You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘American Gothic’ Composer Experiments With Strings in CBS Drama’s Score

Watching Jeff Russo in a recording studio provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the creative process. Sitting with a modest crew of engineers, mixers, and assistants, the composer reviews a musical selection paired with a scene from “American Gothic,” the mystery drama series that premieres June 22 on CBS.

Created by showrunners Corinne Brinkerhoff and James Frey, “Gothic” centers on a prominent Boston family confronting the chilling discovery that someone among them is linked to a string of murders. This threatens to tear them apart.

Russo, known for his work on FX’s “Fargo,” experimented with a number of techniques to find the right sound for yet another dark tale. Noting that the very title of the series is packed with suggestions for its musical direction, he chose to approach his score with classic orchestration, but added a twist.

Working with a small, chamber-orchestra-sized ensemble, he adjusted the standard musician seating chart. Instead of the normal set-up that finds violins on the left, violas in the middle, and cellos on the right, Russo followed a traditional European arrangement that places the higher-octave violins on the outside of the group, and the lower-sounding cellos and violas nearer the middle, with the bass in the center. Such an arrangement, he says, allows for a richer, fuller sound.

In another experiment, he tested the violins con sordini — applying a felt device to mute their tone — but soon dismissed that approach in favor of a return to force.

Prior to the recording process, Russo drafted the score in his home studio, with an ear toward individual voicing of instruments. Each violin, for example, is given its own direction, rather than having large sections of instruments simultaneously playing the same passage.

The effectiveness of layering sounds was showcased in the way Russo handled the reinvention of the second season of “Fargo.” After underlining the tension in season one with sleigh bells and the hum of a washing machine (a first-episode plot point) the composer turned to the second season’s ’70s timeline for musical cues.

“There was less snow and more browns, so I used less of the sleigh bells because they didn’t support what you saw,” Russo says. The hum of an electric typewriter, synthesizers, and assorted percussion filled out the score.

For “American Gothic,” the composer admits that his multidirectional approach is a leap of faith. “If I’m in a room with my keyboard,” he says, “it’s never going to sound like it does when there are 20 or so people playing it.”

More Artisans

  • John Wick Chapter 3

    'John Wick: Chapter 3' Tones Down the Blood and Gore to Keep Look 'Totally Real'

    When Jeff Campbell, a visual effects supervisor with VFX studio Spin, initially set to work on the first “John Wick,” the 2014 action thriller from director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad, he started with an industry-standard test: Establish a single, simple kill effect meant to get a sense of the look of the violence [...]

  • Spider-Man Homecoming

    Film and TV Productions Are Using Drones for Scouting Locations, Lighting and More

    Since a ruling by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2014 that cleared the use of drones in film and TV production, the acquisition of footage by these unmanned flying machines has become de rigueur for aerial shooting in cases when cranes or aircraft are impractical or unsafe.  As such, drones have been greeted enthusiastically not [...]

  • MTV The Challenge

    How 'The Challenge' Relied on Global Crew to Pull Off Plane Game

    Thirty-three seasons into MTV’s “The Challenge,” the reality competition series has spawned a band of traveling producers and engineers who fly around the world to create one-of-a-kind games. This includes placing cameras, smoke elements and a puzzle inside a plane that was suspended more than 30 feet above water. Executive producer Justin Booth joined “The [...]

  • Chaz Ebert DePaul CHA Documentary Filmmaking

    Chicago Program Gives High School Girls Lessons in Documentary Filmmaking

    At the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, three of the projects screening in the Short Film Corner — “Birthday,” “Phenomenally Me” and “Without Dying” — will be products of the DePaul/CHA Documentary Filmmaking Program, a six-week course co-sponsored by the Chicago Housing Authority in which high school girls learn filmmaking from graduate students and faculty of [...]

  • Steven Spielberg55th Annual CAS Awards, Inside,

    Cinema Audio Society Sets 2020 Awards Show Three Weeks Earlier

    The Cinema Audio Society has moved its 2020 awards show ahead by three weeks to Jan. 25 due to the compression of the season. It will be held at the Intercontinental Los Angeles Downtown. The CAS Awards recognize sound mixing in film and television, outstanding products for production and post-production, as well as the recipient [...]

  • Rocketman Elton John Biopic

    'Rocketman' Production Team Took the Fantasy Route With the Elton John Biopic

    Paramount has high hopes for “Rocketman,” the Elton John biopic starring Taron Egerton as the legendary performer. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival on May 16, the film comes on the heels of Fox’s massively successful Freddie Mercury movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” and could capitalize on audiences’ newly discovered interest in rock star stories that transport [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content