“The Afterparty” on Apple TV Plus is a wildly ambitious storytelling exercise; over the course of its eight episode run, the series’ first season tells the story of a high school reunion that ends in murder in wildly different genres, as the various suspects recount their recollections of the night through the lens of their own worldviews. And in order to successfully embody the different genres, be they rom-com or thriller, the show needs to adapt itself to every episode: a single moment might be romantic one episode or comical the next, through the use of music and editing to change the mood of the scene.
The music of “The Afterparty” is composed by Daniel Pemberton, who came to the project after working with creator and director Christopher Miller and executive producer Phil Lord on the critically acclaimed animated film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” He was attracted to working on the show because of the challenge and complexity of the score, which would require him to alter his musical style nearly every episode.
“Chris and Phil are amazing geniuses and amazing at never stopping wanting to keep pushing stuff,” Pemberton says. “Which is both great and costs many sleepless nights because there is so much to do on a show like this when there’s just so much music. It’s like I’m scoring 10 films, plus a series, plus loads of incidental stuff, plus producing some songs. There was a lot on my shoulders with this project.”
When creating the score for “The Afterparty,” Pemberton first crafted the main theme and the music for the frame story, which is styled after classic murder mystery scores with plodding pianos and strings. Then, he created the music for the various genre pastiches throughout the show. For inspiration he looked at several classic scores from archetypal examples of the genres: for Aniq’s (Sam Richardson) romantic comedy episode that opens the show he listened to the scores of Richard Curtis films like “Notting Hill;” the scores of Howard Shore and Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann influenced the music for the Chelsea’s (Ilana Glazer) psychological thriller episode; and the rock-based, drum heavy music of “John Wick” helped shape the music in Brett’s (Ike Barinholtz) action movie episode.
In order to add to the authenticity of the score, Pemberton would often try to get into the headspace of a composer who commonly works in a certain genre, so that the work he created reflected the career they would have. This particularly helped him during the High School episode, in which the oft-forgotten Walt (Jamie Demetriou) recounts a pivotal Saint Patrick’s Day party that informed the interpersonal tension of the various characters 15 years later. The rest of the series has very little licensed music, but the high school episode has a veritable barrage of needle drops, from “Ridin’” to “Hey Ya!” to “Hips Don’t Lie.”
To score the small bits of original music that the episode had, Pemberton wanted the music to be slightly generic, as most teen movie scores tend to be. He imagined himself as the type of composer who would score the bits of music in a mid-2000s teen movie, and tried to get into the head of someone who would bang out the score without much effort. Working in that mindset, he used a generic synthesizer patch to compose the music for the episode.
“The strangest thing about this project is I’m almost going to be invisible, I have to make scores that feel so conventional, you don’t even think about them,” Pemberton says. “Because they feel 100 percent of that world. Sometimes I love scores being really noticeable, but with this one I really wanted to just feel like you’re in the different film genre worlds. And that’s a big challenge because my gut instinct is to try and make things unusual and sort of push against the boundaries of convention. Whereas with this I had to make them feel something you could recognize, if I tried to be too challenging, you wouldn’t feel a comfort in the fact you’re back in this world of genre.”
In addition to the main genre pastiches, there are also several quick gags that further required Pemberton to expand his musical palette for the show. In the first episode the eccentric Indigo (Genevieve Angelson) gives a very short testimony that is styled after experimental art house cinema. To score Indigo’s testimony, Pemberton looked at music found in David Lynch films for inspiration.
One of Pemberton’s favorite musical pieces isn’t in any of the genre worlds, but in a trailer for a fake movie murder victim Xavier (Dave Franco) starred in, a gritty “Hungry Hungry Hippos” film adaptation with Will Forte as his co-star. The film appears for less than a minute, but Pemberton composed an entire song for it, and specifically wrote it so that you can sing “Hungry, Hungry Hippos” on beat to it. Although it’s a small moment that many people would miss, he wanted to make it sound like an authentic theme for a big budget film of that nature.
“The level of detail that all the filmmakers and creatives put into this production and everything else, I had to match that with the music,” Pemberton says. “So there’s so much stuff in this series, it’s probably one of the most complicated series I’ve ever done.”
The editor of “The Afterparty,” Joel Negron, is also a prior collaborator of Lord and Miller, having previously edited their live action directorial debut, “21st Jump Street” in 2012. “The Afterparty” is the first Television series he’s edited, although he says it was shot like a film, with all of the episodes shot at the same time.
To edit the series, Negron drew from his experiences working in various genres. “21 Jump Street ” helped inform his editing of the high school comedy episodes, particularly helping him with selecting the needle drops for the episode and finding the best comedy takes to put into the episode. Negron is also a very experienced editor of action films, with credits such as “Thor: Ragnarok” and “The Nice Guys,” which helped him with the editing process for the action movie episode. And his editing work on the animation episode, in which illustrator Zoe (Zoe Chao) envisions the evening as a deranged cartoon, was helped by his experience working on heavy visual effects films such as “Jungle Cruise” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which feature several CGI characters.
“What we tried to do is we tried to try to find out, what’s the best thing about romantic comedy, what’s the best thing about an action movie, what’s the best thing about a thriller?” Negron says. “And then we use that as a guide to cut the episodes.”
Negron adapted his style of editing several times for the various testimonies in the series. For the rom-com episode, he used several wide lens shots, where an in-focus character in the foreground is situated by a blurry out-of-focus background, that are common in the genre. Conversely, for the thriller, he used darker shots with heavy shadows, and for the action movie episode, he used quicker cuts to make the episode move faster and more intensely.
Sometimes, the different episodes will feature the same event, edited in a vastly different way. For example, the romantic comedy episode and the action movie episode both feature a car chase where Brett hounds Aniq to retrieve his daughter’s plus koala. In Aniq’s rom-com version of the event, a majority of the action is shot inside the vehicle, with a minimal establishing shot of the car leaving the driveway. In Brett’s adrenaline-pumped perspective of the same event, the scene features far more exterior shots of the car, showing the tires spinning and the cars flying by, making the scene feel more like something out of a “Fast and the Furious” film.
Although the show stylizes itself after so many different genres, Negron is insistent that it’s not parodying any of them. Rather, the crew of the show worked hard to get the details of the various genre worlds right, in order to show their genuine love for those movies and how they operate.
“What we’d hoped to do when we were making this story is to do kind of a tribute to all these genres,” Negron says.” “And in making the episodes what we’re hoping to do is not make fun of any genres or not say that any genres are bad, just show that we liked this genre of filmmaking, here’s a story we can tell, and then we like this other genre of storytelling, here’s something else we can do. It’s more of a tribute to the different genres than it is trying to copy the genre.