We chat with composer Jeff Cardoni about his work on CBS’ Training Day…
CBS’ highly anticipated Training Day makes its debut this week in the coveted Thursday night 10pm slot. One of the main questions critics and fans are asking is how the show will be different from the 2001 Denzel Washington film which won him an Oscar. There are a few similarities between the two projects, the series picks up 15 years after the events of the feature film with new characters (and the same theme). Bill Paxton (Big Love) plays the morally ambiguous veteran detective (Washington’s role) while newcomer Justin Cornwell is the young idealistic cop assigned as his trainee (Hawke’s role).
Here, Det. Kyle Craig (Cornwell) joins the Special Investigation Section (SIS) on an undercover mission from deputy chief Joy Lockhart (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) to spy on Det. Frank Rourke (Paxton) and report back on his unorthodox tactics. There are many differences too though, one being the sound of the show. Composer Jeff Cardoni, best known for scoring such projects as HBO’s Silicon Valley, CBS’ CSI: Miami, and ABC’s Speechless, was given the task of taking the story in a new direction, musically. With Cardoni being a big fan of the original film and having numerous hit sitcoms under his belt, he was more than equipped for the job. We decided to speak with Cardoni about some of his previous projects and scoring the upcoming movie-to-TV adaptation in this interview.
Did you watch the film version of Training Day before starting work on the project?
I probably watched the film twenty times before I had any idea I would be working on the show. It’s literally one of my favorite films, huge Denzel Washington fan, so I was really familiar with it prior. In fact, I remember the day I saw the TV show announced on Deadline and was really excited, although had no idea that I’d eventually score it. A few weeks later, it was announced that Danny Cannon was going to direct the pilot and then I got a fateful email from him in April with the subject “What are your next 2 weeks looking like”? That’s how it all began for me.
Is there going to be any similarities between Mark Mancina’s score for the film and yours for the TV show?
I definitely listened to Mark’s score – I already owned it and was familiar with what he did which was excellent. The music supervisor from the film, John Houlihan, also worked on the pilot so was familiar with that world from working with Antoine Fuqua. I’d say Marks’ score was a jumping off point, but that’s about it. Our show is set 15 years later, so it’s a different time period. Also, the main character in the show played by Bill Paxton, is different than the Denzel character. He’s a hot rod driving, hard rock listening, beer drinking guy, so there are elements in the new score that are unique to our show.
When did you first start working on Training Day? Did you get to read the script before starting?
I started working on the pilot back in April of last year. It was a pretty intense two week period. I did read the script, which was great. The pilot script was really dark and intense and definitely addressed the history of the film as well as introducing a new story and mythology that carries through the series.
Did you create specific themes for the two main characters played by Bill Paxton & Justin Cornwell? If so, do you have a favorite?
Yes, there are a couple of main themes that are the ‘story’ themes – they are used when we deal with the story arc of Bill Paxton’s old partner who was murdered, and happens to be his new trainee’s father. So there’s a whole complex backstory that carries through the whole season and is addressed with these themes many times, as well as the theme song.
There is also a lite theme for Bill Paxton’s character, that’s used for some of his cowboy moments, and played on guitar. There’s definitely an element of a Western to the show and it’s a strange juxtaposition of the dark moody orchestral music, combined with the twangy guitars.
Even though Training Day has many different directors, you have worked with a lot of them on The Lottery and CSI: Miami. Is it easier or harder to work with directors you already have a history with?
Well, in television the relationship with a director is a bit different than film. Once a show is up and running, you don’t get as much time to collaborate with the different directors. On a pilot, however, you are in the trenches trying to find a sound for the show, so you work very closely in a really high pressure, high stress environment. There were moments on this pilot where I really didn’t know what the hell to do, and usually at those dark moments at 4am when you’re staring at a blank page, is when the good stuff comes out. But back to your question, Danny Cannon directed the pilots for all three of those shows, and he was instrumental in me working on this. I really can’t thank him enough for the opportunities he’s given me. And I mean, he’s worked with some of my idol composers, from Alan Silvestri to Graeme Revell, so I am extremely humbled when I get a chance to work with him, because he knows his stuff and pushes you to places you didn’t know you could go.
You scored CSI: Miami for almost 10 years. How did you keep the score fresh and is it difficult to not repeat yourself?
That’s a good question. Well, since CSI: Miami was such a ‘stylized’ show, it always had to feel kind of cutting edge – visually and musically. So, I think the sound of the show kind of evolved over the years, to kind of reflect what was happening musically in the rest of the world. While the beginning was pretty electronic, some seasons in the middle were very orchestral, then a few seasons of more ambient and sound design type textural things. The show runner was always tuned into what was happening out there and tried to address it and stay current with our show, so we never were complacent or just reused things. In fact, I would say in 9 years, we probably reused maybe 5 cues the whole time. It was new every week, which kept it fun and challenging. It was a great experience that I will remember fondly. It was my first major break, and my life definitely changed because of it.
Is there anything you can tell us about your upcoming Netflix show “Girlboss”?
Well, it could not be more different than Training Day, that’s for sure. It’s a really great story, based on a woman in San Francisco who kind of rose from nothing and started a billion dollar clothing company, at the dawn of eBay. They call it a comedy, but it’s really a dramedy, or a drama with funny parts. It’s a really great show. The show runner is an amazing force of nature named Kay Cannon, who wrote Pitch Perfect. It’s also executive produced by Charlize Theron, who was very hands on the music. Musically it’s much more sparse, there’s not a ton of score. It’s all very minimal electric guitar, acoustic, celeste, drums and bass. The dialogue and story are so good, that the score tries to stay out of the way and not lead people. It’s a delicate balance. But the show is so so good, so I hope that people check it out. I’m really excited about it.
Is there a genre that you haven’t scored that you would like to?
Two, actually. My dream film is a sports film – think Rocky or Rudy or even Friday Night Lights. I love that you can write music that makes people feel that you can’t always do in other genres. Secondly, I’d like to score a nice romantic drama – think The Notebook or something like that. I’ve actually scored a handful of films like that but it’s a genre that I’d like to do more of. I guess I’m just old-fashioned at heart and love writing orchestral music where it’s OK to make people feel sad or joy. Writing where you don’t have to have as much restraint as other genres
With streaming channels like Netflix and Amazon, there is so much more content out there than 10 years ago. How do you see the composing world changing in the next 10 years?
It’s crazy how many more opportunities there are than even 5 years ago. I guess that’s good if you’re trying to get into the composing world. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. I still love doing films, even the whole industry is in flux at the moment. It seems most are now huge blockbusters or really low-budget indies – the mid budget films aren’t as prevalent as before, especially since the lines between film and television continue to blur. I wonder if at some point there will be a bit of a consolidation, because as it’s great there’s so much content, if it gets so fragmented that nobody knows where to find anything, will it still exist? Who knows? It’s an exciting time and a scary time. But I love this job more than anything. It’s a thrill to get up every day and get to write, and evolve, and express yourself through music. It doesn’t get much better than that…
You can learn more about Jeff at http://jeffcardoni.com/