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How Music Illustrates the Shifting Dynamics in ‘Bombshell’

What stands out about Theodore Shapiro’s score for “Bombshell” is that the music isn’t frantic despite being set in a fast-paced environment — Roger Ailes’ newsroom at Fox News. Instead, the score straddles two worlds: that of Ailes and that of the women who worked for him. 

“[Director] Jay [Roach] and I talked about finding Roger’s voice in the music. He saw himself as a tough-minded realist — the only one brave enough to speak the truth about how the world really worked. We wanted to find a musical language that reflected Roger’s view [of himself],” Shapiro explains. “That music is very dry, hard and percussive. There are closed mic, deep percussion and piano. There are strings, but they are very dry and in-your-face. There are harsh string plucks.”

The film is also about women telling their story, Shapiro says. It’s about Megyn Kelly (an unrecognizable Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), who come forward to accuse Ailes of sexual harassment and misconduct. “We tried to not have music in the film unless there was a real need for it,” Shapiro says of his fifth collaboration with Roach, including “Trumbo” and “Game Change.” “The thought was to incorporate women’s voices into the score where we needed.” 

In the trailer, you hear the choir of female voices sing as Kelly, Carlson and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) step into the elevator. “Our original conversation centered around two musical touchstones,” says Shapiro. One was the group Roomful of Teeth, based in New York and led by composer-vocalist Caroline Shaw, who “seemed like the perfect voice for this movie,” adds the composer. “The other voice we talked about was the singer Petra Haden, who has made these incredible albums using just her voice. We were fortunate enough to get those two singers on the score, as well as [Bangles co-founder] Susanna Hoffs. The three of them made this great tapestry of voices together.”

Once the vocals had been recorded, Shapiro’s challenge was to pinpoint where to use them. He and Roach needed to be strategic because he realized the vocals made a strong impact on the film. “We decided we were going to hold them out of the score until that pivotal scene in the elevator where the three [female] leads meet for the first and only time in the film.”

As the film progresses, the score changes to reflect Kelly and Carlson both finding their voices and growing more courageous. “We have a very significant shift in the whole musical language of the film,” Shapiro says. “You’re bringing in this female vocal element, that choir you hear in the elevator — it’s a new sound. It’s playing against this very male musical language that we’ve established right until then. At that point in the film, it’s like the entrance of a major new character that signifies the shift in the movie.” 

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