Michael Abels interview: ‘Allen v. Farrow’ composer
“Allen v. Farrow” composer Michael Abels just earned his first two Emmy nominations for his theme and score to the HBO docuseries — all the more notable because he had never worked on a non-fiction project until now.
“I asked [directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering] if there was a difference in scoring documentary versus film because I hadn’t done it before. I didn’t want to do in thinking I knew the answer,” Abels tells Gold Derby at our Meet the BTL Experts: Composers panel (watch above). “They were really supportive of me doing what it is that I do. It felt like I had the freedom to really help tell the story. At the same time, it is a documentary and you need to be conscious of allowing people to experience it as people telling their factual accounts of what happened.”
The four-part series covers the 1992 sexual assault allegations made against Woody Allen by then-7-year-old Dylan Farrow, whom Allen adopted after he started dating Mia Farrow, and the ensuing aftermath, including an infamous custody battle, Allen’s relationship with Mia’s daughter Soon-Yi Previn, and the public relitigation in the years pre- and post-#MeToo. Both Farrows, along with numerous family members and friends, participated in the show, along with several people involved with the case (Allen did not, but several clips from the audiobook of his memoir “Apropos of Nothing” are used).
Needless to say, there’s a lot of talking on the show, and for Abels, who has scored “Get Out” (2017) and “Us” (2019), his job was to support the dialogue. “It’s kind of a concerto for dialogue really,” he says. “There’s dialogue for everything, so the first thing you have to do is figure out how music can support dialogue rather than compete against it.”
In this case, there were three distinct parts of the story. The first were the early, happy days of Allen and the elder Farrow’s relationship, which offered “a chance to show a very romantic version of two people falling in love and of New York City being the backdrop of that in a very grand and romantic fashion.” Abels drew inspiration from jazz for this section, a nod to Allen’s hometown, but later, the tone shifts once the case and investigation start and there’s a lot of legal mumbo jumbo. “During that time the music needs to provide momentum so that people can digest this information and get a sense that it’s really leading to something,” Abels explains.
And finally, there are the firsthand accounts from Dylan and other witnesses. “I think the audience is very engaged with the person who’s testifying, if you will,” he says. “They wanna know whether they believe that person and I think that’s a very personal experience that happens between the viewer and the person on screen. At that point, the music really needs to back away and not try to influence people at all so they can feel like they’re really being allowed to get to the truth of what happened without anyone telling them how to feel.”