Emmy Composers on Helping Celine Dion Through an Emotional Song

8:30 AM 8/18/2017

by Craig Tomashoff

Nominees across six music categories reveal how their creations tuned in to the storyteller's intentions.

Celine Dion
Celine Dion
Pierre Andrieu/AFP/Getty Images

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • 'Stayin' Alive: A Grammy Salute to the Music of the Bee Gees' (CBS)

    Rickey Minor | Music Direction

    Getty Images

    For Stayin' Alive, Minor had to help good friend Celine Dion through "Immortality," a tune that not only honored the late Maurice and Robin Gibb but also was something she'd once performed after the deaths of her husband, brother and father. "Moments like those make these more than just shows because music is a healer," he says.

  • 'Fargo' (FX)

    Jeff Russo | Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie or Special

    Chris Large/FX

    Russo has been nominated for each of Fargo's three seasons — but he's still learning on the job. This year, the composer used a piano for the first time in a score: "We started this season talking about writing a piano sonata for Nikki [Mary Elizabeth Winstead]," he says. "I'm not truly a pianist. I've always thought of it as a soft and emotional instrument, but I found out I could write very aggressive pieces of music."

  • 'The Good Fight' (CBS All Access)

    John Buckley | Main Title Theme Music

    Patrick Harbron/CBS

    After composing the theme for The Good Wife, Buckley had to conjure something both the same and different for the series' spinoff. His solution was to create a theme that "was loud and bombastic," he says. "I couldn't write something as big as that in the show itself, but in a theme, you can try it. I'd heard the concept was law office equipment and a judge's gavel. I wasn't sure how to manifest that, so I made the music bigger and more ludicrous."

  • 'Better Call Saul,' "Sunk Costs" (AMC)

    Thomas Golubic | Music Supervision

    Ursula Coyote/Sony Pictures Television/AMC

    This is the maiden voyage for this Emmy category, and it's come at the right time for Golubic. Saul's third season found Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) finally slipping toward his Saul Goodman persona from Breaking Bad. "We never really had music for Saul in Breaking Bad, so he was always kind of an open slate," says Golubic. "We were able to start building his music entirely from scratch. The first season, you could feel the experimentation as we tried to figure out who he is, but with season three, the show was finally able to create a better sense of the man, and I hope the music helped with that."

  • 'Planet Earth II' (BBC America)

    Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe | Music Composition for a Series

    Elizabeth White

    This is the lone documentary in the category, and, says Shea, "The world literally was our canvas." Klebe's most memorable moment was more for the birds: 1 million chinstrap penguins on a British island. "Musically, we created a juxtaposition between the brutality of the waves crashing and tender, nurturing care of the penguin families."

  • 'Saturday Night Live' (NBC)

    Eli Brueggemann (music), Chancelor Johnathan Bennett (lyrics), Kenan Thompson (lyrics), Will Stephen (lyrics) | Music and Lyrics

    Caroline De Quesada/NBC

    There was no more topical nominee in this category than SNL's "Last Christmas," which featured Thompson and Chance the Rapper (Bennett) waxing nostalgic about the end of Barack Obama's presidency. According to Thompson, it took hours of painstaking research to mimic the look and sound of Run-D.M.C.'s legendary "Christmas in Hollis" video. "We were commemorating something that was a very bittersweet moment for all of us," he says.