When composers are struggling on a piece, sometimes all it takes is one simple directive or another set of eyes — or ears, rather — to help them crack it. For “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” composers Thomas Mizer and Curtis Moore, everything became crystal clear when Amy Sherman-Palladino told them that the Harry Belafonte song they had to write should be a wedding toast, not a pop hit. The duo hails from the theater world, where often complete strangers help them unlock pieces.
“One of the things that we get the option of doing that’s so different from working in TV and film is that… we get to present it in front of an audience at a preview,” Mizer tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Composers panel group discussion with fellow Emmy nominees Brian Tyler (“1883”), Siddhartha Khosla (“Only Murders in the Building”), Christopher Willis (“Schmigadoon!“) and Theodore Shapiro (“Severance”) (watch the exclusive video interview above). “And a lot of times, if something is really difficult or really hard, it’s usually because we’re going at it from the wrong angle, like we’re writing the wrong song or writing the wrong moment for a song. There’s something not right about it, but the minute you put it in front of an audience, they will tell you right away if something is working or not working. I love sitting in an audience theater and I watch the audience, not the show [and] they very, very clearly tell you if they’re not interested or if they are interested. I think those are the moments, for me, that are really enlightening.” Click on each name above to watch that person’s individual interview.
Shapiro concurs that feedback from another person — anyone — is important because you can’t see the piece through an audience’s eye until you go over your work with somebody else. “Suddenly you’re not watching it through your own eyes, you’re watching it through that other person’s eye and you can see what it is,” he says. “That can be just totally horrifying because you think you’ve written this great cue and then you realize it’s all wrong. Or you think, ‘Oh, man, I’ve got this score nailed,’ and then you go to a preview screening and the minute the movie starts, you’re like, ‘This is not what I want it to be.’ Or ‘This cue is really not pulling its weight.’ Or ‘It’s trying way too hard.’ Sometimes there’s no way to know until you can see it through somebody else’s eye.”
And to be clear, the reverse is also true. “It’s not always thinking that you’re great and being disappointed,” he adds. “Sometimes you feel like you’ve just tossed something off and there’s nothing there, and then you realize when you see it with an audience, ‘Oh, actually, that’s perfectly simple and it’s good.'”
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