EoM contributor Thomas Manning recently had the opportunity to interview Tom Howe, music composer for the Emmy-nominated Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso. Now in its second season, this show continues to speak to the hearts and minds of audiences young and old. In this discussion, Manning speaks with Howe about his versatile background in composing, his collaboration with Marcus Mumford on Ted Lasso, and what it takes to musically connect the emotional beats of a series across multiple seasons.
Thomas Manning: You’ve been involved in a number of blockbusters, such as The Legend of Tarzan, Wonder Woman, and Mulan. Ted Lasso is of course a television show and much smaller in scale. So what is it like adjusting your mindset and approaching to composing music for such a different project on so many levels?
Tom Howe: Funnily enough, I don’t find it that different. I mean, apart from the fact that when you do Tarzan and Wonder Woman you’re going to go and record a hundred-piece orchestra, and in [Ted Lasso) you don’t. But I think whether you do TV or film, you’re trying to find the right emotion under a scene, or the right theme and the right sort of instrumentation. That doesn’t really change for me. I still find it absolutely impossible every single time I try to do it. And sometimes the scale is bigger, but it’s always the same goal to try and enhance the scene and do something immediately to help with that – or, to not do something musically, and do less and stay out of the way if that’s what’s required.
Thomas Manning: What is it like working with Marcus Mumford from a collaborative standpoint on the Ted Lasso score? Are there certain unique elements that each of you bring to the scoring process?
Tom Howe: Obviously, he’s not here to say he agrees with any of this – but for the first season, I went and stayed with him for 10 days at his studio, at his house, actually. I was spending the night there, and during the day we were going into the studio, and working a long day. It was very much like we were making a record. And was different for me, as we also didn’t have any picture at that point. [Marcus Mumford] had a lot of notes from Jason [Sudeikis] and knew a lot about the story, and I’d spoken with the producers, too. So we were just doing ideas based off what we thought was going to be useful. But [Mumford] was very into the idea of what microphone we were going to be putting on the drums and the guitars, and what [mixing desk] we were going through. He’s got a Neve mixing desk. And I had come in the past from the other direction, where I was worried about the picture, and the tempo of this and that, and what the kind of notes were going to be. I mean, he’s obviously worried about the notes, too – but I think that our worlds kind of met somewhere in the middle, with the sonics of the show being very important. And then obviously, the themes and how it seemed to fit the picture. I think I learned a lot from him in that regard, and I hope he learned something from me too. After the lockdown that happened, I was in my studio and he was in his, but we would share sessions back and forth. So for example, on season one, he sent me a guitar he played and he said, “what do you think of this?” And I then took that and added bass, piano, and some percussion, and then sent it back to him. And then he went, “Oh, I have a drum idea.” And then he laid something over the top. So, there was a bit of collaboration like that, sending things back and forth as well.
Thomas Manning: How early or late into the production process do you begin working on the music? I know every project has a different timetable for scoring. So, for example with Ted Lasso – do you have a script to read over pretty early in the process, or is it at a later stage that you get an idea of the narrative situations for which you will be writing music?
Tom Howe: Normally with TV, I just get sent the episodes, and they come one by one. The cut isn’t usually locked down. It’s very much in flux. This bit might move over here, and that bit might go there, and the whole thing gets shorter, then longer, then shorter. But in the case of Ted Lasso, Jason [Sudeikis] is very big on the overall arc of each character. And so he actually had all of the script, which I read before I saw the first episode. The reason why that was important was that I already knew, for example, that I would have to have a really proper tune for Roy [Kent], because I knew that he had to take on some sort of journey. And then I knew I needed less of a tune for Dani Rojas, because even though he has his moment, he then isn’t so featured [as prominently as the other characters]. So, having [the episodes] early is really helpful in knowing what you’re going to have to lean on, and what you need thematically for the rest of the series. You might watch a scene early on where a character is doing something, but in the knowledge that that is going to lead to this, you can maybe score in a different way.
Thomas Manning: With the soundtrack of the show incorporating pop music from various eras and genres, basically we have an idea of the type of music that Ted and the other characters within the show will be listening to in their own worlds and lives. Does this influence how you approach writing and developing music for the score?
Tom Howe: Well, I’m very aware of what the music and the source tracks are going to be, partly because sometimes I have to write in and out of them. I need to know what key they’re in, or what tempo, and all that kind of thing. But it also helps with knowing if it’s going to be a film or TV show. In a way, a 30-40 minute TV episode is perfect because you can have something that starts and builds to a conclusion. In a film, most of the time you get to the third act, and you can’t just have it going in energy the whole way through because it gets too tiresome. For example, if there’s a scene in a film where a character is discovering superpowers, there’s usually a bit where they go off to train, and then there’s a montage bit where you have a little relaxed, fun story. Or, if they’re stealing cars, they’re suddenly welding for a bit, and then there’s a kind of slight break. But you don’t really need that in a TV show, because obviously it’s a much shorter form. But being aware of the source music in terms of the energy – and therefore whether the score is doing too much or too little – is really helpful to know what those needle drops are going to be. Jason [Sudeikis], has an incredible knowledge of music in terms of different bands, and he knows what he wants, and Tony [Von Pervieux, music supervisor] is able to get it, which I’m always amazed about. He works well.
Thomas Manning: You’ve done some work on documentaries and reality TV. Of course, those are based in reality, and the narratives are working with real people. What’s it like transitioning from composing music for all those nonfictional projects to composing music for fictional narratives in shows and films?
Tom Howe: In the case of Ted Lasso, the performances are so good and the storyline is so good that it always feels very, very real. Where it can sometimes be tricky is when you’re doing a drama project and maybe there’s scene where you didn’t quite catch the greatest performance of the main actor or something. And the director comes in and says, “this should be really tense.” But, maybe we haven’t got the performance we needed. Or, the other way around. Maybe the performance is so good that the music that they had intended is now too much. So, you can be adjusting your music to suit the performances. Within in a documentary, that’s never an issue because it’s always real. Documentary music generally stays well of the way. It’s very underscoring and it is more about momentum and moving things along. And you’ll hear that across [multiple projects]. Thinking about what I’ve watched recently – HBO’s The Vow, for instance. Great score, and it’s stuff that helps move the picture along. I think that’s the main difference in drama – knowing when to enhance something and when to stay out of the way, and how much to do of each.
Thomas Manning: Moving into the second season of Ted Lasso, how do you decide when to reuse or rearrange cues from the first season? What moments warrant brand new music versus reworking a previous arrangement?
Tom Howe: If there’s a scene that is heavily linked to a scene from Season One in some way, [I tend to reuse that music]. So, for example, [in Season Two] there’s a scene when Jamie comes back to the team, and I reused the music cue pretty much identically from Season One for a very, very similar moment. And I think that could work very well. Most of the time, you know what themes you’re going to have for the characters, and it’s about reworking those. So, they’re still what I call “Season One material.” But it just may be arranged in a different way. There was a lot of music in the first season, particularly in sporty stuff, and a lot of that works well. And sometimes repetition of stuff is what you need to make it hook you. So, we don’t want to completely reinvent the wheel and just go off on some random tangent. You want to reuse where appropriate and where you can.
Jason Sudeikis plays Ted Lasso, a small-time college football coach from Kansas hired to coach a professional soccer team in England, despite having no experience coaching soccer.
In addition to starring, Sudeikis serves as executive producer, alongside Bill Lawrence (“Scrubs”) via his Doozer Productions, in association with Warner Bros. Television and Universal Television, a division of NBCUniversal Content. Doozer’s Jeff Ingold also serves as an executive producer with Liza Katzer as co-executive producer. The series was developed by Sudeikis, Lawrence, Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt, and is based on the pre-existing format and characters from NBC Sports. The debut season garnered 20 Primetime Emmy Award nominations.
Thomas Manning is a member of the NCFCA and SEFCA, and also the co-host of the television show and radio program “Meet Me at the Movies.” He has served as a production assistant and voting member on the Film Selection Committee for the Real to Reel Film Festival. He is currently studying film, television, and English at Gardner-Webb University.
Categories: Filmmaker Interviews