Today we’re speaking with Adam Lukas, a composer at Bleeding Fingers Music. Bleeding Fingers Music was founded by Hans Zimmer, Russell Emanuel and Steve Kofsky, and is known for its Emmy-nominated work scoring Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II and The Simpsons.
A two-time Emmy nominated composer for Film & TV, Adam recently composed for BBC One’s 3-part documentary Primates, a documentary series that reveals the complex strategies that monkeys, apes, and lemurs use for survival. He also composed for NatGeo’s Emmy-nominated TV movie Being The Queen, a documentary that exposes the tragic death of Princess Diana.
Adam’s music has been licensed and screened by many major TV stations such as BBC, National Geographic, FOX Network, ZDF, and ORF. In this interview, Adam details his experience as a composer in the film and television industry and his News & Doc Emmy nominations.
Hi Adam! How have you been?
Hanging in there! I appreciate you asking. The past year and a half has not been easy for anyone, including me. Still, I was lucky to be busy at Bleeding Fingers Music, despite the worldwide pandemic going on.
We found new ways to communicate and get creative as a team, although I must admit I miss the physical meetings – thinking back to how much fun Denise, my co-scoring partner, and I had when doing Primates. There were times I worked from home. While scoring Primates wrapped shortly before the pandemic, my work on Being The Queen was 100% done from my apartment in LA.
Lately, I’ve been working on some exciting stuff, back at the studio on 14th street. Feels good to be back and I hope the whole industry will catch up again soon!
You brought a unique approach to Primates. Can you take us behind one or two of your favorite scenes? Tell us more about your process and how you decide the right way to approach it.
There’s one scene in particular that I love! I actually teared up numerous times while working on it and I’m sure if I were to watch it right now, I’d still get the shivers. In this sequence, a Baboon tries to escape a deadly hunter – a leopard. At first, it doesn’t look good at all for the baboon – he’s badly injured and as a last resort tries to hide in a tree.
Next thing you see is this killer-machine of a leopard making a gigantic leap onto the tree where he would chase the baboon around. The cinematics are breathtaking! What at first seems to be certain death for the injured Baboon soon transforms to beautiful relief when his family shows up to rescue him. That blew me away!
Another scene I can think of is the Silverback Gorilla sequence. Gorgeous stuff captured from the BBC! A tired gorilla dad has to deal with his way too active young ones.
This scene is so musically different from the Baboon VS Leopard scene. That’s what I loved the most when working on Primates. The show features an incredibly diverse range of primate experiences from around the world, and therefore called for many different styles in music. “Family”, though, is what unites the primates. It is what bush babies, macaques, and gorillas all have in common. They care for and protect each other. This is resembled by a dedicated “Family Theme” that works within the series alongside the “PRIMATES Main Theme” in various arrangements and instrumentations.
Let’s talk about your News & Doc Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Music Composition (congrats!) – how did it feel to get this recognition?
I remember getting a text from Denise [Santos] the morning the announcement was made. It said “Adam!!!!!!!” and I saw she sent a photo.
When I unlocked my phone I saw another message coming through: “YOU GOT TWO!!” I was shaking a bit and immediately called her. We were so happy!
The news spread and so many kind messages came in. I will never forget that day!
Did you approach the people in Being the Queen in a specific way at all? Did you have a chance to do character themes?
That’s a great question! It’s common practice to have numerous themes. In Primates for example, we had at least 2 that we would use all over the score. For Being The Queen that was not the case at all.
Being The Queen had a single theme – dedicated to Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II, and the whole score sort of evolved from that initial piece of music I wrote. Russell Emanuel, Bleeding Fingers Music CEO and score producer alongside Hans, loves to start on a project by writing a theme suite. So we worked on that first and then were very happy to see that the client loved it right away! Although there weren’t any other Leitmotif themes for other characters, I would use the Queen’s theme and put it in a different dress for specific scenes. There’s a dark version of it, a triumphant one, and one that sounds rather reflective and minimal. That really helped in telling her story. It’s the same person, but going through so much! It’s actually incredible to see how much Queen Elisabeth II has lived through. In the film, you see her being admired, you see her prevail, and you see her being strong. But there’s a different side as well, telling about her misfortunes, disasters and conflicts within the royal family. The theme needed to be able to reflect all of that, and I’m really glad it worked out so well.
What were some of the other challenges you encountered with Primates? How did you overcome them?
Sound. For Primates, we didn’t want to go big in terms of ensemble size, and in addition to that, we really wanted to make sure the score sounds fresh and new, almost pop-music like. Still, of course it had to be tied to the concept of the show and needed to be connected to it on a philosophical level I’d say. So we sat down with Russell and started browsing ideas. One interesting fact about primates is that they are the only order of animals with a unique capability to use their hands to grasp objects and use them as tools. Primates’ hands have the most sensitive touch and have advanced dexterity. We got inspired by this idea and incorporated hand percussion (snaps, claps) in our score. Bouncing off this idea, we thought about integrating ASMR techniques into our instrumentation to add to the feeling of intimacy of the subject. We found that these two elements worked so well together and helped encapsulate the nature of primate life. With these ideas, we landed on a contemporary and more intimate take on the show’s music. We went small when the norm for nature documentary music was to go big. We believe we succeeded in tackling the common conundrum of thinking outside the box without departing from what is commercially acceptable.
What are some of your other favorite past projects?
One thing I love about working at Bleeding Fingers Music is the variety of projects that I get to work on. I actually was involved in a few other Natural History shows: Last year I teamed up with James Everingham from BFM and we scored NatGeo’s Expedition Everest. Then I wrote additional music on Planet Earth: A Celebration, alongside Hans and Jacob Shea from BFM, featuring Sir David Attenborough, one of my idols, really! History Channel’s “Black Patriots” was a great show to work on as well. All these projects require tailor made music and are so different from each other. It’s always a challenge, but a fun and rewarding one.
What else is happening next in your world?
From what I can tell it’s gonna be a busy year! There’s one project I’m excited about in particular – there will be announcements soon I hope!
Due to the pandemic I wasn’t really able to go home for a while, so besides work, that’s something that I’m excited about. After almost 2 years, I’ll be able to reconnect with my family in Austria.