Theodore Shapiro interview: ‘Severance’ composer
“I first learned about this show very casually at a Halloween party,” admits “Severance” composer Theodore Shapiro. “I was with Adam Scott, who I know because our kids go to school together. He mentioned that he was working on this series with Ben Stiller. He mentioned a little something about what the premise was and it sounded amazing. I sort of thought, ‘I hope I get that call.’ In late 2019 Ben called and told me about the series and he sent me a couple of scripts. It was immediately so thrilling and sparked so many ideas. I started writing themes immediately.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.
“Severance” is a psychological thriller created by Dan Erickson and directed by Stiller. It stars Scott as Mark Scout, a man who leads a team of office workers whose memories have been surgically divided between their work and personal lives. The series debuted to rave reviews on Apple TV+ and currently holds a freshness rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.
SEE Making of ‘Severance’: Our fun, lively roundtable panel featuring Ben Stiller, Adam Scott, Dan Erickson and more
The composer explains that the score was initially more electronic and beat-driven, but he switched things up after a meeting with Stiller. “We met and he showed me all of the drawings and the look-books,” Shapiro explains. “He kept fast-forwarding to this section that had this chord progression. I thought, ‘There’s something he’s responding to here that should be expanded on.’ When I got back to Los Angeles, I sat down at the piano and I started playing that chord progression, but just on the piano and I was like, ‘Oh, here’s something really cool.’ This takes the whole score and instead of emphasizing a more science-fiction aspect to it, it really zeroes in on the mystery of what’s happening at Lumon.”
“In this show, we worked with such a minimal palate,” he says. “A lot of times, what can work best in terms of creepiness is just utter simplicity. Sometimes just a few notes on the piano are enough to be scarier than a 90-piece orchestra doing crazy stuff. I love shows or films that work with a minimal palate like that, so that was a great gift to be able to play in that kind of a sandbox.”
Shapiro was an Emmy nominee for his work on the 2012 TV Movie “Game Change.” His previous credits also include films “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (2021), “Bombshell” (2019) and Stiller projects such as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (2013), “Zoolander 2” (2016), “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” (2004) and “Starsky & Hutch” (2004).