×

Emmys 2019: How New Music Category Puts Docus on Equal Footing With Fictional Fare

For years, music in documentary and nonfiction programming competed alongside the music for fictional narratives, but this year, music composition for a documentary series or special is getting its own category — the Emmys’ seventh music category overall. It is a change that couldn’t have come soon enough for many veterans in the space.

“So many documentaries are being made,” says composer Miriam Cutler, who lobbied for the change that was approved late last year. “There are so many outlets for them, cable and streaming, and so much more interest.”

Although docu scores won the Emmy three out of the past 12 years they competed against scores for fictional fare, now the projects are on equal footing in their own category and seeing a surge in submissions: 48 scores are competing in nomination-round voting. One of the reasons this new category was approved, Cutler believes, was the Academy’s “growing focus on increasing diversity in our membership.”

“Because doc budgets are usually smaller, and many are made independently and picked up later for distribution and/or broadcasting, the composers are more diverse: more women, younger, composers of color and different ethnicities,” she says.

Scoring non-fiction can be similar to writing music for a fictional film, “but there’s so much more to deal with. There are different challenges. The stakes are higher. There’s an ethical component. The viewer has to trust the filmmaker, and music plays a big part,” Cutler continues.

Cutler has submitted her music for two high-profile documentaries: “Love, Gilda,” about comedienne Gilda Radner, and “RBG,” the Oscar-nominated film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Both Cutler’s “RBG” score and Marco Beltrami’s score for “Free Solo,” another Oscar-nominated doc from last year, have been declared eligible for the Emmy, Television Academy officials report.

Yet considerable attention has been paid to the expensive nature documentaries, too, especially the music for National Geographic’s “Hostile Planet” and Netflix’s “Our Planet”: Both are high-profile multi-part series with large orchestral scores by English composers better known for their feature-film work.

In “Hostile Planet,” each episode featured a protagonist, from an elephant in the grasslands, to a snow leopard in the mountains, to an orangutan in the jungle, says composer Benjamin Wallfisch (“It,” “Shazam!”).

“There’s a bit of a journey for each of the animals, and we follow their lives, but through that arc we see lots of other habitats and creatures. We gave a thematic approach to these protagonists. We have orchestra in every episode,” he adds, although electronics and vocals are also featured.

For “Our Planet,” composer Steven Price (“Gravity”) employed the 66-piece London Philharmonia. “Each sequence stood alone, and [the filmmakers] aren’t frightened of holding a shot for a long time,” he says. “So some sequences are six or seven minutes long, telling an entire story of an individual creature within an environment. Musically I tried to find a way to give each biome its own voice.”

Both Wallfisch and Price say they were attracted to the projects because of their pro-environmental messages.

“Everything is contextualized in terms of how things are now versus how they were 10 years ago, and these animals have that much more to deal with because of climate change,” says Wallfisch.

“This is literally the most important conversation that we can have,” adds Price. “We were looking to move people, not only with the splendor of the world, but also the fact that we’re losing a lot of it.”

More TV

  • Angelina Jolie

    Angelina Jolie to Produce BBC Show to Help Kids Spot Fake News

    Angelina Jolie and the BBC want to give young viewers real tools to stop fake news, Jolie will executive produce “BBC My World,” a program that explains the stories behind news and offers facts and information that helps kids over the age of 13 make up their own minds on pressing international issues. The series [...]

  • Pictured: Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard

    'Star Trek: Picard': TV Review

    “Star Trek: Picard,” the latest entry in an ever-regenerating franchise, eventually gets going. That it does so more tentatively than boldly may, at first, be a test of individual viewers’ loyalty to the “Trek” universe and to its most famous captain. “Picard’s” great asset is its title character — as played by Sir Patrick Stewart, [...]

  • NBC Sky World News Plots Summer

    NBC Sky World News Plots Summer Launch

    The company known for American news staples like “Today” and “Meet The Press” wants to create similar journalism landmarks for audiences around the world. NBCUniversal and Sky, both owned by parent Comcast Corp., will this summer launch NBC Sky World News, a news service aimed at English-speaking audiences around the globe. The company intends to [...]

  • 'Vikings': Katheryn Winnick on Directing the

    'Vikings’s' Katheryn Winnick Breaks Down Directing the 'Start of Bjorn's Downfall'

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Valhalla Can Wait,” the eighth episode of the sixth season of “Vikings.” When “Vikings” creator Michael Hirst came to terms with killing off the fan-favorite Lagertha character, he knew he wanted to bring portrayer Katheryn Winnick back into the creative fold at least once more [...]

  • Picture by Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com 22/01/2020 -

    Tartikoff Honorees Call for Commitment to Diversity and Protection of Press Freedom

    MIAMI — Jeff Zucker didn’t mince words. “Nothing is as important than what I’m doing now,” the CNN Worldwide chief said of his long career in media as he was feted Wednesday night as one of five Brandon Tartikoff Award honorees. Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide and chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports, sounded the [...]

  • Greta Gerwig, Ava DuVernay Urge Changes

    Greta Gerwig, Ava DuVernay Among Directors Urging Changes in DGA Parental Policies

    Greta Gerwig, Ava DuVernay, Reese Witherspoon and more than 40 other women directors are urging the Directors Guild of America to change its policies for new and expectant parents. The directors have co-signed a letter by documentary filmmaker Jessica Dimmock seeking an extension of the qualifying period for DGA health insurance coverage to 18 months [...]

  • NBC Orders Drama Pilots 'Echo,' 'At

    NBC Orders Drama Pilots 'Echo,' 'At That Age'

    NBC has picked up two more drama pilots for the 2020-2021 season. Universal Television will produce both pilots. The first is titled “At That Age.” It is described as an exploration of an African-American family’s legacy. After the Cooper family’s golden child suffers a catastrophic event, seven family members face a foundational shift, make life-altering [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content