Some of you might possibly have heard about a TV show called Breaking Bad. If you happen to be one of those people, you will most probably understand that I was pretty excited to get a chance to talk with composer Dave Porter about his latest work for Flesh and Bone. It’s a new miniseries that will air on STARZ on November 8th this year. Over eight episodes it follows Claire, a young and aspiring dancer in the world of professional ballet.
To get an idea of the show’s mood, you can watch the trailer for ‘Flesh and Bone’ below:
Besides the involvement of Dave, Moira Walley-Beckett is definitely worth noting as the creator and showrunner of ‘Flesh and Bone.’ It’s noticeable because just like Dave, Moira was involved in Breaking Bad too, as one of the producers for the multi-award-winning show that definitely was one of the best TV series ever created. Dave told me Moira was a dancer too when she was younger and that therefore from the very beginning he expected it to be a “very authentic project and that she was going to be very passionate about it.”
Another big reason for Dave trying to get involved in the creation of the series was the fact that it takes place in New York City where he went to school, started his musical career and lived there for a long time. Additionally while he didn’t know too much about ballet before, he always loved music for dance and wrote a lot of music for dance at school too. “I love the connection between music and dance,” he told me in that regard.
Because of the long established relationship Moira and Dave had developed during the years of collaborating on Breaking Bad, it was obvious to Dave that he wanted to get involved in this new project of Moira’s and so he “bothered her for a long time until she agreed to work with me on it.” When I asked him about the musical approach and if he considered taking dance classes during the process, his answer was pretty short: “I would probably hurt myself very quickly.”
Luckily he didn’t risk it and got straight into working on it as soon as he knew he would be involved.
Dave first started talking with Moira around January 2014, the show was then shot during the summer and Dave who is now based in Los Angeles, went to New York to meet the team at that time. He really liked that hence he was able to see some of the production and got to work on the show pretty much exactly one year ago in October and November 2014. At that time he had seen many episodes already and had read all the scripts too. Some months later, in April, the work was done and Dave is now very excited for the show to come out.
When I asked him about his general thoughts about his own score, he told me how the viewers’ general feedback about the show will be important for him, too:
It was one of my favourite things I’ve worked on and it hopefully translates to the show. I think that the music is so wrapped up in the story and it’s such an important part of the series in particular that if people can feel how much I have enjoyed working on the show through their enjoyment of watching it, then I’ve been successful.
Dave told me how thankful he was for having as much time to score the show as he had on ‘Flesh and Bone.’ Because he was hired early along, there were many months where he was able to work on some music and show ideas to Moira. It was possible to go back and forth as well as Dave had more time to find out the right pallet of instruments he wanted to use including the setup of the needed requirements to getting it all recorded. Especially because it was a new show where “there’s so many creative decisions that you have to make as a composer.”
Trying to fit Tchaikovsky: The embedding of the score
Different to his approach on other projects, Dave knew right from the start that he was dealing with a small string orchestra. Usually he has “the liberty to mix and match all kinds of different instruments” but because of the nature of ‘Flesh and Bone’ as well as after speaking with Moira about it, it was clear to Dave that he wanted to relate to all the other music in the show.
General difficulties of the ballet world like ambition and competition are very prevalent elements in ‘Flesh and Bone’ and therefore were of course also very important for Dave to focus on. But overall these elements were only “a backdrop to the story,” as he told me. In general it was crucial to him to give each of the different story lines that go through all the eight episodes “a little bit of its own flavour.”
Dave also got deeper into the musical approach to its score and how he had to consider the general music environment in form of classical ballet pieces by Tchaikovsky for example:
The score for ‘Flesh and Bone’ really needed to have a classical orchestral background. Which is not to say I wrote classical orchestral music. I wrote pretty modern music that’s in times very atonal and very different from the more traditional and beautiful ballet music because I not only wanted them to relate – but I also wanted them to set apart a little bit.
I firmly believe that score music’s best role is when it’s supporting the narrative, when it’s supporting the story and telling the story that these characters have to tell. When you’re hearing the score I think it’s important that subconsciously the audience knows it’s listening to the score and therefore it’s music that should be informative in terms of the story as opposed to music that is very upfront and present in terms of the dance music. So for that situation I had a whole template setup in Pro Tools with all the instruments that I knew I had available to me, which was violas and cellos and alto flutes and a variety of percussion instruments. With that limitation I started the same process of just trying out ideas, moods, melodies and cords until I found things that would work.
Speaking about ballet music in general, Dave also highlighted the tremendous job that Music Supervisor Michael Hill did. All of the classical music that is involved in the show made it very complicated in production because in many sequences the dancers are rehearsing just to a piano accompaniment, as it is common. Everything had to be pre-recorded in order for the dancers to practice along with it, so that Dave’s team could then have a copy of the music in post-production to use in the mix.
So much to score in so little time: TV shows vs. Movies
Regarding the time issue, I also asked him about the usual process behind scoring a TV show compared to a movie. Obviously compared to a two-hour movie, really a lot of music is needed for an entire TV series. No matter if it’s only 8 episodes on a miniseries like ‘Flesh and Bone’, which still sums up to 8 hours of moving images, or 62 episodes as on ‘Breaking Bad.’
The TV business is also known to be a very fast one and so Dave has two specific tips for upcoming composers:
Usually you have less time to experiment on TV, you have to be more precise. You have to know when you’re heading down the wrong creative road quickly, so you can stop and go back and go on the right way.
And you have to keep the bigger picture in mind: It’s very easy to get very wrapped up in one episode and the story lines that are happening in one episode. But at the same time while you’re doing that you have to keep a bigger picture in your mind about the whole story so that you leave yourself dramatic space and creative room to get to all the places that you need to get creatively over a much longer period of time.
You can watch the Opening Credit’s for ‘Flesh and Bone’ featuring Karen O’s cover of “Obsession” below:
On to new horizons: Staying diversive and happy
Coming to an end of our interview, Dave told me about how his employment at Philip Glass in his early career had influenced him.
After some internships at other recording studios in New York, as a young Sound Engineer he was then lucky to have a friend who happened to be neighbours with the manager of Philip Glass’ publishing who then again happened to have his office in Philip Glass’ office and therefore knew about a spot opening up. Besides learning a lot just from being in one room with “a lot of really brilliant people” and sharing the same passion for synthesizers, there is something else Dave really appreciates about Philip Glass’ music: “He is one of the few classical composers that’s really managed to bridge the gap between a lot of different worlds. He works happily with Rock and Pop artists, he works on classical operas and symphonies but at the same time will do film scores. I think it’s so impressive.”
Dave recently had a lot of fun writing an homage to Philip Glass’ score for The Thin Blue Line for a spoof show called Documentary Now!. You can watch a clip from the episode on Dave’s Facebook page.
Dave Porter’s appreciation of diversity definitely reflects in all the projects he has done so far and it was fantastic to finally have gotten the chance to talk with him. Besides ‘Flesh and Bone’ he is also involved these days in the third season of The Blacklist about which he was very excited because the creators “really shook up the style and premise of the show.” He also told he would soon start working on the second season of Better Call Saul as well as there will be a new exciting project coming out early next year. Unfortunately he could not talk about it just yet, but hopefully we will get the chance to cover it soon. In the end Dave told me that he is “just so fortunate to work on projects with people that I really respect and enjoy working with and who also give me such different creative challenges. I’m a very happy guy – and very lucky!”
Taking this as the final words in this article about composer Dave Porter and his work for the upcoming miniseries ‘Flesh and Bone’, I hope I could grant you some insights into his work process and got you a bit excited about his upcoming projects.
You can find out more about Dave Porter on his website, Twitter as well as on Facebook. A very insightful interview about Dave’s ‘Breaking Bad’ score you find on KeyboardMag.com. More info about the miniseries ‘Flesh and Bone’ you will find on STARZ.com.