Emmys’ Music Supervision Contender Mary Ramos Brings the Tarantino Experience to TV

The contender worked on Hulu's "Little Fires Everywhere" and "Mrs. America."

Mary Ramos
Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutters

Is Mary Ramos, the woman Quentin Tarantino praised as “the unsung hero of my filmography,” staging a takeover of TV music supervision, too? Ramos is a television newbie, but made up for lost time by shaping the soundtracks to two of the year’s most binge-worthy limited series, “Mrs. America” and “Little Fires Everywhere,”working with former Tarantino producers Stacey Sher (“Pulp Fiction”) on the former and Pilar Savone (“Django Unchained”) on the latter.

After a three-decade career in movies, what was the biggest surprise about working in TV for the first time?

The difference in post-production schedules between film and television blew my mind. You’re working on four or five episodes at a time. And there are all these different versions you have to show to not just one director but several directors, the showrunner and the studio. I’m used to working with auteurs who write their own stories and have carte blanche.

There are so few female composers working in Hollywood, but for “Little Fires Everywhere,” you took a chance on Isa Summers, who is best known from Florence and the Machine.

I felt it was important to have a female composer on “Little Fires Everywhere” and I love the fire and drama of Florence and the Machine; Isa is the architect of that sound. But since she hadn’t scored before, Dawn Soler [ABC’s SVP of music] suggested Mark Isham compose with her. It’s a big eye-opener for any recording artist that wants to become a composer. It’s a collaborative process and oftentimes you’re not the boss, so there’s a learning curve. One of the jobs I try to do is act like a translator for directors and composers. And directors often don’t have the right words to convey what they’re looking for. When the showrunner met with Mark and Issa, I did a beginning exercise to help them talk about the score. I said, “Why don’t you write down adjectives?” Descriptors hone in on the kind of thing you’re hoping to achieve, and that started the process.

You have experience as an actress as well as playing in bands, but how has your background informed your work as a music supervisor?

I can recognize when a song will warm up a scene, and I will go to the mat to use a song in the background. There was a long scene that had a lot of uncomfortable moments and I fought to place a song in the background. I found one that served as a metaphor and played it low and I’ll tell you what it did: It smoothed out the acting performances. We can go in at the end after everything has been shot and edited and we can actually add pace and warmth to a scene in a similar way that score can.

“Little Fires Everywhere” feels like it really bears your stamp.

As opposed to other projects where I’m support for Quentin’s vision, this is the one where I feel like I had the most creative freedom, ultimately. It was an opportunity for me to go in with a whole concept in mind about the music because the project was a blank slate. It was set in the ‘90s but didn’t have to be historically accurate [unlike “Mrs. America”]. I knew the story was about two strong mothers at odds with each other, so I wanted that vibe — female energy. Not only did I suggest Isa to flavor the score but I knew it would be cool to have covers of songs from the period — “Bitch” by Meredith Brooks and the Cure’s “Pictures of You” — produced by our composers so that they sounded seamless with the whole experience. It’s not anything new to cover a ’90s song for a series, but I didn’t want to stop the story and slap on a shiny new version; we did it in our own special way.