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It’s Branding: A current perspective on composing for TV series


- At the first festival dedicated to European television series, composers Eric Neveux and John Lunn exchanged their ideas on the status of the composer in television series

It’s Branding: A current perspective on composing for TV series
(from left to right) Nicolas Jorelle, Eric Neveux, John Lunn (© Sylvain Bardin and Philippe Cabaret)

Série Series has been functioning as a “think tank” for professionals in the industry since 2012, and its fourth edition took place in the Fontainebleau Theatre from 1-3 July this year. In the discussion on “Contrasting Perspectives”, composers Eric Neveux (Borgia, Un Village Français) and John Lunn (Downton Abbey, for which he received two Primetime Emmy Awards in 2012 and 2013) sat down for a discussion on scoring for series, chaired by French composer Nicolas Jorelle.

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In the “Regards Croisés” master class, both guests, who have similar experience in scoring music for film (Neveux has written scores for François Ozon, for example), talked about the details of their work and the differences between writing music for a series compared to a film. The essence of writing for series, as Lunn and Neveux agreed, is the concept of writing music of longueurs. This enables the composer to explore his music in more depth, as Lunn remarked. His approach involves reading through all of the scripts in order to understand how the story evolves. Thinking ahead is crucial in scoring music for series.

As Lunn explained, the music enables an “emotional journey” and describes the relationship between characters. The music is practically written to the pictures and the dialogue as a major storytelling element. According to him, the main question the composer has to ask is: “What are we not seeing in the scene that you want me to conjure up?”- with the “you” in this case most often referring to the executive producer and producer (or perhaps the camera man who can provide insight on the style of shooting). Neither Lunn nor Neveux tend to work with directors or writers of the series, highlighting another major difference between series and films: the long-term project led by a single director does not exist (as it does in films), so the crucial branding of “seriality” is partly achieved through the musical score.

In regards to the compositions for Downton Abbey, approximately 75% of the themes carry through from episode to episode, yet no recording is ever used twice. For each episode, a new recording session with an orchestra takes place, which is only possible due to the high budgets for television music in Britain. Meanwhile, Lunn finds the scores for series in the United States to be more similar to each other, claiming that this is due to their reliance on the same sample library of strings. A composer should be a chameleon, Lunn and Neveux agreed, rather than settle on a specific style- including the working style. Neveux described his work for Borgia and Un Village Français as that of a DJ who composes the new scores based on the existing ones and tries to reconceptualise them.

Likewise, the role of the composer himself was reimagined in the “Regards Croisés” masterclass. Music for series has helped emphasise the overall importance of music in film, serving as an effective tool for branding and highlighting the craftsmanship of the composer, as well. Music and familiar theme songs are widely promoted through international broadcastings all year-round. Keeping on this note, the Série Series festival was brought to a close with a live concert of themes from Downton Abbey orchestrated by John Lunn. The Symphonifilm Orchestra’s performance was accompanied by images from the series, giving a small insight into the real work of composing for television series.

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