“’Bad Education’ is a tragedy that takes place on a really small stage,” says composer Michael Abels about the HBO film. In our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above), he continues, “We think of schools as being smaller than they actually are. The director Corey Finley was not afraid to play a scene dry. But when there is music, the music really tells the story. There are a lot of sequences in the film where there isn’t much dialogue. It’s just visuals and music telling the story.”
The TV movie stars Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney as the corrupt educators. Abels explains, “The film is based on a true story of a pretty large school embezzlement scandal that took place in 2003 on Long Island. It doesn’t sound like your first choice of a story for a film, but watching the way the story unravels is what makes the film so amazing.”
On writing the music for the film he describes that, “the score is designed to be legitimately classical. Because that’s the kind of music Frank Tassone, played by Hugh Jackman, naturally listens to; it’s helping portray his character. Also, the hallowed halls of esteemed academia. That’s the sort of thing that classical music is really great at illustrating. The score causes us to be thinking upper crust academic mode already. There’s also some minimalist music in the score and that represents the investigation, where the student journalists are beginning to understand things are not what they appear. The minimalist music represents that onion slowly being peeled to reveal that inner core.”
One of his favorite pieces of music comes near the end of the film. The composer reveals, “I like a cue that’s near the end of the film called ‘unraveling air.’ It’s a scene where the scandal has broken. It’s in the auditorium and the parents are angry. Frank is trying to keep a lid on things. He’s finally no longer in control. It’s a cue when the classical music and the minimalist music come together. It’s tragically sad and in a grand scale, but also has these minimalist elements. It’s a cue that’s unique both in the film and the music I’ve written. To see how well it works in the film really makes me happy. I didn’t know I could put minimalist music and classical music together.”
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