Making Music During The Pandemic; Bang's Elliston, Jones Score HBO Max's "Expecting Amy"
Bang composer Timo Elliston working at home during the pandemic lockdown
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Last week (7/9) marked the premiere of the three-part documentary series Expecting Amy, an unfiltered and intimate view into comedian Amy Schumer’s life on tour creating a stand-up special during her difficult pregnancy. Alexander Hammer--who recently joined Good Company’s roster as a director for commercials, branded content and music videos--both helmed and edited the HBO Max Originals show which chronicles Schumer battling hyperemesis gravidarum, a rare and severe medical disorder that causes nearly constant nausea and vomiting throughout pregnancy. At the same time Schumer is adjusting to her newly married life, the prospect of having her first child, and preparing for her Netflix special, Growing.

This roller coaster ride characterized by honesty, pain and moments of hilarity leaves the viewer with whiplashes of emotions, necessitating a musical score that provides a textured foundation and continuity--which was created by composers Timo Elliston and Brian Jones of music and sound house Bang. Jones additionally served as music supervisor.

Elliston said he and Jones were blessed to have Schumer and director/editor Hammer so “supportive and wonderful to work with.” That support was vital, particularly given the pandemic, assessed Elliston who shared, ““Without question, the most challenging part of this project was doing the work during COVID-19. There was a day back in mid-March when we realized we would no longer be working from our studio, and we would have to collect what we could and try to assemble some sort of working rig at home. Going from a proper composer’s studio to--what can I accomplish on my laptop, with a little keyboard and headphones, in a tiny little space in my bedroom in my apartment with a kid or two on the bed next to me going to Zoom school? We’re used to having hours of uninterrupted time during the workday for composing, and that became little fragments of time interspersed with doing iPad tech support for the kids, or helping with homework, or just staring at the news. I know that this is hardly a unique situation, given that every human on the planet shares some version of this. But, this score is definitely intertwined with my experiences in quarantine. And living in Ft Greene, Brooklyn, the sounds of the protests on Dekalb Avenue right outside my window often made working seem so irrelevant.”

Also daunting was the inherent nature of the assignment which, pointed out Elliston, was “to write the music for such personal events in someone’s life, especially when that person (Schumer) is the executive producer. You’re literally writing the score for the birth of someone’s first child. And there are so many other emotional moments in this show, and those are always tricky to score, especially in a documentary. You have to be careful to not sound like you’re over instructing how the audience should feel.

“So, the plan was to approach the music like a traditional film score, with reoccurring themes, and a consistent sound throughout. The themes would function like little guideposts throughout the episodes to help tie story points together. Then, when we would get to a moment like the birth scene, you have a little more license to be emotional, because the sound is familiar, and not this sudden outburst of strings out of the blue. Also, it meant we didn’t have to do as much to elicit the emotion. Just simply playing the right theme there does the trick, because there’s already an attachment to that music. So, it wouldn’t need to be an ‘emotional’ version of the cue.

“Amy and Chris (Amy’s husband) latched on to the theme we wrote for their baby (Gene) right away, and so that developed into a really important theme throughout.”

Then there was the humor that graced parts of the story. Elliston continued, “It was also daunting to write music for the funnier parts of the show. Writing for a comedian as great as Amy Schumer, we knew we’d need to find the right tone for the comedic moments. She was super cool about that, and found a “comedic” theme she liked right away, too. Turns out she’s a jazz fan, so there was some jazz influence in the comedic themes.

“And she’s a fan of the jazz pianist Ray Angry, who’s an old friend of mine, so she had the idea that perhaps he and I could collaborate in some way. We ended up being able to remotely co-produce the cue leading up to and during the birth scene. I hadn’t seen Ray in many years, so that was a great unexpected bonus to this project.”

Here’s the trailer for Expecting Amy:


Production Company It’s So Easy Productions Chris Fischer, Bernie Kaminski, Amy Schumer, producers; Alexander Hammer, director/editor. Music Timo Elliston, Brian Jones, composers (Bang Music); Brian Jones, music supervisor. Distributor HBO Max


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