Carter Burwell Interview: ‘Space Force’ composer
Carter Burwell is best known for his film scores — earning Oscar nominations for “Carol” (2015) and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017) — so much so that even his agent thinks he’ll turn down TV opportunities. “My agent usually assumes I’m going to say no to television and shows, and it’s usually a safe assumption, but I am such a big such of Greg Daniels’ work that I said, ‘Yeah, I’d like to talk to him,’” Burwell shared on Gold Derby’s Meet the BTL Experts: Composers panel (watch above) about how he joined “Space Force.”
An “Office” reunion between Daniels and Steve Carell, “Space Force” is a comedy, but you might not be able to tell if you listen to its score in isolation. Going against type of what you’d consider “comedy scores,” Burwell created a traditional, militaristic and aspirational theme for the series, which chronicles the newly formed Space Force, led by General Mark Naird (Carell), as it tries to get to the moon. The music almost acts as a straight man to Naird & Co.’s antics, which includes sending a chimpanzee and dog into space to fix a solar panel.
“I said that I felt that Steve Carell’s presenting his character as a fully rounded human being, not just a comic character, but he’s got an inner life, a family he cares about, he’s got real hopes and dreams. I thought it’d be nice for me to play that rather than simply playing it as a comedy,” Burwell explained. “At that point, we were mostly concerned that it was too much of a comedy, so we discussed this idea of playing Steve Carell’s hopes and dreams. I suggested an Aaron Copland-style, Americana score. I didn’t even say orchestral, just Americana. There’s a piece of Copland’s called ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ that’s all brass and that works in the military milieu too, and Greg liked that idea. Hopefully it works because the nobility of the score points out the silliness that you’re sometimes seeing onscreen, but it also allows you to get involved in the challenges [they] have in getting rockets to the moon, which is one of the things they’re trying to do in Season 1.”
It culminates in the ninth episode, which is Burwell’s Emmy submission, when the crew takes off for the moon. Burwell, who won an Emmy for “Mildred Pierce,” crafted a triumphant, soaring theme for the occasion, but perhaps the most memorable pieces comes at the end of the episode when a rival rover rolls over Space Force’s flag against a backdrop of a dark, foreboding cue. The music seamlessly picks up as the 10th episode starts — a transition only possible on a streaming service like Netflix.
“It was my idea, although they had the picture. The picture is similar. You’re seeing it in different places, but the visual is similar. It turned out you can discuss with Netflix exactly where that automatic switch is going to happen that takes you to the next episode,” Burwell said. “You have a few seconds of ‘play’ in there. So we decided exactly where that would happen so that the music is able to match the key, etc., so that was a very nice way to create a segue. After all the glory and awe of landing on the moon, 9 ends on this dark, sinister note that then kicks off 10.”