Tag Archives: The CW

Dynasty composer Paul Leonard-Morgan

By Randi Altman

Scottish-born composer Paul Leonard-Morgan, who owns a BAFTA award and Emmy nomination, has a resume that is as eclectic as it is long. He has worked on television (Limitless), films (The Numbers Station) and games (Dawn of War III). He has also produced music for artists such as No Doubt (Push and Shove).

In addition to the Wormwood miniseries for Netflix, one of Leonard-Morgan’s most recent projects is the soundtrack for The CW’s reboot of the show Dynasty. We recently reached out to him to talk about the show, the way he works and what’s next.

L-R: Dynasty showrunner Sallie Patrick, Paul Leonard-Morgan and director Brad Sieberling with various musicians.

The name Dynasty comes with certain expectations and history. Did you use the original as an inspiration or borrow bits from the original as an homage?
I remember watching Dynasty as a child, but other than the main theme I couldn’t begin to tell you what the music was like, other than it was pretty orchestral — Bill Conti is such a phenomenal composer. So right from the outset our showrunner Sallie Patrick and director Brad Sieberling and I wanted to do a title sequence with a modernized version of the iconic theme. People don’t tend to do title sequences these days, so it was very cool of The CW to let us do it.

We got a bunch of players into Capitol Studios and overlaid the orchestra onto my beats and synths. I brought in an old friend and Grammy-winning producer Troy Nokaan to pump up the beats a bit. And, of course, there was Tom (Hooten), principal trumpet player with the LA Philharmonic. For me, this is what the whole series’ ethos is about — tying the old to the new. Recording these players in the iconic Capitol Studios, where people like Sinatra recorded… we got such a vintage vibe going on. But then we added modern beats and synths – that’s what the whole score has become. Adding a cool ‘80s twist to modern sounds and orchestra. But other than the titles, the rest of the score does its own thing.

Can you talk about what the show’s producers wanted for the score? Did you have a lot of input?
We had detailed discussions at the start about what we wanted to achieve. Everything to do with the ‘80s is so trendy now — from fashion to music, but there’s a fine line between adding ’80s elements to give the music a nice edge, and creating an ’80s pastiche, which sounds dated.

I produce a lot of bands, so I started taking some of those beats and then adding in lots of analog synths. And then our scoring sessions added an orchestra. I was really keen to use a string section, as I felt that Dynasty is so iconic, giving it a small section would add that touch of class to it. The beats — the clicks, claps and kicks — are what gives the Fallon character her swagger — the synths give it the pace, and the orchestra gives it the cinematic quality. I was keen to find a sound that would become instantly recognizable as that Dynasty sound.

How would you describe your score? 
Unique!

Can you walk us through your process? How do you begin? What inspires you? 
I start by watching the episode with the director, editor and writer and then have a spotting session. We work out where the music should come in and out, but even that is open to interpretation, as sometimes their vision might be different from mine. They might imagine short musical cues, where I’m envisaging longer, shaped pieces.

For example, there’s a piece in the episode I’ve just finished (110) that lasts the entire part 4. Obviously, it’s not full-on drums the whole time, but doing cues like that give it some real shape and add to the visuals filmic qualities. After the spotting sessions, I go away and start writing. After a while, you get a feel for what’s working and what’s not — when to leave the dialogue alone and when to try and help it. We’re all pretty keen on not making the music too emotionally leading in this series. We want to let the acting do that, instead of sign-posting every happy/sad moment. When everyone’s happy, we’ll start orchestrating the music, get the parts ready, and then go off to Capitol, or another studio, to record the real players.

The schedule is pretty crazy — I have a week to score each episode. So while we’re recording the real players, the dub is in its final day. As we finish mixing each cue, we then start sending them over the Internet to the dub stage, where they quickly lay them in and balance the levels with dialogue and FX. They’re lucky that I don’t get the chance to go and sit in the dub much, as we’re literally mixing to the last second!

What tools do you use to create a score?
I use MOTU’s Digital Performer to write, produce and pre-mix, then everything gets transferred to Avid ProTools for the main recording session and final mix. Obviously, I have a million samples and lots of original analog synths.

You work in many different parts of the music world — TV, films and games. Do you have a preference? How are those hats different, or are they not very different at all?
It sounds like a cop-out, but I really don’t have a preference. I like working in different fields, as I always feel that brings a freshness and different take to the next project, consciously and sub-consciously. For example, I was scoring a series of plays for The National Theatre in London a few years ago — at the same time I was scoring the film Walking With Dinosaurs in LA and the game Battlefield Hardline — and that theatre score was so different from many things I’d done before. But it led to me working with the incredible filmmaker Errol Morris for his film The B Side, and subsequently his new Netflix series Wormwood.

Dynasty came more from my work with bands. I like working in different genres, as it keeps pushing me out of my comfort zone, which I feel is really important as an artist.

You are building a new studio. Can you talk about that?
It’s been a process! Two weeks to go! Before I moved to LA with my family, I had just completed building my studio in Glasgow, Scotland. Then we moved over here, as I was living on planes between the UK and the US. This was about three years ago. I’ve been renting a studio, but finally the time came to buy a house and it’s got a huge guesthouse in the backyard (2,000 square feet), so I decided to get it properly treated.

We pulled down most of the inside and spent the last six months soundproofing and giving it the proper acoustic treatments, etc. But it’s insane, as I’ve hardly been out of my studio in Santa Monica while the build process has been going on, so the contractors have been FaceTiming me to show me how the progress is going, Trying to make decisions after a week of 20-hour days is hard.

I was keen to move to a place that had birds and nature. Coming from Scotland I like my space, which is not the easiest thing to find in LA. I insisted on having tons of windows in the studios for daylight to pour in — something that is great for me, but awful acoustically, so the acoustic guys spent weeks designing it so the glass wouldn’t affect the sound! But it’s looking fantastic, and I’ll have the ability to record up to 20 players in there. The irony is, having moved to what I thought was a pretty quiet neighborhood, I have a mega-famous hip-hop artist right next to me. His soundproofing had better be as good as mine!

What’s next for you project-wise?
Other than the rest of the season on Dynasty (we’re not even halfway there yet!), I’m working on a game score for the next year and a half, and have a new film starting in the New Year. I’ll also be working with my team on The Grand Tour, Amazon’s big series. Errol Morris’ Wormwood was recently released on Netflix — that’s been a life highlight for me!

Kabir Akhtar: Editing The CW series ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

By Randi Altman

When Kabir Akhtar, ACE, who cut season one of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, got the itch to start editing, he didn’t even know that what he was doing was actually editing… he was just having some fun. In high school, Akhtar would use his computer, multiple tape decks and stereos to record and mix different songs, creating mash-ups, remixes and even musical voicemail messages. An editor was born!

After moving out to LA and paying his dues working on unscripted and music video shows, Akhtar went on to earn one Emmy nomination for editing the Billy Crystal opening sequence from the 2012 Academy Awards broadcast and another (along with frequent collaborator AJ Dickerson) for his work on Netflix’s Arrested Development in 2013.

With an editing resume that now also includes New Girl, The Daily Show and Behind the Music, Akhtar took on directing (the pilot episode of the MTV series 8th & Ocean, Unsolved Mysteries, the Billy Crystal/Melissa McCarthy opening for the 2012 Oscars, and the TV Diaries pilot for Fox) and garnered an associate producer title on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

This Penn graduate, who went on to film school at the University of Miami, knew all along that he wanted to work in scripted television. “I moved out here to get involved in narrative filmmaking and storytelling, and I felt very strongly that until I got a job doing that, I wasn’t going to stay at another job very long.”

Akhtar also knew he didn’t want to do the same job for years at a time. He was young and wanted to have different experiences that allowed him to meet different people. “I think I intentionally avoided having a steady gig for a very long time because as I moved from one job to another, I continued to build a network of contacts and people that I liked working with. I got more experience and more credits, which I think served me well in those early years. Others like the financial security that comes with having a steady job. I know my path is not for everybody.”

Akhtar still works freelance, too. In fact, while on hiatus from The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, he cut the pilot for Speechless for ABC, which just got picked up.

Let’s dig in a bit deeper with Akhtar and find out more about what led him to this quirky TV series, which is a one-hour musical comedy.

When did you get involved on the show, and what’s your workflow like?
I edited the pilot, which was a half-hour show, in the fall of 2014. We thought we made a great show, but Showtime passed. The good news was it was shopped around to other networks and got a pick-up at The CW. They turned it into a one-hour show, which was such a unique thing because nobody was making a one-hour musical comedy.

You have cut traditional half-hour comedies in the past, how was this different?
When the show became a one-hour, it gave us the opportunity to do more dramatic storytelling in addition to the comedy. In half-hours, you’re moving really fast to try to tell a story and land jokes, but with a one-hour you have time to dig into supporting characters’ stories and have more built-out emotional scenes. We can take the time to land emotions instead of just being in a race to get X number of jokes out every minute.

How does that affect the way that you edit? Do you let a reaction go a little bit longer? Do you let a joke sit longer?
The thing that helps the most is that our writers don’t overwrite the show. My first cut will usually only be a few minutes over, and at the end we’re rarely stuck with a show that’s more than a minute over, which is great. It’s the worst when you get a show down to the end, to a deadline, and you’re still 30 seconds over and you have to take out a joke that everybody likes.

Doing Arrested Development for Netflix, we didn’t have those parameters. With a network show, you have to deliver a show exactly to time, but for Netflix (like some cable networks), we didn’t have to hit a specific runtime per episode, so we never had to lose a joke or a story point “for time.”

Kabir Akhtar and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom the day after she won her Golden Globe.

How much footage do you have for one episode?
For each one-hour episode, we shoot seven days. That includes two or three musical numbers, which are essentially music videos. Like all scripted shows, we have one day of editing for every day of footage that comes in, plus another two or three days to get a first cut together (but with us it’s typically been two).

Because we’re a one-hour show, the directors come in after my first cut, and they get four days. We work with our producers, and then we go to the studio, then to the network, then we lock the show.

What about cutting the musical numbers?
I switched to a standing desk a few years ago, and that makes it a lot easier to cut music, because I will inevitably end up dancing along as I’m cutting. I’m convinced that it helps. I started my career cutting so much music, so I’ve always loved doing it. To have the opportunity to be cutting musical numbers, comedy scenes and some dramatic scenes for one show is so much fun.

Would you like to share your philosophy of editing?
Attitude-wise, it’s about protecting the show, I really believe that’s job one.

What about technically?
I have a workflow that I believe is different than most editors. I think many editors do a first cut of each scene as it comes in. Then, at the end of dailies, they glue the show together. I am not good at that at all.

What’s your process?
When I get a scene, my assistant editor Kyla Plewes and I will work with the Script Windows in Avid Media Composer — it allows you to very quickly pick through takes and performances, and it’s opened up the amount of options you have in the limited time that you have. I’ll go through a scene left to right and start to frame it out to get it shaped right. As I’m going through, I feel like I’m too close to it. My eyes are right up against every detail in the frame, like continuity issues and the smallest nuances of performance.

I’ll start with a clean take for line one and then have a different take for the second line, and then I’ll realize it didn’t work so I’ll try that first take again and try another take for that second line — I’m intentionally making mistakes over and over to stay open to finding something great by riffing, and I just keep making copies in a sequence. I don’t delete any of the stuff I’m doing, I keep making a giant mess, like putting all the Legos together, except I have a copy of each Lego. Eventually, I find pieces that click together a way that feels right and work my way across the whole scene that way.

When I get to the end, I’ve figured out the connective tissue and I have many copies of all of the individual pieces, but I’ve no idea how they go together. I have piles of connected Legos, alt versions of selected takes, but not a finished sequence. Again, because I feel I’m too close to it, having just done it, I put it away and start the next scene. Then I come back to it at the end of dailies, about a week later, and it all makes perfect sense… the pieces that want to be in the show flow and stand out immediately. By then I’ve seen all the footage for the whole show and I can gauge accurately how best to tell the story we’re trying to tell.

Can you talk about assistant editors and how they fit into the mix?
When you have a good AE, it’s really important to give them opportunities to get better at cutting or at working with people. I don’t know how you’re going to learn otherwise. I think everyone is looking for someone above us to give us an opportunity. I can’t tell you how much easier it makes working on a show when you’ve got a great assistant. I think I had years of working on shows with no AEs at all.

Our lead assistant editor on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Kyla, works on the side editing online content, which I think is the way to go these days in terms of growing your editing skills.

If you want to keep learning your craft you have to find things to edit, right?
Yeah, I went the path of editing, editing, editing, editing. The only two jobs I’ve ever had are editing and directing. Going the AE route, you might get an episode to edit on a show that you’ve been working on. But that can also be tough, because the people you’re working for still see you as an assistant editor. It can be difficult to change people’s perceptions of you if you’re staying at one job for a long time. Also, if that’s your first editing credit, it can be a lot of pressure and there’s not a lot of room to fail without consequences.

I feel pretty fortunate that my first jobs were lower profile projects. I certainly made large mistakes, like delivering a show out of phase once. But I was working for such a small company, luckily I didn’t get fired.

You have to make mistakes to learn as you go, I imagine?
You work your way up to these bigger things. It’s bad to deliver a show out of phase, but it’s way worse to do that if your first one of those is on a big multi-million-dollar episode. Everybody fails; you have to fail to grow. I’m still doing both — but hopefully more growing than failing.

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Main Image: Kabir Akhtar and Rachel Bloom after hearing about her Golden Globe nomination for her performance on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Creating ever-changing environments for CW’s ‘The 100’

By Jennifer Walden

The CW’s post-apocalyptic drama The 100 follows 100 juvenile convicts sent back to Earth 97 years after a nuclear war. They are sent back from a  space station called The Ark, which is dying: resources are diminishing and life support systems are starting to fail.

Viewers get to see both very distinctive environments and the struggles the inhabitants face. The Ark represents a sense of decay, and the Earth represents the hope of rebirth for humanity.

It was up to sound effects editor Peter Lago and supervising sound editor Charlie Crutcher, MPSE, to come up with what decay and rebirth sound like. They work out of Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.

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