INTERVIEW: USA Network’s BRIARPATCH Composer Giancarlo Vulcano

1. Hi Giancarlo, thanks for your time. Briarpatch is both star-studded in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Great team of creatives in the series. So, firstly, congratulations on behind a part of this series. I am curious how you landed the gig to composer for Briarpatch if you don’t mind talking about getting the call to work for show.

Thanks for your kind words about the show!  It is indeed a great team, and very exciting to be a part of.  My connection to Briarpatch is Andy Greenwald, the show’s creator and show runner.  We became friends years before the pilot was even written.  Andy was writing criticism, and I was working on one of the final seasons of 30 Rock. We bonded over our shared love of Twin Peaks, and he also introduced me to a lot of new music.  When Briarpatch started, we already had an artistic understanding in addition to a personal connection.  It is great to know one’s collaborators apart from the work you’ll be doing together.  And that is how it was on Briarpatch.

2. Your past works include 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which are two quirky comedies. Briarpatch, understandably, has more serious themes and tones. Talk about how you approach music for the show in comparison to your past projects. 

These shows do have different tones, but thinking back on them, they each have characters with such strong personalities that they seem to suggest musical themes just by the way they talk and move.  I try to create themes that aren’t doing the same work the actor is doing on screen, themes that don’t feel redundant.

The main difference between Briarpatch and the earlier shows is that Briarpatch has a story line that occupies ten episodes, compared to the one or two-episode story arcs that we may have had on 30 Rock or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  This permitted a great deal of musical development, but I also saw the value of returning to themes in their basic form as a way to reset the viewer’s expectations and emotional clock.

3. From a storytelling perspective, how did you consciously choose to score Briarpatch to be in line with its pace, story, emotions, etc.?

Very early in the process I wrote some themes for Briarpatch.  These were based on ideas and characters found in the first script or two.  Nothing else existed at that point! These themes were not tied to picture or action of any kind.  They followed my intuitive notion of where the characters might go over the ten episodes.  Then, as the scripts were written and shot, we saw how the music actually worked with the show. There were many fortuitous interactions that I could have never predicted.  It also became clear as the season progressed where we needed completely new musical material.  In short, I wrote some longer pure themes where my unconscious could roam a bit, and then I adjusted and developed things in a technical way once we were into the editing, fine cuts, etc.

4. I see you work with fellow composer Jeff Richmond for Great News on NBC. What are the challenges of having a co-composer on a project, as well as some advantages?

I began working with Jeff when I was quite a bit younger, on the show 30 Rock, and he was without question the main composer.  I learned a lot from him. Our co-composer status started with Great News, then with the last Kimmy Schmidt season.  The 30 Rock music stands out to me as a high point in television scoring, and I am proud that I got a chance to be involved.  I think that, at this point, we understand each other very well, and we know instinctively which parts of an episode are better suited to one of us or the other.  Jeff is brilliant with on-camera musical numbers that the characters sing, for example, so I might handle the scoring around the episode and let Jeff handle those set pieces.

5. Also this year you have the Jane Austen adaptation “Modern Persuasion, “documentary “One Nation Under Stress,” among other projects in the pipeline. Can you briefly touch on these?

Modern Persuasion is my second film with Jonathan Lisecki (our first was Gayby). Jonathan is brilliantly funny, and his musical taste is completely different from mine. He is immersed in pop music, and a project with Johnny always involves me frantically googling musical artists he mentioned in meetings.  But he is also a real student of comedy, and we bond over the mechanics of making a scene work, and it is always a pleasure to work with him.

One Nation Under Stress is my first film for Marc Levin, and it’s about the dangers of too much stress. Many of us are over stressed and what’s worse, we don’t talk about it or do anything to relieve it.  It was really rewarding to be part of a film that addresses this problem. I am currently working on a second film with Marc about Michael Tubbs, the youngesr mayor in America, who is bringing some truly progressive policies to his city of Stockton, California.

6. Where can readers get to know more of your work online!

My website, www.giancarlovulcano.com, which I try to update with new music often.  More importantly, each episode of Briarpatch is packed with new music!

by Erman Baradi

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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