Today, Emmy-nominated songwriting and music production team Doug Rockwell and Tova Litvin give us a look into their process co-writing and composing “The Other Side of Hollywood” and other songs for the hit Netflix series, Julie and the Phantoms. “The Other Side of Hollywood,” was nominated for Outstanding Original Song in the 48th Daytime Emmy Awards, set to take place in June 2021. The duo has also worked on other projects like High School Musical: The Series and Disney +’s upcoming first original live action musical, Sneakerella. Read on below for some pearls of wisdom from this multi-talented pair that is destined to take over Hollywood in the near future.
Hi Doug + Tova! How have you been?
All things considered, we’re doing pretty great! It feels like life is starting to come back again in the US, which we’re so grateful for.
What is it like working with a collaborator as successful as Kenny Ortega on Julie and The Phantoms? Tell us more about your working relationship and short hand with them.
Kenny is a legend for a reason. He’s a very collaborative person, and he knows what his vision is from the beginning, which really helped elevate the work we did for the show. He’s hugely supportive of creatives and he has so much energy which made it really fun to create with him. The first time we met him, he immediately hopped on stage and started dancing to the ideas he had for our song which was a great ice breaker.
You brought a unique approach to Julie and the Phantoms. Can you take us behind one or two of your favorite episodes? Tell us more about your process and how you decide the right way to approach it.
“The Other Side Of Hollywood” will always be close to our hearts. Cheyenne Jackson’s voice and performance blew us away. The song itself was such a huge number, from the choreography to the costume design, so it was really exciting to see all the pieces come together and watch it come to life. Another super fun one was “Now Or Never,” the opening song in the very first episode. We both started our careers playing in bands, so it was pretty satisfying to write a throwback punk rock song, almost as an homage to what we would have written for our own bands back in the day. Charlie, Jeremy and Owen were a blast to work with. When we first went into the studio with them, their chemistry as a band was real. It was really cool to see.
For our process — when we first come onboard a project, we get the script, and a breakdown of the scene and what the director/writers/producers are looking for.
We always joke that we write our best songs sprawled out on the floor of our studio (maybe sitting like a normal person stunts creativity? Who knows.) And sure enough, The Other Side of Hollywood definitely had some floor moments. Once we write, record, and produce the demo, we send it in and get feedback. At that point so many different things can happen- sometimes there are script changes, so there need to be lyric changes, sometimes they want to add a dance break (or two) or sometimes it gets approved right away. There are so many moving parts, you have to be prepared for anything. One time, because of a tight deadline, we had 24 hours to find and record a 14-piece horn orchestra. And we did! So it’s definitely never boring, that’s for sure.
Let’s talk about your Daytime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Original Song for “The Other Side of Hollywood” (congrats!) – how did it feel to get this recognition?
It’s been amazing – especially after the long, weird year we all had. The way I (Doug) found out was pretty funny too. I was driving to the airport to fly back to Los Angeles, and my manager kept calling me, but I didn’t pick up because I was using my phone’s navigation. I completely missed the terminal because she kept calling, so finally I picked up and was like “Hey! I gotta call you back, I’m trying to get to my flight on time.” And her response was “CHECK YOUR EMAIL AND CALL ME BACK.” So of course now I’m so curious and want to get to the terminal even faster just to find out what she’s talking about. Then I saw the big news, called Tova (Hi!), and while she was screaming out of excitement I immediately had to cut her off to go through security, so it was a very erratic moment between trying to catch a flight and appreciate our nomination.
Did you approach songwriting characters in High School Musical: The Series in a specific way at all?
The first time we worked on the series, we did a song called Born to Be Brave which was recorded by Olivia Rodrigo and Dara Reneé with the cast supporting. Both Olivia and Dara are absolutely amazing. Even though they were the main singers on the song, we knew from the beginning that it was going to serve as a real moment for Carlos (Frankie Rodriguez’s character.) So we wanted to write something really empowering that would be relatable for everyone, but also honor what all three characters were going through in that episode. Our song from season 2 also stems from a key moment in the storyline, and features the entire cast, which is always exciting for us because of the vocal arrangements we get to experiment with.
What were some of the other challenges you encountered with Disney+’s upcoming live-action musical Sneakerella? How did you overcome them?
The only real challenge was COVID. The film started shooting with a thousand new protocols that kept changing all the time. The main priority was of course, to keep everyone safe. We normally would travel to whatever location the talent is at to record the cast, but this time everything had to be done remotely over zoom, which was a bit of a new experience for everyone. But everything worked out and we’re really psyched for everyone to see it!
What are some of your dream projects to work on?
We’d love to see a musical we’ve worked on from start to finish make its way to Broadway. We both have a love for theater and it would be the coolest thing. We’ve been developing a musical of our own, so hopefully sometime in the near future it will become a reality. We’ve also been developing a live-action film musical based around the backstory of Ursula from The Little Mermaid. It’s been a passion project of ours that we’ve been working on for some time now so we’d love to see that become a reality.
What else is happening next in your world?
As we mentioned, we’ve been developing our own musical for live theater which has been a huge dream of ours. We also just signed on for a musical feature film that we’ll get to announce soon. We just did a deal for a musical podcast we’re developing called Over My Dead Body. And we recently teamed up with our extremely talented choreographer friend Jennifer Webber on a musical dance piece for The Bushnell Performing Arts Center in CT. We met Jen after we worked on Disney’s Zombies 2 together, and we’re really excited to get to team up with her again. So a lot to look forward to!