Scott Doherty is a lifelong musician, though some might say a reluctant composer. After moving from his hometown of Maine to Los Angeles at the age of 18, Scott’s early musical pursuits included playing live music to large audiences at venues like the House of Blues and the El Ray and performing in the South Coast Repertory Theatre production ‘Against Oblivion’, among other productions. He was led to study and pursue sound and music composition and since then, has composed music for numerous film and TV projects, including ‘Weeds’, ‘Orange is the New Black’ and most recently, ‘The Holdouts’. We sat down to talk with Scott about his career as a musician and composer.
How did you get into composing for television?
Looking back, I feel like it was something I didn’t directly aim to do. I was in the band world playing keys for other bands and I hit a point with where I felt somewhat stilted, which moved me away from the record format and more into instrumental music. From there I dove into the recording studio and was just fascinated by everything. It was over the course of a year that I was asked to write a couple of score-based projects. I was asked to direct a few shows, music for a documentary called ‘Becoming Santa’, and these projects felt more like a perfect fit, using music to tell stories. Not long after, I ran into a friend who was a music supervisor and she’d become the head of music for the E! Network. I began to work on a string of shows for them, doing theme songs for different shows. I was still craving writing music to picture, and about that time is when the opportunity for ‘Orange is the New Black’ came in. I was asked to join in the series that would be on Netflix, and at the time, digital wasn’t what it was today – so it was really a leap of faith.
Yeah, I remember at the time it was announced it seemed really weird like, television on Netflix? How does that even work? *laughs* Yeah, people were really unsure of the platform, but I saw the entire first season of ‘Orange’ before the rest of the world did and I fell in love with it: the story, the characters, the incredible actors. I just had no idea how lucky we would become with this series.
With each season (of ‘Orange is the New Black’) being released all at once, what is the schedule for creating the score for each episode, compared to a regular television series? Has everything already been shot? There are a lot of similarities actually, in the way that we have a similar production schedule to a regular show on network cable. There’s about a week to do each episode, and production is usually about three to four episodes ahead of us, but it is still the same production flow. The difference is that we’re not getting feedback week to week from audiences. Because all thirteen episodes are available at once, Netflix encouraged us (in fact they sent a note about it about halfway through the first season) to think of it really as a thirteen hour-long movie, rather than a normal, episodic TV show. And that changed the way that I look at the character theme arcs and making sure that whatever happens in episode one, that same day the audience could be watching episode eight, so the continuity needed to be there.
Right, so if each season is like a movie, does that mean there is more there in terms of character motifs?
Yes, and with ‘Orange’ there is such a diverse cast, with so many “lead” actors and actresses, so we really try and focus in on a specific melodic theme or sonic world that is created to support each character, and some of that makes its way into their flashbacks. Some of those themes are in fact born in flashbacks because with some characters we don’t get to really know them until those moments. But it really does feel more like scoring a film than a television show in that regard.
So with Season 5 coming on June 9th, have any of the (musical) themes changed over the years?
Oh most definitely. One of the biggest would be Dayanara’s theme, which started as her and Bennet’s love theme and as their relationship went on the rocks, it created a flipped version of the same theme, but more dark. Suzanne’s (“Crazy Eyes”) theme starts off more aggressive, but as we get to know her, the innocence comes out. And then there’s a hybrid of the two, and also there’s some situational themes that come back over time. I really feel the prison itself has a real character to it, there’s an “essence” of what prison sounds like.
Definitely. What about Piper? Because she’s the one who’s really thrown headlong into all of this at the start.
I feel like the way we’ve worked with Piper through the seasons is more situational in terms of themes. Some of them have been more whimsical, a theme to reinforce the isolation she was feeling (in the SHU), then in – I think it was season three – there was the “Piper 2.0” theme with an aggressive Piper finding her voice and that carried over into season four. There really isn’t one central theme for Piper, it really changes from season to season for her.
I actually misunderstood what this show was going to be about. Because when the preview for the pilot came out, I saw that Piper was being sentenced to this relatively short time in prison, so I thought ‘Orange is the New Black’ was meant to be a one-off, a one season and that’s it sort of deal. And then I saw articles about season two, three and I’m like “why is this show still going?” And that’s when I read the summaries and realized this show was a lot more complex than I imagined.
*laughs* Oh yeah, but it’s really something like ’24′, which plays out in real time. And it’s also hard to gauge how much time is actually passing in these seasons. We’ve seen one Christmas and one Valentine’s Day so far. But it really does feel like we haven’t even covered a year yet. No one is too specific with covering sentences. But this latest season (season 5) will cover exactly three days. That was the story motif for this season.
Wow, so there’s a lot of stuff packed in to this season?
Yes! It starts off with a bang and keeps on going, I wish I could talk about it but there’s only a week to go now. What’s great about the first season though, is it uses Piper to introduce us to prison, to what it would feel like to have something from your past that you may have forgotten come back and affect you. And also what it would feel like to be one of those people outside of the walls and suddenly find themselves inside it. And so I think they were able to use her story to get us into prison, and as soon as the 2nd season started, the focus is now on every other inmate. It’s no longer about the singular struggle of this woman, it’s now more about the life of women in prison.
So in theory this show could run indefinitely?
So, one last question, you said it was the same production flow as a regular television show. So is recording the music anything like film where you have the footage playing out in front of you?
Yes, it’s exactly the same. The way it breaks down is, we go to a spotting session where we sit down and watch the editor’s cut with temporary music put in. And we discuss it and say, “what do we like? Are there any character themes missing? Does it need to be funny or sad?” And then we have about five to six days to complete twenty-five to thirty pieces of music for the show. We go to a music review and watch the cues one by one, and it’s usually “love it”, “change this one thing” or “try again”. Then we have another day to review it before we start all over again. I tend to write and record the music at the same time. The best-case scenario for me when writing is to turn the music off and watch the same scene five or six times to see if a natural pace or rhythm comes through. And a lot of times the performer’s work is so strong that I begin to hear the music in my head straight away. I try to capture that emotional reaction as quickly as possible.
Wow, that is so amazing! Well thank you very much for sitting down to talk with me about Orange is the New Black
No problem! Thank you.