Composers Amin Bhatia and Ari Posner Discuss Their ANNE WITH AN E Score
After watching the first five minutes of Netflix’s “Anne with An E” it’s no secret that the show’s original score is going to stand out like a character all of its own. Heightening the beautiful sweeping landscape shots while giving Anne a voice and personality all at the same time, even before she speaks. Composers Amin Bhatia and Ari Posner brilliantly push the story forward with their Celtic and distinctive score. Veterans to the business Bhatia & Posner have been Emmy nominated for their “Get Ed” main title theme and won both a Canadian Screen award & Gemini award. In the below interview they discuss their work on the hit Netflix show.
-Talk to me about your musical backgrounds. How did you get involved in scoring, and what initially attracted you to the business?
AMIN: I was captivated by film scores since age eight or nine watching movies on tv and loving all this kind of “classical music” that was in the background. I also loved electronics and tape machines so my idols were Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams on one hand and Isao Tomita and Wendy Carlos on the other. As synthesizers became affordable I found they could became my little “mini-orchestra” and so my first scoring assignments were documentaries or corporate videos using a Minimoog and a 4-track recorder. That was nearly 40 years ago. The studio and the projects have grown a little bit since then, lol.
ARI: I started piano lessons when I was about six or so. My parents tell me that I was pretty self-motivated from the beginning and they never really had to be on my case much to practice. In high school I started to play a lot by ear figuring out chord progressions of pop tunes…the usual stuff – Chicago, Billy Joel, Elton John. I played in a few bands but never really considered a career in music until I moved to York University in Toronto to do a Bachelor of Fine Arts as a music major. My plan was to get my undergrad and then apply to law school. But once I started studying music in that college environment one thing led to the next and I never really looked back. It was at this time that I began meeting some film students and learning about the scoring process.
–Anne with an E tackles some pretty serious subject matters. Do you all find it more difficult to score a show like this as opposed to a Disney show such as Get Ed?
Each project has it’s own unique set of challenges. The style can be anything from action to comedy to drama. The difficulty comes in finding a melody and a sonic palette that connects the story to the audience. Sometimes we nail that right away and other times it takes a few revisions before we get it right.
-How much does the setting of a story influence your score? Such as Green Gables.
The setting and the time period does influence our score choices but then the characters and the story have a big influence as well. There’s also the picture editing and other sonic elements like dialogue and sfx. Most of the time the question is “what does music need to do to finish the vision of the show?” In a series like “Anne with an E”, our approach is sometimes very minimal and reacting only to the stunning PEI visuals. Other times the music takes on a more prominent role providing tension, or energy to heighten the emotions of a scene.
A large part of the sound of this this show came from our very talented “Anne Band” consisting of Drew Jurecka on violin/viola/baritone violin, Kirk Starkey on cello, Sara Traficante on both traditional and Celtic flutes, and Joel Schwartz on acoustic and electric guitars as well as mandolin.
-Because you knew Anne with an E was going to be streaming on Netflix and people would binge watch, did that make you change your musical approach at all?
The musical approach did not change with this new phenomenon of binge watching. What did change were the deadlines because there were a certain number of episodes that had to be ready by the Netflix launch date. So we had to compress our scoring process into a much tighter frame than what we’ve done in the past for network or cable. Because of this we knew it would help a great deal to work with players and technicians that we’ve worked with before, including music editor Joe Mancuso and re-recording mixer Alan DeGraaf. Thanks to them and the crew at Sound Dogs and Technicolor, we all had a short-hand way of working with each other. This helped create some wonderful “last-minute miracles” at the mix stage.
-Do you all have a specific creative process that you follow, or do you find it varies depending on the project or the people that you’re working with?
The project and people determine the style and the speed with which we have to work, but the process is the same. We start by setting up the palette of instruments and finding the signature sounds that resonate with specific characters or settings. It’s this early process that takes the most amount of time, whether that means finding new sounds in our studio libraries or working with other musicians.
-Each episode of Anne with an E was directed by someone different. Do each of the directors have their own take on what their episode should sound like or how does that work? Does this make it difficult to have a cohesive sound for the entire season?
Some directors will influence the score more than others but everything is determined by showrunner Moira Walley Beckett and producer Mirdanda DePencier. So in the end it was always very cohesive, between the Celtic textures and the classical orchestral pieces. There were only occasional changes in musical style but that was to suit the story.
-Describe your soundtrack/score history. Were there projects that were particularly meaningful to you or that helped shape your career?
We’ve each had our successes and challenges in our own projects but if we were to pick a joint project that was a definitive moment in our careers it would be “Flashpoint”. It was there that we really solidified our workflow and creative process and learned how to maintain consistent quality while writing a lot (and we mean A LOT) of music for this landmark show.
“Flashpoint” was created by Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern. Other shows that we’re proud of like “X Company” and “Anne with an E” have come directly from them or from people who they referred us to. Thank you yet again Mark and Stephanie!