Composer Jim Dooley on creating the original score for Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (interview)

Having previously worked with director/producer Barry Sonnenfeld on ABC’s forensic fairytale Pushing Daisies, it only made sense when Sonnenfeld asked composer Jim Dooley to score the second season of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Dooley, who took home the Emmy for his Pushing Daisies score, used many different styles/vibes such as Latin, Morricone and Swing to match the eclectic aesthetic of the show. We decided to sit down with Dooley and have a more in-depth discussion about his musical approach to the show. Read below.

Having not scored the first season, how did you get involved with the second season of A Series of Unfortunate Events?

Barry Sonnenfeld called me. We worked together on Pushing Daisies first and then some other shows. The style of A Series of Unfortunate Events is somewhat similar to Pushing Daisies, so it was a natural continuation of our work together.

What was your process of creating the key themes needed for the show? Were you seeing edits of the show or were you working off of the script?

Initially, I was working off the scripts. The character themes I created emphasize how things are only getting worse for The Baudelaires. For Lemony Snicket, there is a theme that plays that is reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s Journey to The Center of the Earth. I wanted to make his narrations in the tunnel feel like they were devoid of hope.

Did you use an orchestra for the A Series of Unfortunate Events score?

There is a lot of live recording on the series. Each book in the series requires the reinvention of my sound palette. For example, in The Vile Village, I recorded live Baritone Guitar, Solo Soprano vocals, and percussion to reinforce the Morricone-style approach. For Carnivorous Carnival, I recorded a swing band for the opening dance sequence. For the Mambo in Ersatz Elevator, I recorded a Latin-style band.

How closely did you work with the sound designer for the show? Because sometimes the score and sound design for the show blend together.

As a team, we make every effort to balance our work together. We have a great working relationship and communicate to best serve the story.

The sound of the show is very distinct and almost like old-time jazz at times, especially in the Carnivorous Carnival: Part 1 episode. Was this done on purpose?

Yes! Carnivorous Carnival opens with a lively dance sequence. The costumes, the production design, and the story all gave me an opportunity to try something new in the show. Because this world is not our own, we can play with the time. ’40s style jazz might be old-times to us, but in A Series of Unfortunate Events, this could be contemporary for our characters. It’s one of the best parts of the show that gives us so much creative freedom.

The Hostile Hospital: Part 1 episode musically is like a horror film at times. Did you use any of the same cues as the horror film you scored, When a Stranger Calls? Or any of the same musical techniques or instruments as that film?

This was a great opportunity to revisit some of the techniques I used on When a Stranger Calls. Yes, some of the samples I recorded for that movie were used. I also used a new palette of sounds specifically for this book in the series. One of my favorite sounds is a broken dulcimer. There really is nothing like the sound of a neglected instrument. Yard sales can be a treasure trove for sonic wonderment.

You can learn more about Jim at http://jimdooley.com/.

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