Tai Freligh interviews Sherri Chung, composer for Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase…
Sherri Chung is an accomplished composer for film and television. She is most celebrated for crafting the musical world of CW’s fan-favorite series Riverdale, adapted from the beloved Archie Comics by creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and producer Greg Berlanti. She is also known for her work on the score for NBC’s Blindspot. She has two highly-anticipated projects this year with Warner Bros’ Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, produced by Ellen DeGeneres; and CBS’ The Red Line, produced by Ava DuVernay.
A long time collaborator with composer Blake Neely, they have worked together on a number of scores, including those for CW’s Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. A documentary short she scored, The Other Side of Home was shortlisted for the 2017 Oscars for Best Short Documentary.
Flickering Myth’s Tai Freligh caught up with Sherri to ask her about Nancy Drew, Riverdale and other upcoming projects.
How did you end up doing music for the new Nancy Drew movie?
I heard about the project going around around, and did a little inquiring. I then just stayed on the radar of the people I knew who were in the background and involved with the project. Luckily enough, I was able to receive a script (and got very excited!), then I got to submit music and demo for it. I was considered from the ground up…took a final meeting, and that was that!
Did the filmmakers already have an idea of the tones and style of music for the movie or were you given free-reign to develop something?
It was both. They had an idea because there was a little bit of temp, which showed some of their ideas. But, they were really open to some of the ideas that I had and taking it in a bit of a different direction, which was great!
What is your opinion/philosophy on how music can impact the overall tone or feeling of a movie or television show?
I think it has a huge impact! Music can definitely influence how an audience feels. Some scenes can read really funny without any music, but if you go serious on the music, it can even the scene out and it more satirical instead of flat out comedy. In a film where there are some longer scenes that are dialogue-heavy, it can propel the scene, or slow things down in a good way too. Music is really versatile in function for a film narrative.
What is your approach to doing music for Riverdale? Are there different themes for different characters?
In season 1, it was about creating a nice context for the characters to live and breathe and for the actors to act. As the show has progressed, and become more horror filled, mystical and otherworldly, our music has followed that as well. Our music takes a supporting role and follows the context of the scenes. It has moved from something that is less overt, to more overt. We can make a lot of really cool and bold choices. As for themes, it is not so much different themes for characters, but there is definitely a Riverdale theme that is heard over the title card. Also, there are sounds for different characters, like Betty has a distinct sound. In terms of melodic themes, those are more saved for the “ships” (relationships).
Given the darker nature of the show, what kinds of sounds and instruments do you use when composing music?
In Riverdale, because of the darker themes, its always been a synth based show. Aside from some guitars or strings, we don’t use a ton of live instruments. I think that helps a lot with the tone. We use anything from thick textural beds, synth pads, to less plucky sounds with keys. We go for things that can help us be expressive of the darker nature of the show…it can sometimes have a guttural feel too. We use a lot of organ-type sounds too, especially for the Lodges, or anything devious that Hiram is doing (and let’s face it, that’s a lot of the show). There is something ominous about an organ. I also like to pair low thick sounds, with high ping-y sounds. I think that helps with a bit of a dark and disorienting feel.
Has the music evolved on the show now that there have been a few seasons? How so?
There are still some sounds from the first season! But now, they’ve grown more and changed, becoming more horror feeling or mystical. The melodies are still there, and some of the textures are still there, but its definitely taken a darker turn. Overall there are more caustic, bold choices.
Doing music for several of the comic book hero shows on the CW must be exciting. Is your approach different for superhero shows?
Of course! The super heroes shows are all scored different. When I did work on Legends of Tomorrow, a lot of those weren’t necessarily mystical super heroes. Maybe they had a suit that enhanced them, or maybe they were just….really cool! Or really strong. But with Supergirl, she is from another planet and is mystical. Because of that, the music is scored differently. Shows like Arrow (which I didn’t work on), have a much darker sound, and shows like Supergirl have a much brighter look. The music reflects the world that the characters live in.
Is each show completely unique in its music or are there certain strands that interweave between shows ike Supergirl and Arrow, etc.?
All 4 of the super hero shows that I have worked on (and I mainly now work only on the crossover ones) all definitely have their own distinct sounds, but also work collectively in the “Arrow-verse.” The strands that interweave between them can best be seen in the crossovers. Crazily enough, all their themes can actually be strung together or juxtaposed musically, which is really cool. I don’t think it was done intentionally, perhaps more subconsciously.
What’s next for you after Nancy Drew?
After Nancy Drew, I am working on an episodic series called The Red Line produced by Ava DuVernay. I am also working on another film after that…and then, we’ll see what else comes up!
How do you survive the zombie apocalypse?
A shotgun and cans of soup! And a stoop to sit on.
Who is your favourite composer of all time?
Right now what I am feeling is Dario Marianelli. Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Jane
Eyre….he’s done so many great ones!
Name one movie or television show where you wished you had been the composer?
I want to score for a badass vigilante character.
Who wins in a cage match- Hans Zimmer or Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL)?
If not a composer, what would you be right now?
Tai Freligh is a Los Angeles based writer and can be found on Twitter.