Earlier this month I had the opportunity to speak with composer Jeremy Turner about his work on the Netflix series Immigration Nation and his work on the main theme for Marvel’s 616 on Disney+. For both of these scores, Turner is in contention for an Emmy, one for Documentary Score and one for Main Title Theme.
The docuseries Immigration Nation follows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers on raids, at detention centers, and attempting to integrate with local law enforcement. The cruelty viewers see firsthand is gut-wrenching and the score depicts the tension and fear seen on screen. Turner scored the project almost like a horror film to match the devastating and unfortunate reality that many have been oblivious to. The revelations in the doc are uncomfortable and the audience feels the heaviness of the high stakes circumstances so many in this country have been subjected to.
Marvel’s 616, in complete contrast, is an anthology documentary television series that illustrates different pockets of the Marvel Universe. Some episodes revolve around Marvel cosplay, Marvel action figures, and even a Marvel Comics-themed musical.
Jeremy Turner began his musical studies on the piano at the age of 5 and started playing the cello when he was 8 years old. After growing up in Michigan, he attended The Juilliard School as a pupil of Harvey Shapiro and studied chamber music with Felix Galimir. As a composer, his music has been heard around the world, from Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House. Noted works include The Inland Seas, composed for violinist James Ehnes and mandolinist Chris Thile and commissioned by the Seattle Chamber Music Society; Suite of Unreason, a commission from the Music Academy of the West for their 70th Anniversary season; and a choral work for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Wave Hill in New York.
Please enjoy my conversation with Jeremy Turner about his work on Immigration Nation and Marvel’s 616.
How did you get started as a composer?
I started writing music when I was a toddler, making up songs on an old upright piano in the basement of our family home. But then got sidetracked for about 20+ years, as I became a cellist in an orchestra in New York and had a performance career that kept my calendar pretty full. Eventually, I got back to doing what I was probably meant to do in the first place, and I’ve been composing ever since.
How did you get involved with Immigration Nation?
Through Shaul Schwarz, who directed the first film I ever scored—Narco Cultura back in 2013.
Given how important the story being told in this docuseries is, how did you decide where to start in putting the music together?
I knew it was going to be a fairly daunting task and would have a lot of emotional ups and downs. So, I just started at the beginning by writing a couple of sketches for the main titles, and that led to some established themes from which we could work with.
I find it very interesting that you chose to score the series similar to a horror film, was that your concept for the musical style for Immigration Nation from the beginning or did you come to that conclusion after trying several different styles?
It’s not all horror of course, but we discussed early in the process what fear might sound like. And much as I tried to leave the cello behind (since it is the instrument that I’m most comfortable with), directors Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau really wanted the full range of what the cello could bring. At its best it can be heart wrenching, melancholy, and probably is the closest musical instrument to the human voice. But when you start pushing beyond the limits of conventional approaches and experiment with extended techniques, you can draw out some incredibly unsettling tones.
How much time did you have to score Immigration Nation?
I’d say about 3-4 months. It was during the early days of the pandemic, so there were a lot of adjustments made on the fly, in terms of how we would work together and how we would finish.
Are there any musical moments in Immigration Nation that you hope viewers notice?
It’s a strange project to have any sense of pride about because it’s all so real and all so tragic. Honestly, I just hope people muster up the courage to watch it because I think it is something every American needs to see, regardless of what one thinks they might already know.
Was there any part of Immigration Nation that you had difficulty scoring? Or any part where you decided music just wouldn’t work?
To be truthful, I had difficulty scoring the entire series. Not technically, but just emotionally. The final minutes of episode 5, I don’t think I’ve ever made it through without shedding a tear. But yes, there was a delicate balance to not score a scene that didn’t need to be scored. There is a lot of raw emotion on screen, so we made a conscious effort to not have the music force anything that wasn’t already clearly being felt.
On a different note, how did you go about scoring the title music for Marvel’s 616?
Marvel? Big heroic theme? Less than a minute of music? This is a dream scenario for any composer!
Were you inspired at all by the Avenger’s theme that recurs throughout the MCU? I may be wrong but I swear I hear a musical resemblance between the two.
I flipped through some Marvel music from scores past to see where I’d be coming from for sure. Always helpful when taking over a shift in the kitchen to know what the previous menu was. But no, the themes aren’t related other than the fact that they are played by a big orchestra.
How much time did it take to compose the title music for Marvel’s 616?
Not terribly long, only in that the actual titles hadn’t been created yet. So, I just wrote a single sketch based on our initial conversations and that ended up being the final music. Yes, I realize that will probably never happen again!
I want to say thank you to Jeremy Turner for taking the time to speak with me about his work on Immigration Nation and Marvel’s 616.
I hope you enjoyed reading this interview and have a great day!
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