'House of Cards' Composer on Plans for Season 4, Live Symphonic Suite (Q&A)
"I'm also having to uncover the next layer of the onion," said Jeff Beal at the Krakow Film Music Festival.
Fans of House of Cards won’t know if President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) can win the White House -- or win back his wife -- until season four debuts next spring. But the series’ composer, Jeff Beal, hopes to bring music from the Emmy-nominated Netflix series to symphony houses before then.
Beal has written a 55-minute House of Cards symphony, synchronized to screen images from the show, that he plans to conduct with symphonies around the globe. “I workshopped it at the Eastman School a few months ago, and we are in the early stages of getting the rights worked out so we can take this out to orchestras all over the world,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter exclusively at the Krakow Film Music Festival. Beal is in Krakow to conduct a suite of music from House of Cards, as well as The Dovekeepers and an HBO overture of themes from the cable outlet’s shows at the International TV series concert held at that 10,000-seat Tauron Arena.
His goal is to premiere the new symphony as early as the end of 2015, and he is working with Columbia Artists Management Inc. (CAMI) to figure out the logistics of presenting and touring his piece.
Beal spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the new venture, as well as scoring the political series.
Spill everything you can about season four.
Aside from the fact that everybody dies? [Laughs] I’ve just received the story bible and the script breakdown, so I literally know in big picture the shape of the season, which I kind of try to forget when I'm working. I can’t really give anything away, but we've left off at the end of season three, President Underwood is not a very popular president, and he's got to win a real election at some point, and his wife has just run out on him, which I think is the most devastating part of that. I love that musically, as the story sort of unravels, I’m also having to uncover the next layer of the onion.
Is it fun for you when the show travels, such as last season when Frank and Claire (Robin Wright) went to Russia, and you can work some of those musical flavors in?
Love that part of season three. That was one of my favorite storylines, when Claire goes to free the dissident. It’s really fun for me musically. Here we are in Eastern Europe. There's a certain part of musicality that comes out of this particular part of Europe that’s very expressive, that I grew up with. Some of my heroes were Stravinsky and Prokofiev, Bartok, so that language always appealed to me. And the whole Jordan Valley and Israel storyline was fun because, without being a travelogue, it let the music be broadened out. He’s president, his life is on the global stage, so it felt right to sort of expand that palette.
Since an entire season is released at once and people binge-watch episodes consecutively, how does that affect how you compose and not being too repetitive?
I’m not averse to having themes that occur — that can be a very powerful device — but we did talk about this very early on. After the first episode, literally spotting the next episode, our editor said most people will just watch the pilot and hopefully they’ll push play and go on to the next one. So it sort of crept into our thinking. It’s sort of like a house you never finish: You add rooms to it, you build a new wing, you don’t know where it’s going to go.
Who is your favorite character to write for?
Frank and Claire, you gotta sort of start with them, but I’m always more interested in beneath that surface. Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) [is] always a fun character. There’s something very tragic and very moving about him that I’ve always really had fun with. For all these characters, and especially for Doug in season two, there were just sort of these wonderful sequences where he’s walking through a room and thinking and you just know this emotional baggage is so heavy, but nobody’s saying anything, so for a composer that’s always a fun space, because it’s really up to you to define that world and give it a real dramatic voice.
Is there something showrunner Beau Willimon said to you that’s stuck with you on how to do your job?
The first couple of episodes, which David Fincher directed, set a way of thinking, which was very helpful. [David] talked about this whole idea of metaphor, which is very much part of Beau’s writing. There’s a way in which the music is at times going a bit beyond the obvious of what you see and going to a slightly more metaphorical plane. When you start to think that way, it gets you out of the tyranny of thinking, “Do I have to score each of these beats?” I’ve always written music for the season before I even see the cuts, just based on reading some scripts.
So you've already started season four?
Now is about the time when I will start. I’ve been digesting it and will start to write some themes. That’s fun, because I can think purely musically about the story that we’re going to tell, and I can think more expansively. I don’t have to think, “I go from point A to point B, and I’ve got 40 seconds.”
We’re here in Krakow, where there seems to be an appreciation for live film and TV music in Europe that the U.S. doesn't have…
I am encouraged, because I see it’s changing in the U.S. When I was in New York, I had a meeting with CAMI. I’ve done a whole House of Cards symphony. I wanted to distil some of my favorite music from the three seasons. I don’t want to tell the story, but I want people to feel like they're in that world, so it's organized into movements, and each movement might be about a character or a theme. [For] the video portion, I’m stringing together things that tell that character’s story. One of the movements is called Betrayal, one of them is about Claire, one of them is about Russia. I feel like people that have seen the show will really be able to enjoy it in a different way because they’ll be hearing a symphony orchestra play it and we’ll be using the footage and the dialogue. And for someone who hasn’t seen the show, there’s some plot in there, but not so much it’s going to ruin the story. I conduct it. We’re just getting the rights together.