×

From ‘The Orville’ to ‘Succession,’ TV Maestros Conduct Symphonies of Sound

Composer Joel McNeely stands before 93 musicians on the cavernous Fox scoring stage, his hands raised, about to conduct a musical cue for the season finale of Fox’s “The Orville.”

“Very energetic,” he urges, giving the downbeat. For the next three minutes he leads them through a passage that’s variously mysterious, ominous and dramatic, as images of a spaceship negotiating an asteroid field unspool on the big screen behind them.

Producer-star Seth MacFarlane, seated in the glassed-in recording booth a few yards away, listens intently. After that first take, he says simply, “That was spectacular.”

McNeely’s massive orchestra (a record number of musicians toiling on a weekly network series) is a key element in the production of “The Orville.” A few weeks later, at an “Orville” music event, MacFarlane justified the expense: “When you compare the visual effects budget, or the production design budget, or the costume budget on any show, it’s not breaking the bank to use an orchestra. On a subconscious level, it makes the show important. It makes it matter more.”

Music in TV seems to matter more than ever, especially at the Emmys, which now boasts seven music categories: three for dramatic underscore (for series, limited series or movie, documentary), two for song use (original song, music supervision), and one each for music direction and title theme.

And, with all the choices — from network to cable to streaming — there are just as many sounds in the air.

Nicholas Britell (an Oscar nominee for “If Beale Street Could Talk”) combined classical and hip-hop sounds for the theme of HBO’s “Succession,” about the family struggle for control of a New York-based media empire.

“The music should always feel like part of the fabric of the project,” says Britell. “There was something completely absurd about mixing this sort of late-classical-era kind of music with these huge beats. There’s the stateliness of the minuet and these disproportionately large beats: a strangeness and a counterpoint to that world.”

Depending on the scene, the music ranged from “just piano or a few guitars and banjos to a small chamber orchestra,” Britell says. He worked for seven months on the initial 10 episodes.

The music of “Leaving Neverland,” HBO’s controversial Michael Jackson documentary, eligible in the new non-fiction score category, needed to “sound rich and filmic, fairy tale-like,” composer Chad Hobson says. “The approach was to imagine a walk through a beautiful and magical forest — but as you travel deeper into the forest it becomes darker, more distorted, the limbs of the trees becoming more twisted and sinister.”

Composer Jeff Russo (“Star Trek: Discovery”) was handed a gift with Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy”: the most intriguing and complex of its seven superhero siblings is a world-class violin soloist, and its literally earth-shaking finale is set against an orchestra concert. Russo began writing music even before the pilot was shot, penning a classically styled violin piece for Vanya (Ellen Page) and then a “suite” of music for the Academy that became the basis for all of his themes throughout the season. The seven-minute “Apocalyptic Suite” featured prominently in the last episode.

“I was playing against the storyline,” notes Russo. “I like to play opposite of what you see, and we have this ragtag bunch of misfit and crazy superheroes in this family. What better way to contrast that than with a really beautiful, traditional score?”

More Artisans

  • First still from the set of

    How the 'Jojo Rabbit' Production Team Created a Child's View of Nazi Germany

    When picturing Nazi Germany during World War II, most people think of black-and-white or sepia-toned images of drab cities. For the cinematographer and production designer of “Jojo Rabbit,” a film set squarely in that time and place, it became clear that the color palette of the era was far more varied than they could have [...]

  • National Theatre Live Midsummer's Night Dream

    National Theatre Live Marks Decade of Stage-to-Screen With Immersive ‘Midsummer’

    National Theatre Live has filmed nearly eight dozen theatrical productions over the last decade, bringing theater to the cinema using top technologies and talents in the videography space. This month, on the eve of its 10th anniversary, its production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is challenging the technical producers and crew with an immersive stage [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    How Bright Bulbs Enabled 'The Lighthouse's' Tough Black-and-White Shoot

    Early in development on “The Lighthouse,” writer-director Robert Eggers asked cinematographer Jarin Blaschke if he thought they could capture the look they were going for digitally. Blaschke answered no: Digital wouldn’t let them achieve the texture they had in mind — “what we photography nerds would call ‘micro-contrast.’ [The look] was never going to be [...]

  • Advanced Imaging Society Honors 10 Women

    AIS Honors 10 Women in Tech

    Celebrating 10 years of achievement in entertainment technology, the Advanced Imaging Society today named 10 female industry innovators who will receive the organization’s 2019 Distinguished Leadership Awards at the its 10th annual Entertainment Technology Awards ceremony on October 28 in Beverly Hills. The individuals were selected by an awards committee for being significant “entertainment industry [...]

  • Will Smith Gemini Man Special Effects

    How the 'Gemini Man' VFX Team Digitally Created a Younger Version of Will Smith

    More human than human — yes, that’s a “Blade Runner” reference — yet it sounds like an unattainable standard when it comes to creating believable, photorealistic, digital human characters. But the visual effects team on Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” set its sights on something even more difficult: creating a digital version of young Will Smith [...]

  • Jest to Impress Cartoon Network Virtual

    New In-House VR Program Helps Cartoon Network Artists Add a Virtual Dimension

    Teams of animators and artists from across Cartoon Network’s numerous properties are getting the chance to expand into virtual reality storytelling via the company’s pilot program, Journeys VR. The work of the first three teams — including experiences based on action, nature and comedy — was unveiled to global audiences Oct. 1 on Steam and [...]

  • Frozen 2

    How the 'Frozen II' Artists Created Believable Emotion Through Animation

    “The more believable you can make the character [look], the more people believe how [it’s] feeling,” says Tony Smeed, who, with Becky Bresee, shared the challenge of heading animation on Disney’s highly anticipated “Frozen II.” “Emotion comes from inside and manifests itself into actions and facial expressions. Anything beyond that is movement for the sake [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content