Interview: “My Dinner with Herve” Composer David Norland
We spoke with composer David Norland for some insights into his recent work on “My Dinner with Herve” and how it fits into the range of projects he’s done.
Television and film composer, David Norland‘s music can be heard 24/7 around the globe. His resume has woken you up with Good Morning America and haunted your sleep with investigative reporting on 20/20. More recently, he’s provided the soundtrack for HBO’s unlikely buddy picture, My Dinner With Herve, which follows one wild night in LA between a struggling journalist (Jamie Dornan) and actor Hervé Villechaize (Peter Dinklage), resulting in life-changing consequences for both.
We sat down with the versatile composer and got the behind the scenes scoop on process and purpose on all things musically.
PremiumBeat: David, you’ve provided the soundtrack for several news and entertainment programs such as 20/20, Good Morning America, and The Chew. What do you feel is the musical agenda for these shows since reporting is supposed to be objective and music often manipulates emotions?
David Norland: A show like 20/20 is really a documentary program. Instead of short clips of up-to-the-minute news reporting, it takes a longer look at important stories. So there’s a narrative, with a sense of human drama. Often the documentaries deal with crimes, investigations, and sometimes murders. So the musical agenda is to really bring home the gravity of the human consequences in these situations. I think it’s easy to see current affairs stories as something distant happening to other people, and to skate past the real depth of emotion and personal human difficulty they can represent. These longer-form documentary shows dig deep into the human experience with such events, which to me is vital in keeping the stories real, something that’s actually relatable to on a human level. It’s really all about empathy, and that’s a great job for music.
PB: You contributed music to General Hospital and a variety of other ABC entertainment projects. What is your creative process when it comes to daytime dramas versus reality-based television? Did you work with particular themes associated with particular characters or shows? How did you get involved in these projects?
DN: I’d made a lot of music for ABC shows over the years, and some of the cues I’d written were popping up in General Hospital. I’m getting to know the Music Director/Composer of the show, Paul Glass, a little better now. He has a clear vision for the music for the show, and was also kind enough to include me in this year’s Emmy submission — and we got nominated!
PB: Your new HBO project, My Dinner with Herve, stars Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage as ’70s fan favorite actor on Fantasy Island, Herve Villechaize, who tragically took his own life at age 50. Was the score influenced by the time period of his fame or did you take a more modern approach?
DN: Great question. In the film, “now” is 1992, and an interview with Herve Villechaize is taking place. His story take us back to his childhood in 1940s Paris, New York in the early 60s, and Hollywood in the 70s and 80s. A lot of time periods from a musical point of view. So my approach was to find a timeless palette of sounds to work with, namely a small string ensemble and a very soft, close-mic’d piano. The only piece where I consciously acknowledged the particular time period was when Herve arrives in New York in the early 60s. I wrote a piece of post-bop jazz for that, as he struts down the street in his awesome suit, reveling in the craziness of NY. Recording it was a great afternoon in the studio, with some amazing musicians.
Once we had a tone for the score which worked over all the different eras involved, the focus was on finding themes that really spoke to the journey of the two main characters. They’re really both dragging each other along on a crazy and painful journey to self-honesty. We see the stupid, hurtful, crazy things they’ve done, and their struggle to come to terms with them. And we have to love them despite it all, and really feel the tragedy and redemption at the end. Those were some of the things in the forefront of my mind as we were working on the music.
PB: You’ve worked with your personal friend, writer/director Sacha Gervasi on two projects, November Criminals and My Dinner with Herve. Is there an advantage creatively when you have an established friendship and a track record collaboration already with the director?
DN: Definitely. It helps with understanding what the storyteller is aiming for, what makes them tick, what their artistic values are, what drives them emotionally. What kind of creative journey are we going on? How experimental can we be? What kind of environment to take artistic risks is there? These are all questions that come up whoever you’re working with. With someone you’ve known for more than thirty years, you already have that understanding, so you can get right down into the creative work. And there’s an existing musical frame of reference. I also scored Sacha’s first movie, the doc Anvil! The Story Of Anvil. But our collaboration goes all the way back to falling through holes in the stage while performing in a band together at school. So there’s a lot to draw from.
PB: You are incredibly versatile musically. Is there a particular type of project that you feel showcases your core interest as a composer? Are there any genres, artists, networks or stories you are dying to tackle?
DN: There’s so much more I want to do. Sacha and I have talked about doing a choral score – we both loved the score for Paulo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. I really enjoyed working with Len Amato at HBO, the creative encouragement is so strong there, so I’d jump at a chance to work with them again. Being a Brit, I’d love to score a UK crime drama — something like Abi Morgan’s brilliant River, or Marcella. And I’d also like to score a BBC period drama. I’m still totally a Brit all the way through.
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