“Stranger Things,” “Wednesday” and “Beef” became three of the biggest hits of the season, captivating audiences from the moment they started streaming. But any viewer who has re-watched them can attest to the fact that all three shows remain captivating after the initial buzz has died down thanks to their impeccable attention to detail.
At IndieWire’s Consider This Event on June 3, artists from all three series joined IndieWire Crafts journalist Jim Hemphill for a panel on the behind-the-scenes work that goes into our favorite television. Again and again, the speakers returned to the theme of going beyond to shape the smallest details in their quest for perfection.
When you think of the sounds of “Stranger Things,” Kate Bush’s epic battle sequences and needle drops might be the first things that come to mind. But re-recording mixer/supervising sound editor Craig Henighan explained that she puts just as much effort into sounds that often go unnoticed. The way he sees it, any sound can be an opportunity to add a creepy edge to a scene.
“Depending on the scene, if there are lights that are flickering or buzzing, I look at what frequencies they’re at and also what pitch they’re in, making them a little more uncomfortable,” Henighan said. “To see what Michael (Stein) and Kyle (Dixon) are doing in terms of the score and see if I need to play on that and or fight against it or really try to flow into it.”
To find the music for “Wednesday,” composer Danny Elfman and co-composer Chris Bacon and music supervisor Jen Malone walked a delicate line of creating the perfect balance between original and existing music. While the three artists mostly worked separately, a scene from Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday Addams covering The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” on cello in the first episode prompted the teams to work together in search of the perfect arrangement.
“For ‘Wednesday’ we came very early, because in the first episode we had the cello performance on camera from ‘Paint it Black,'” said Malone. “So we had to create it and really compose,” said music supervisor Jen Malone. “We also had to get it to Jenna in time so she could learn it, which she did phenomenally.”
Bacon explained that he did not initially intend to compose music for that scene, but jumped at the opportunity to add more orchestration. He said the attention to detail that entered the scene was one of the first indicators that he was working on a potential hit.
“One of the places where we indirectly collaborated was while Danny was finishing the score for the episode, we had this ‘Paint it Black’ thing,” Bacon said. “Initially it was just cello, and then eventually we thought ‘maybe we should add orchestra to that.’ So that was a really fun thing that I got to go in and do. There was direct synchronization between the source and the score. For me, that’s where I first thought, ‘this show could actually be something.’”
Elfman has taken a different approach, but his music-making process with his longtime collaborator Tim Burton is no less labor-intensive. The two men worked together for nearly 40 years, so Elfman knew he couldn’t rush things with Burton. They chose to let the music come naturally to them, running through countless ideas before organically settling on the sound of the show.
“I was working exclusively with Tim, because when I work with Tim he just likes to keep a closed circle. Like a tank that no one can enter,” Elfman said. “I also got involved very early on, because Tim didn’t know for sure what the tone was going to be. It just involved a lot of experimenting and finding out what “Wednesday” means musically. And Tim doesn’t like to be in a hurry. So I came in early, came up with a bunch of ideas, and finally honed it to ‘it feels like Wednesday’.”
For “Beef,” the music writing process has always been deeply intertwined with creator Lee Sung Jin’s scripts. Composer Bobby Krlic explained that the showrunner allowed him to attend early table readings, which helped him understand the show’s two main characters, Danny (Steven Yeun) and Amy (Ali Wong). Once he understood the strained relationship at the heart of the series, he was able to model his orchestrations on the personalities of two characters.
“Danny, from the very first frame of the show, there’s all this tension all this anxiety,” Krlic said. “With Amy, her life was much more about the facade of things, so we had softer things: glockenspiel and felt piano.”
Because Krlic was invited to start his score early, the show’s editing team was able to use his music to shape their understanding of the characters. ‘Beef’ editor Laura Zempel explained how Krlic’s score not only added to the show’s narrative, but actively shaped her understanding of it.
“We got a batch of music from Bobby before we started editing, so Harry Yoon, who started the pilot, got the lead for Danny at the hardware store. And just bringing it right up for him, it just makes the audience go, ‘Okay, there’s something going on under the surface with this guy. And I know that started Danny’s soundscape for us,” Zempel said. (Krlic). And that kind of set Amy’s character apart. With ‘Beef’ we were obsessed with the music and how it sounded.”
Watch IndieWire’s full Consider This Event panel above.
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