebody else and with a film [and] that somebody else is speaking to you or making collaborative requests through the edit through their picture.
So I find it far more inspiring than writing music and then somebody dropping it in. I actually do not favor writing music outside of the picture [laughs]; I really like getting the full cut. I’m sure you’ve heard this from other composers, [but] it’s beautiful when there’s no temp score in there and you get to impart the musical language on the film and not just emulate something.
CHM: You mentioned that you use synthesizers a lot, which I think is pretty cool. Every time I hear synthesizers, I think of the Joy Divisions of the world, you know, the eighties kind of rock music or whatever, but I’m curious as to whether or not there is a particular reason you enjoy using them and how you infuse them into your music?
RMD: So I just did a film for Netflix, uh, this year called AI Love You, and the music for that film was very eighties synth-wave. The use of synthesizers in that was typical in the sense of what you would assume a popular culture usage of synthesizers is except it was metaphysical in that film because it was a film about AI. So the synthesizers serve the purpose of electronics and differentiate the computer world from the human world, which would be something more like violins or pianos or acoustic instruments.
But another film that I did called Huracán — which is on HBO Max — the synthesizers in that film are not this like typical pop eighties or early nineties synth. The usage there was to differentiate again between human elements and things that are a bit more cold, and so in that film, in particular, the synths give this deeper, colder feeling that outlines the subtext of the film because it’s a person dealing with mental illness and the synths are very unnerving the way that I was using them.
Other times it’s like this other film I just did last year called Snakehead. The synthesizers are used in a way [that] you might not know that they’re even being used because you are recording acoustic instruments into them. So in that film, for example, I played a whole bunch of violin and cello lines into the synthesizer — so you’re sampling it, essentially, but then feeding it through and coupling it with some actual sounds that are made only on the synthesizer. And in that way you get this kind of unique color that’s very distinct to the film. So it’s not always something you should be aware of — [such as] in some scores like Snakehead — [but] I’m saying you wouldn’t know that their synthesizers necessarily be like, “Wow, that’s very different. That doesn’t sound exactly like a violin yet but I know it’s organic,” whereas in the AI Love You, it’s all synth on purpose to give you a nostalgic vibe.
CHM: I know you’ve also done a score for a project on Disney+ or National Geographic, right?
RMD: Yeah, so it is a National Geographic-Disney film, but it premiered on Friday on linear television, live TV, which is neat these days to actually have something do that first because a lot of times it just goes straight to the streamer. This one, because it was a special, they did it on Friday Primetime TV National Geographic first and then it’ll go to Disney+ eventually; I’m not exactly sure when, but probably soon.
CHM: Was this your first time scoring a natural documentary?
RMD: No, no, I had done ’em in the past but never for National Geographic. As we talked about before, I’ve [been] a vegan for a very long time, so to do a nature documentary for National Geographic, it’s kind of the pinnacle of nature docs. It was very humbling and I was grateful to work with them because I remember reading National Geographic as a kid. And I’ve done other nature documentaries, but nothing as big as a National Geographic production.
CHM: Can you kind of give a little bit of a preview of what’s to come in your score,? I like doing this to put composers on the spot, so could you describe your score for that in three words or less?
RMD: I might need more than three words, but in general, it’s orchestral, organic and grand introspective — because it’s big, big music. There are sweeping outdoor shots, so you need large orchestral music. But the film is really about the animals of the national parks and how they were bordering on extinction when the national parks were founded and because of the national parks, the numbers were able to get greater and they didn’t go extinct a lot of these animals. So it’s a film about like hope for the animals. So I had to present that, but it’s also about America’s national park; so there are very Americana, orchestral things that you’ll hear in their pastoral big orchestral stuff. So it runs the gamut, but there are no synthesizers in that one.
CHM: I also noticed that your music is on Apple Music. So for somebody like me, if you just wanted to introduce me to some of your music, do you have certain albums or maybe scores that you would recommend to me? Let’s call it your “Essentials” playlist.
RMD: I really love my score for everything honestly, but I should make an essentials playlist [smiles] — I think you’ve just woken me to something because I’m the kind of person who releases most of the music for a film. A lot of soundtracks don’t do that; they’ll like get rid of the more ambient, or moody pieces. I tend to leave all of that stuff there because there are certain people that like that and I wanna do the film justice and create the vibe.
So that does turn off some people when listening to it on Apple [Music] because you have to be a film score lover or have seen the picture to enjoy it. So there’s an album that I released called Hybrid Heart that’s on Spotify [and] Apple Music which has tidbits of a bunch of different films but no full scores with like the moody [and] ambient pieces in there.
But of course, most composers will tell you their favorite thing to listen to is whatever their most recent project is [smiles]. I won’t do that because Living Wild: Animals of America’s National Parks [because] the soundtrack’s not up there since it just came out and they don’t always release all the music for documentaries, which is what it is and it keeps people watching it, which is cool.
So I wouldn’t say I have an “essentials” [album], but I think I’ll put together an essentials playlist. People really love the Snakehead score because it’s so very different and I got some really great writeups on wonderful sites for that one. My other soundtracks have been reviewed well., but that one seemed to be somewhat of a standout among the critics if we can use that as a litmus test.
CHM: That kind of spawned another question for me, do you ever look at reviews?
RMD: Yes. First of all, the score in general very rarely gets reviewed except by people like yourself who wanna speak to the composer. It’s such an afterthought for most people’s reviews, unfortunately, but it is what it is. We’re working towards the narrative as a whole, so that’s our job and I’m okay with that.
If the film did well, the music did well because it served its function to make the film do well. So it’s not something you expect, but my two biggest moments probably were when Roger Ebert [the website] actually reviewed the music [and] when The Hollywood Reporter or Deadline actually mentioned the music. And that’s why Snakehead kind of stood out to me, because that one got people [to] actually mention the music — so it’s probably a good sign. That was one of the scores that resonated with audiences the most outside of the film.
So I do read them [reviews]. I’m very much looking for [any] mention of it [my score]. Most people just set up Google alerts and then if you get one, you’re definitely gonna check it.
Living Wild: Animals of America’s National Parks premiered on the National Geographic channel on September 7.
Ginny & Georgia Composers Lili Haydn and Ben Bromfield Talk About Their ‘Eclectic’ and ‘Sensitive’ Score
Season 2 of ‘Ginny & Georgia’ is streaming on Netflix now.
From the opening scene of the second season of Ginny & Georgia, I was welcomed with an amazing musical score by Lili Haydn and Ben Bromfield. Whilst this show is not generally my cup of tea, the music was just so interesting. How does “Welcome Back Bitches” nail such a modern sound akin to LCD Soundsystem’s “oh baby”? How do they manage to shift between that tone and more of a somber, piano-driven number like “Not a Murderer” or the Americana guitars on “Childs Play (Hunter’s Song)”?
I had the pleasure of speaking to both Lili Haydn and Ben Bromfield about their latest work. We talked all about their fantastic score, but more importantly, we began by talking about cats. Yes, you read that right.
Be sure to check out the second season of Ginny & Georgia on Netflix now, and you can hear Lili Haydn’s latest single, “Woman Life Freedom,” here.
Coastal House Media: I have a sort of fun question for each of you to start. Ben, I’ll start with you, I was looking at your website and I saw a picture of a cat on your website, so I was curious, what’s their name and age?
Ben Bromfield: You know, we have a couple of cats in my family, so that’s Cammy. She’s now, I think 14 or 15. She’s going strong. She’s heavily medicated at this point, but she’s a sweet, happy cat. We’ve got another named Oscar who has rapidly gone from being a kitten to a pretty chunky guy. And then we’ve got our dog Jones, who is the light of my life.
Lili Haydn: [laughs] Well, the fact that you’re showing us pictures of your cats — you’re speaking my language because I am obsessed with my cats and I have the best cat treat in the world. And my kitten is gonna rear her head, and both cats are rapidly approaching. Both of them are circling the den [laughs].
You gotta get your cats this [shows package to the camera] — they’re chicken breast tenders. They’re really good for them and they go crazy for them.
CHM: Since you’re both cat people then can I ask you guys each, what’s your favorite thing about having a cat?
Haydn: Kissing them. Kissing cats is like my favorite thing to do in the world, I think more than anything else, to be honest.
CHM: Even more so than playing the violin?
Haydn: More than anything in the world.
Bromfield: I’m always amazed by how smart they are. There’s this thing called a puzzle box. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that, but it’s more of a dog thing where like you put a treat inside a cardboard box, and then you just leave the dog [to] go for it. And then they rip it apart and it’s fine.
I made one and Oscar just absolutely hijacked it. But my other cat, Cammy, does this thing, and I love old cats because they have so much character at this point, but when you pick her up, she wraps her arms around your neck and we call her a koala-cat and she just sort of like hangs on to you and it’s the sweetest thing. She really is the sweetest cat.
CHM: Aw, that’s adorable. Well, both of you guys have adorable cats. Lily, I was listening to your cover recently of “Kashmir,” I found it on YouTube, and I was just curious cause I know that you also opened for Robert Plant and Jimmy Page a few years back. I don’t know when that was recorded in relevance to that, but did they ever hear your cover of that song, and what were their reactions?
Haydn: I don’t know if Jimmy Page heard it, but Robert said he loved it. And I got their blessing before I did it because they’re real artists. I mean like they’re not just some pop sensation, as you know, and they’re not just legends that have let their golden days pass them by. They’re people that seek out new music that excites them. That’s why they were open to having somebody like me open for them. They really are curious and I wanted to honor the seriousness with which they approached their music when I covered it. So getting their blessing was really important.
CHM: Well, it’s an amazing cover, and you guys are both real artists as well. I don’t know if you guys have worked on any other projects together, but how were you guys paired up for Ginny & Georgia?
Bromfield: I’m gonna start this [and then] I’m gonna throw it to Lily this time. My career in scoring started in a typical way where I was a composer’s assistant before I was a composer, and I got to work on a bunch of shows and I got to know the process really well. And the majority of that work was done for this guy, Tree Adams, who’s a dear friend and mentor — I call him my sensei. Tree is a great TV and film composer, and I [have] worked for him for five years now. He plays with his band sometimes and they were playing a gig [and] I came out to support him and sit in a little bit on keys. Lili was also there because she had her own relationship with Tree.
Haydn: I used to play violin and sing for him a lot, and then I actually reached out to him when I was trying to pitch on a show that I thought that I was right for. But I knew I wouldn’t get taken seriously as a television composer having not done TV before without somebody who was a veteran, so I reached out to him and he was generous enough to say he would pitch with me. We didn’t get that show, but he kept me in mind so that when Ben, who I actually did get to meet and jam with at Tree’s gig, when Ben reached out to Tree for recommendations for a woman composer for this show to pitch, Tree recommended me and then we had remembered that we played together. It all kind of happened very quickly. And I was actually on my way to India for a performance and I was emailing and putting my reel together at the airport, and to this day we still communicate on WhatsApp because most of our initial conversations were done internationally.
So we just threw it together. We had a sense that we would work well together because we had jammed and Tree felt like we would, and we both work on the same platform, same program — Pro Tools — and we pitched and it just came together.
But I have to say [about] our chemistry, you never really know how you’re ultimately gonna work together with somebody in a pressure situation. And it’s just been magical [and] very lucky collaboration because we complement each other’s skillsets. While we’re both very fluid improvisers, and that has allowed us to create some music that neither of us would’ve created on our own.
CHM: Ben, you’ll answer for Lilly and vice versa. What is it about the other person’s style that attracted you to them and what did you think that they brought to the table with this score?
Bromfield: Great question. There’s a lot of things I could say about this, but I will just say [that] this is not the first time I’ve done a co-composer thing with somebody, and I think that in general, one of the things I like about it is that you get to learn from the other person. Now Lili has a very different way of thinking about music to me than me and I feel like I’ve just learned a lot from working with her about that mindset. I’m going to simplify it a bit and call it “quality over quantity,” which is great as somebody who has more experience spending a lot of time on less minutes of music than me because come from having to score and doing so much music so fast. There’s a sense where it’s not that it’s not quality, it’s just that you can’t really focus on anything [for] too long.
So I think from collaborating with Lili, as somebody who has done those deep dives into music, even if we don’t always have time to do that for Ginny & Georgia — because it’s a TV show — I think that I’ve gotten a lot out of that influence from her, which is something that I feel like you either need to find within yourself or you need to get inspired by somebody else.
And just to round that out, I’m now doing for the first time in my career of about 12 years or so, I’m creating music as art or not for score. I’m writing [and] releasing albums and creating music that’s just for people to listen to and I don’t feel like I would be as comfortable doing that now if it wasn’t for the influence of working with somebody who has so much experience doing that.
Haydn: Oh, that’s nice — thanks! I think it’s relevant to just say what our specific backgrounds are. I come from playing classical music as a kid and growing up with that, but I also started making records when I was 20 — and I’ve made a bunch of them. I started scoring and being a part of other people’s teams as a player and singer, so I didn’t have experience in television. But I think that the production skills [of] record making has been [useful], and there’s a melodicism that I come to the table with as a violinist and singer.
But what Ben brings to the table, first of all, just his incredible virtuosity as a player and composer. He’s a really smart problem-solver and also has an incredible work ethic — [he] just knows how to get shit done. And his experience as a consummate composer’s assistant, as a person who just knows how [to] get from A to Z just expertly, and politically, I’ve learned a lot from him in that way in terms of how I approach things more as an artist and I will sometimes speak my mind when it’s not necessarily the best political move [smiles], so I’ve learned to [say] like, “Hey, Ben, are you cool with it if I say ‘x, y [and] z’?” and he’ll say, “Why don’t you just dial that back a little” [laughs].
But just on a musical tip, I think he’s just so fluid. He’s got a can-do attitude so that there’s nothing that can’t be done. And so it’s like the sky’s the limit and we can do anything together. It’s really fun.
Bromfield: I will just say that your “squeaky wheel-ness,” while that maybe at one point I thought was a liability, has also been a good influence on me because now I’m a little bit of a “squeaky-ier wheel.” Sometimes I have a tendency to be a little quiet and let things just go along. Now I’m a little more comfortable just generally asking for stuff, because if people say, no, it’s not the worst thing, and so being a squeaky wheel can be sometimes good, I think, being somebody who just says what they feel. I think I could use a little more of that. And so that’s also been a good influence. Thank you, Lili [laughs].
CHM: I’m gonna put you guys on the spot again — I don’t know who wants to take this first, but I like to ask composers this question because you guys know the work better than anybody, but if you had to describe your score in three or fewer words, what would they be?
Haydn: I’ll start with one word; I don’t wanna do all three, I wanna pick some wisely — quality over quantity [laughs] — eclectic.
Bromfield: I thought of that too — [that’s the] first thing I thought of. I’m trying to think if I can think of another one. Eclectic; see, that one makes it hard because I could say another one, but it only applies to some of the music, right? Is it weird for me to say female? I mean, I think that the female aspect of the show is an important thing in the music as well. Sometimes [it’s] signified by Lilly’s voice, the way we use it in the score. I dunno, it’s hard [laughs].
Haydn: I think about the role of feminism or the female gaze in the show — most of the creative team are women — and they wanted a female composer to be a part of it. I don’t think of myself as a woman composer — although I am on the board of the Alliance for Women Film Composers — but I think that what is relevant about that is that because this show is very much from a woman’s perspective, being a woman, I pick up on subtle emotional threads.
In college, I had an eating disorder [so] I know what that looks like and they’re dropping subtle hints in the show. So there are moments [that] I’m attuned to, certain dramatic moments that I might not be if I hadn’t lived it, and that allows me to have a sensitivity to certain things that allows me to bring a little bit more sensitivity in the music to that moment. I think maybe the word is sensitive as opposed to female. But it’s really about being sensitive to the female gaze.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with that concept of the female gaze, but so much of what we’ve been inundated with in our Western culture has been from a male perspective. So when you get something that’s done from a female perspective, it’s a different lens and they call that the female gaze.
Another word that I’m gonna steal this from Sarah Lampert. I think she once described “Georgia’s Theme,” which is the first or maybe the second track of our Season One soundtrack, is used throughout the show and it’s represented in the season two soundtrack with some sort of remixed versions. Anyway. Sarah once described that piece as sardonic — and I really like that. I don’t know if that applies to all the music, but I think it’s a great word. And I think that there’s a sardonic element to this show that is winking at you a little bit, and I like to think that our music is helping with that and has some of that same quality. So we can say eclectic, sensitive and sardonic.
Bromfield: I like those three.
CHM: There are parts where, to me, your score sounded more modern, like in the first episode — I think it might be even the first time your score comes in — and then there are other times where it’s more of a traditional, orchestral sound. I want to focus on that opening modern track and ask about composing that specific track because to me that sounded so unique.
Haydn: Is that the “Welcome Back Bitches”?
Haydn: Well that’s fun because we often divvy up the work, but there are times when we get in a room and just play and fun things happen. And that [“Welcome Back Bitches”] was one of those instances where we were in the room, playing with keyboards like two kids in a sandbox, really. So I’m glad you like that one.
I think what makes it unique is that we employ a lot of the pop elements of the song licenses that they use because we wanna keep the energy. It’s a modern show, so we need that aesthetic, but we also need to employ the kind of dark, more emotional elements and we also need to employ some of the more traditional scoring techniques. So this [“Welcome Back Bitches”], it’s [a] blend of all those things that turn into this kind of really interesting stew of sorts. And also the way that I use my voice, — without lyrics — I think also lends itself to having a sense of a pop hook without it actually being that, and then it becomes more like an instrument.
So I think it’s the eclecticism that helps it be unique and uniquely suited for this show, which is its own eclectic blend of influences. And what I love about the show and what I’m also really proud of with our score is how with all of its eclecticism, it’s cohesive. It could very easily be a hodgepodge of, okay, and now we’re gonna do this, and now we’re gonna do that, but it really feels cohesive and there really is a sound of show, which to me, doesn’t sound like other shows. even though obviously, we’re not creating in a vacuum and there are obviously other influences. But, to me, it sounds like our show, and the more television and film I consume, the more I can hear when somebody’s borrowing from another.
I don’t know if you know what temp music is, but where they put in a temporary piece of music to sort of mark the spot where they want music. a lot of times in television I know exactly what they temp with because it sounds like that show or that sounds like that, and to hear those elements, it doesn’t come together as cohesively. And I feel really happy about what we’ve created.
Bromfield: It really is like [an] instrumental song — it’s [in] a song form. When we get together, we like to make music like that for the show. You know, we did that one before season two, and then we sent it to them. We wrote it together as a thematic track to be used in season two, and then we all found a place for it together. And I think a lot of the stuff we did in that session was similar — it’s kind of like its own genre of pop music. It’s pop music-influenced and it’s song-influenced, but the fact that it centers around Lili’s voice doing more of “ooh” [vocalizes notes] thing, I think is part of what makes it unique in the pop music world.
CHM: You just mentioned that when you guys jammed together and made that song on keyboards. I know a lot of songs sprout from the keyboard or piano, but were there any unique instruments you guys used throughout this score at all?
Haydn: Actually, the keyboard we used on that song is a fancy new keyboard that I just got — it’s a Hydrosynth, which is a really fun synthesizer. Ben has a lot of great synthesizers and he’s like “Keyboard Guy,” but I had been lusting after this keyboard for a couple of years and somebody had told me like, “You have to get this.” And it has this ribbon controller where you can do this portamento thing; you can slide from really low to really high and it gets that kind of weird, like your stomach is turning inside out kind of vibe, which I love [laughs]. That was the keyboard on this track.
We also incorporate rock and roll stuff. We have some different instruments [I] play a lot of my string instruments and we do a lot of sound design as well. For some of the modern influences we pulled in a programmer friend of mine who works with Kesha and Kanye West and like some big pop artists [because] we wanted to have authentic beats. So we used a couple of those beats in the show.
There’s like an instrument in the upper register that’s sort of going and that’s like [volcalizes]… I forget what it’s called…
Haydn: Ribbon Controller.
Bromfield: Yeah. And then you can also hear it in the piece called “George’s Theme (Dark).” It’s happening with the bass in that one [and] it’s a very cool effect. And each time you get a synthesizer like that, they all have their individual quirks, and that’s one really cool quirk of the Hydrosynth. And other than the fact that the sounds and the effects on it are really cool, the Ribbon Controller is really neat and it’s a fun way to do that — not every synth can do that.
Haydn: It’s modeled after a classic synth from the seventies called the [Yamaha] CS-80, which I had the pleasure of working with on my first album, and then sound design where you’re basically messing [around when] you’re creating sounds, you’re recording yourself doing this kind of stuff and tapping on your face and scratching things.
[In] episode eight, where we did the musical, the episode [is] mostly in the style of the musical, which was sort of classical music-influenced. I got out my violin and started doing all my little classical tricks. But one of the cues was influenced by my cat, actually, who’s not going to meow on cue, unfortunately, but she does meow [on cue] a little bit. She’s kept her little “Pixar kitten meow,” and you can hear that in one of the cues. I just did a little reel on my Instagram if you wanna hear it. It’s on the soundtrack also called “Max and Bracia Backstage” — please check it out.
CHM: Since you both live in LA that makes it a bit easier — I know some co-composers I’ve spoken to were in separate areas of the world, so that made it a little harder — but I was curious what the day-to-day kind of thing looks like. Were you guys always working together or were you guys, you know, separately and then collaborating over Google Drives and stuff like that?
Bromfield: [Are] you familiar with the [concept of a] spotting session? [It’s] the meeting that we have with the showrunners, so when we first watched the show down and we figure out all the cues and we might use this one thing, or this might be a licensed song or whatever, and then we’ll figure out how much music we need to write and what scene.
So from there, Lili and I will typically divide it up and we’ll each take a first pass separately in our own studios. Also, I should mention, we started working on this show right when the pandemic broke out. So season one, we didn’t get together at all—
Haydn: We had one session together!
Bromfield: Before COVID, yeah.
Haydn: It was like pre-COVID and then before our next session, he said, “You know, I don’t think we should be in the same room anymore [laughs]; we probably should isolate.” So, yeah, we only had one session, but that one session was very fruitful.
Bromfield: Yeah, we got our company cue out of that session that gets used all the time and reused all over the score. But yeah, we generally work in different places, but also it’s funny to mention that we work at different times. Lilli is a total night owl, and I’m typically — if things are going right — up at 7:30 trying to work out and then start my day and in bed by like 11 or 12, she’s working all night. And so that sort of signifies our yin and yang-ness that we have. I think with our creative approaches as well.
We didn’t have to do this much with season two. Season one was, I think, a bit more hectic, mostly because of COVID, [and] if we got something that we had to turn around [or] we got notes back at the last minute, she [Lili] probably was gonna be up anyway, so that that kind of works. There’s obviously all sorts of stuff going on in the morning and I’m willing to do that.
So we work in different places, [and] we sometimes work at different times, but we do work on the same pieces of music because we send stuff back and forth to each other. We’re both working in Pro Tools as Lili mentioned, and we’re on Dropbox. We don’t share any videos on Dropbox because we’re all very careful with that. But what we do is we’re sending a Pro Tool testing back and forth, forth, and we’re adding stuff to each other’s cues. Typically, we’ll both try and complete a cue as much as we can on our own and then send it to the other person to add stuff. And then they might send it back. And then a lot of the time with the music before it gets approved, we end up having a live session over Zoom with the creators.
This is a thing that I’m usually driving at this point — it’s usually on my rig. We’re all in on this session and I’m sharing the screen and Lili and I are solving problems in real time. It’s challenging but very fun and we make great music that way.
Haydn: But it would not be possible if Ben weren’t such a rockstar on the technical side of it as well. Without each of our skillset sets, this would not be possible. It’s a unique show to the show’s credit, the show creator Sarah Lampert, has a vision and also Debra [J. Fisher], her partner, both have a vision. But Sarah, in particular, has an exacting nature and she doesn’t stop until she gets exactly what she wants. I have the same exact kind of OCD as her [laughs] — that’s why I step out often because like I don’t stop until I’ve exhausted every possibility and however long it takes.
It can be challenging because we know that we’re not gonna be settling for anything less than something that is magical. And the funny thing is, we’ll be watching — I don’t know if you have this experience, Ben — we watched it, my husband and I, and cues that are you can barely hear, they’re almost subliminal [and] like, yeah, that took us a week.
Bromfield: I can relate to that, sure [smiles].
Haydn: We do wanna just talk about the musical before we all part ways, of course. The musical was really important this season and it’s really kind of a subplot [that is] mirroring and representing character evolution and character development and the relationships that are in the plot.
Ben and I have different backgrounds that allowed us to do that. Ben’s musical theater background and my songwriting background, as a recording artist, and the confluence of that really just lent itself to something that we’re both really proud of.
The second season of Ginny & Georgia is streaming on Netflix.
Florian Zeller Talks The Son and the Interesting Way Hugh Jackman Landed His Part | Interview
Father, Son… Mother? Florian Zeller discusses his new film, ‘The Son.’
In my family, a good metric to measure how good a film was is how quickly me or my dad — the physical media buyers in the family — purchase it when it hits shelves months after its theatrical run. If we liked the film, the time ranges usually vary between immidetly upon release, wait a few months in hopes of Target or Best Buy putting it on sale, or the classic “wait until Black Friday” strategy (if it’s Criterion, we wait until July or November). But as our collections have grown and wallets have emptied, buying new releases — no matter how much we loved them — upon release is a rarity.
The one to buck the trend was The Father, Florian Zeller‘s first film adaptation out of the trilogy of his plays — The Mother, The Father and The Son. While I enjoyed it personally, the film hit way too close to home with my own grandmother who had dementia similar to Anthony Hopkins‘ character. That grandmother was my father’s mother, and despite my own belief that it’d hit even closer to home, he enjoyed it and made an effort to buy it once it went on sale.
All of that is to say, The Father is held in such high regard in my family. The Son will hold a special place in my heart as the casting of Vanessa Kirby was one of the first news pieces I wrote for the first outlet I interned at, so it feels like this film has come full circle for me. That’s why it was such an honor to speak with Zeller ahead of the nationwide release of The Son. I picked his brain on adapting his stageplays for the big screen while also finding out the interesting way Jackman landed his role. Oh, and I finally got clarification on the continuity of Hopkins’ characters in The Father and The Son (which has bothered me since seeing The Son).
Coastal House Media: I just wanted to start by talking about how out of your plays/films that I’ve seen, they’ve talked about such human emotions and situations. For example, The Father was very relatable for me because my grandmother had dementia towards the end of her life and it was hard to watch as a result, but it felt so real. So I was just curious if your plays/films are born out of experiences that are personal to you.
Florian Zeller: I would say yes. I don’t know how it could be something else than personal, but it doesn’t mean that these [are] my stories, you know? It means that [these are] emotions that I’m familiar with — territories that I’m no stranger to. When I did The Father — as you said, it’s about dementia — I knew a bit [about] what it was to go through this kind of process and to be in a position when you want to help someone and you cannot do it because I [was] raised by my grandmother and she got dementia when I was 15 or something. But when I was writing the script, I was not really thinking about her; I was thinking about emotions that I knew, and for The Son [as well].
The Son is about [a] father trying to help his teenage son going through depression. And again, it’s coming from a personal place, but I very quickly realized that so many people are concerned by this kind of situation, so many people have experience as [a] father or as [a] mother, you know when you are in a position where you do not know what to do anymore to help your son or your daughter or anyone else, and it was the reason why I wanted to make a film. I mean, it’s not enough to want to tell your own story to make a film, it’s because you wanna share emotions and you feel like you could be relevant for everyone to share these emotions.
CHM: And from a more technical standpoint, I’m curious about what it’s like for you to get to adapt your plays. Of course, you have more space to work and you can show more than just what you’re limited to on a stage, so do you ever feel like with either The Father and/or The Son that your plays get to be even more realized or explored through that medium?
Zeller: No. Just to shoot a play is not very challenging and it’s not very meaningful, so you have to find a way to find a cinematic language that would add something, you know? And for The Father, the conviction started like that, whereas the idea that [something] on-screen could be done that couldn’t be done on stage. And it was about trying to create this very subjective experience for the audience, to really experience what it could mean to lose your own bearings and as if you were in the main character’s brain, somehow.
And for The Son, I also felt that there was a reason to do it on screen, but it was a completely different strategy and it was not about trying to put you in the main character’s brain. My intention was to tell that story from the parent’s perspective — those who are around someone who is suffering and they do not know [what] to do to help. They have questions that they have no answers [for]. They are trying to open the door to help, but they have no keys, in a way. And because I really wanted for the audience to experience this feeling of being important because I know that there [is] so much shame and so much guilt and so much ignorance on this topic that I really wanted to raise these questions and to open a conversation — and my way to do that was to make that film.
CHM: I haven’t seen the play version of The Son, but I was curious because The Father, the film, felt like a play because most of it takes place in Anthony Hopkins’ character’s apartment whereas The Son jumps a little bit in scale. A lot of it still takes place in Peter [Hugh Jackman]’s apartment, but was this jump in scale similar to the play at all?
Zeller: I mean, it [was a] decision, but every story requires something different. When you started thinking about adapting a play into a film, the first advice you get is always to try to write new scenes outdoors to go as far as possible from the stage and most of the time, it’s probably good advice. But this is not what I did in The Father, because I really wanted to use the set as an abstract lab where you would be lost as an audience.
And if I had written a single scene outdoors, it would’ve broken this convention. So it had nothing to do with theatre, it has to do with cinema [and] the idea of being in an apartment and to use the apartment as a way to tell the story of being lost. And for The Son, I wanted to have something more straightforward, very linear and as simple as possible and try [not] to do a gimmick about that topic (depression) but to try to dare to be very simple in order to reflect my approach, which was to try to face this pain without shying away and also without trying to explain it or without trying to justify it. That’s the difficult and slightly uncomfortable thing about it.
There is no simple explanation about why sometimes you are in pain, and it takes a lot of courage to accept [that] there is no meaning, no justification when you’re going through such a pain [and] you need someone or something to blame for because it’s unfair when you see that it looks so easy for everybody and for you, everything is so difficult.
And in [this] story (The Son), this is divorce. The characters are talking a lot about the divorce and Nicholas [feels as though] this is because my parents got divorced and the father feels so guilty that he feels maybe [it’s] all my fault. But that’s not my perspective. To me, there [are] so many layers, psychological, but also chemical, biological reasons why you can feel in pain. So it was not to try to simplify things to say [that] because of divorce, it could lead to this situation.
It would make no sense, for example, to blame anyone for having a heart issue or stomach issue — and I think it’s the same for mental [health] issues. It makes no sense to blame anyone for experiencing this pain. And the more we could see mental health issues as we see physical issues, meaning without guilt, the more we could help people to go through these kinds of situations.
CHM: You have a lot of established names and a younger actor as well in The Son — can you talk to me about the casting process for this film?
Zeller: Yeah, the casting process started with Anthony Hopkins. We did The Father together and it was such an emotional experience, to do a film together, [that] I really wanted to see him again. Also, just after The Father, there was COVID and so we hadn’t seen each other for two years or something, and so when I finished the script, he was the very first one who read it and he told me, “Okay, I really want to be part of it.”
And I was really happy about it because I do adore him and also, so many people came to me after The Father saying, “Is he okay?” as if he was going through dementia. And I was like, “Yeah, he is. He is in great shape. He’s just an extraordinary actor,” so it was funny for us to do the exact opposite because in The Son he’s so cruel. He is not losing the situation, he’s controlling the situation so well.
And then I’m starting [to] dream about the cast and that’s all I knew about it. It was Anthony involved and that’s it. And I received that letter from Hugh Jackman. This is unconventional, but this is how it happened: He knew the play, The Son, he knew that I was working on the adaptation [and] he knew The Father. And so he wrote this letter to me saying, “If you’re already in conversation with someone, please forget my letter. But if you’re not, I would love to have 10 minutes to let you know why I should be the one to do this part.”
And of course, when you receive this kind of letter, you wanna meet that person because it’s really something special for an actor to be brave and honest enough and humble enough to do this. And when we met, we talked a lot about many things, but it’s not something he said; it’s more something I felt about who he is. The fact that he was not trying to be this actor looking for a part, or he was not detracted by the performance that could be done here, it was just a man, you know? And I felt that he was as a father and as connected to that issue that he knew what it was about. He knew these emotions and that it would be the opportunity for us, through the camera, to allow himself to be himself and to try to reach something that was truthful and honest. And that’s something very difficult to do, I think, for an actor. And I was really impressed during the shooting to see him daring [and] exploring all the time the true emotions that he has in himself. And I think that’s why, in my opinion, his performance is so honest.
CHM: I’m running low on time with you, but this question has been bothering me since I saw the film, so I gotta ask you of all people given that this is your baby. So I had heard that The Son is a “prequel” to The Father, but this confused me with Anthony Hopkins’ characters. I know in The Son he’s in America, but I think in The Father, he’s in England. Can you just explain the continuity to me?
Zeller: To me it’s not a prequel. [They’re] not the same characters. It’s the same actor, but you’re right — One is American [and] one is British, so it’s already different. And what [is] meaningful to me is that to have similar stories that are not [with] the same characters, not the same stories, but somehow they are connected, you know? The themes and something [is] connected in between these stories, and so as a viewer, you have to question the connections, the conversation almost between these pieces, and I like what it brings to the table, meaning that as a viewer you have room to question the meaning of this.
For example, as a viewer, I remember that I really loved this Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, who did the [Three Colours] Red, White and Blue and it’s three different stories. They have nothing to do with each other, but it’s just you trying to understand the layers, the conversations, and that’s it. Nothing more. [They’re] different stories.
CHM: My last question for you is: Are you going to adapt The Mother and would Anthony Hopkins be a part of that?
Zeller: I dunno. I really don’t know [laughs]. We did The Mother in New York, on stage, right with Isabella Huppert, and she’s one of the greatest actresses — I love her very much. But I don’t know. I don’t know yet.
The Son was released for an awards-qualifying limited run on November 25 and will be released nationwide on January 20.
Sarah Booth Talks Three Pines | Interview
If you are a fan of investigative crime dramas, then look no further than Amazon Prime’s latest show Three Pines based upon the books of Louise Penny. We follow Chief Inspector Gamache investigating various cases across this small town in remote Quebec, unraveling Three Pines hidden past.
I sat down with Sarah Booth (Law and Order, Star Trek: Discovery) to talk about her character Yvette Nichol in the series Three Pines and how she became involved within this project as well as a possible teaser as what is to come in the rest of series 1.
Make sure to check out Three Pines streaming now on Amazon Prime with weekly episodes.
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