Awards Daily TV speaks with Emmy-nominated composer Paul Leonard-Morgan on his newest project, The CW’s Dynasty reboot.
As a composer, Paul Leonard-Morgan loves to challenge himself as a composer by fusing different styles of music like orchestra with electronic. Recently, he earned his first Emmy nomination for his work on the CBS drama Limitless. Before that, he composed the score for the Bradley Cooper-starring film, Errol Morris’s recent documentary The B-Side, a Grumpy Cat TV special, and has already earned two BAFTA nominations.
I spoke with Paul about his current project the modern reboot of Dynasty currently airing on The CW. In our conversation, we touch on how he went about staying true to the original themes while modernizing the soundtrack, the legacy of Dynasty, and of course Joan Collins.
What initially drew you to Dynasty?
Well first I used to watch the original series all the time as a kid even when I wasn’t supposed to. Earlier this year Sallie Patrick [the showrunner] called me up for some advice after I worked with her on the TV version of Limitless. She had some questions but couldn’t go into detail about what exactly the project was for. She did however sen me a newspaper clipping comparing the 1980s fashion of Dynasty to the fashion of today. There were pictures of Joan Collins with her shoulder pads comparing them to the most recent fashion week. Once I realized what she was getting at, I instantly wanted to be a part of it. I was so excited.
How would you describe your soundtrack for the show?
Overall I wanted to create a modern take on the 80’s. I don’t like it when people try to pastiche music and completely try to recreate the era because it just ends up sounding like an imitation. We needed our version to sound timeless because that’s what the idea of Dynasty is a timeless entity. I began listening to Donna Summer and Depeche Mode for inspiration; some of the quintessential musicians where a lot of those sounds came from. I knew the show needed something unique, and that’s how the orchestra came into the picture. Mixing the 80’s baseline and the real strings with the orchestra really gave the soundtrack a classier feel. It almost feels like a show for the Instagram generation, quite aspirational. The end product has elements of hip-hop and even trap music. We weren’t going for one specific style but instead wanted to showcase the clash of modern and classical music, beats against strings against 80’s baseline. Overall the sound is quite bold.
What sets your soundtrack for the show apart from the original series?
What’s funny is that, when I went back and re-watched the original series, I had completely forgotten how orchestral it was. In the original Dynasty, every character had their own theme as opposed to now that isn’t done very often. I had to be more original with that approach. For instance with the character of Fallon, I created a theme using finger clicks and hand claps which sounds weird on its own, but it comes with this swagger especially mixed with pop music that really helps audiences understand her. The source music, my soundtrack, and the natural sounds all mix together, and you don’t know where one begins. It is a lot of fun.
I did look to the original theme and wanted to incorporate it in some way, but after listening to it I realized I had forgotten it went on forever! Theme music like that just doesn’t exist anymore. I took the main title theme as a reference point and created a remix of it with a trumpet and different beats. Give it a twist and a sparkle.
Has there been a specific episode or scene that stands out to you?
In the pilot, there was the catfight between Cristal and Fallon, and it was fun because it was the very first one I had to score in my career. Early on, Sallie told me that the elements everyone thinks of first are the catfights and the music, which was daunting because right off the bat this scene incorporated both. I remember being inspired by the fight the first time I saw it, and it became the image that has guided me throughout the rest of the show. After watching that scene, it all clicked together for me. Finding the humor and the swagger in those shows helped me understand it all.
Do you have a favorite moment from the original series?
Again it’s all about Joan Collins. She is an absolutely iconic figure from her clothes to her dialogue. Even when I was ten years old, I knew she was fantastic, and she still holds up.
Where are you hoping to take the music as the show progresses?
What will be nice is when the characters start to develop deeper relationships whether they are platonic or sexual. As a composer being able to compose the music and develop themes for them is the interesting part. At the beginning we were so focused on introducing the story and giving it momentum but it was really nice to get deeper into the characters. It makes it really fun as a composer and I wish I could reveal more! At the beginning there are a lot of smaller notes but as the series progresses it becomes more cinematic which is much more common on television now. That’s what makes it so fun for me!
Were there any unique challenges while working on the reboot?
For me the biggest challenge was the sheer scale of the show. When the show premiered last month I was driving to a party and I must have passed over 30 billboards across the span of 4 miles. It made me realize just how big this is and it is such an honor. The challenge of the show was it being so well known and trying to please those fans of a certain generation while also introducing it to younger audiences. So that is what I was thinking about when I was mixing up the funky base lines and the hardcore drums with the orchestral sensibility.
Where can we hear your work next?
I just finished a new Netflix series called Wormwood with Errol Morris one of our greatest living filmmakers. That comes out on Netflix mid-December. All I can say about it is that it is a documentary miniseries taking place in the 60’s about mind control. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before. I love it when the film gives you the challenge to explore with new styles of music.
The first season of Dynasty is currently airing Wednesdays at 9PM EST/PST on The CW. Wormwood will be avaialable to stream on Netflix beginning December 15th.