Steven Price interview: ‘David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet’ composer
“David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” is not the first David Attenborough project that Steven Price has scored, but it is the most different. The Netflix film is not your typical nature documentary, but rather a “witness statement” from Attenborough about how humanity has harmed the planet in his 93 years on Earth alone.
“This was the first time David’s really wanted to sit in front of the camera and give his take on things. It was a totally different kind of take on it and a very intimate thing. And for him, he’s a very private man who’s not really known for stating his own views on things, it’s kind of a huge deal at the age of 93 as he was when he made this film,” Price tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Composers panel (watch above). “It was this amazing honor to be asked and then you’re faced with, how are we gonna make this as good as we all want it to be for David and the message he’s giving and for the world as well?”
An average nature doc would call for sweeping, epic music behind stunning visuals or animals in their element, but Price, who earned an Emmy nomination for his “A Life on Our Planet” score, used the “less is more” approach with scaled-down, sparse pieces, usually just in the form of a cello or piano. Though the subject of the doc is grand, it’s ultimately very intimate and personal as Attenborough recounts his life and how the planet has changed during that time.
“The key thing for me from the very start was this has to be music that feels like his story and how to do that,” Price shares. “I would ask people around him who work with him a lot, ‘What does David like to listen to?’ And the answer was he’s got a library in his house and it’s got loads and loads of vinyl records of chamber music. He likes intimate, detailed chamber stuff, so that immediately mean we weren’t gonna be doing the big orchestral thing. It was gonna be a quiet detailed thing. That meant I could go through the musicians that I’ve worked with a lot over the last few years … and pretty much write specifically for people I know really well and trying to capture a sense of David.”
In that sense, the revered natural historian’s voice served as Price’s main instrument. “I definitely think of Sir David’s voice as my lead instrument and everything has to work around him. He speaks in this really beautifully musical way,” he notes. “There are gaps and the way he kind of crescendos into his ideas is really musical and you find yourself playing along and magically it takes you into places you wouldn’t have ordinarily gone. I was lucky on this film that an awful lot of his narration was already recorded before I saw the film and I could really just build around that.”