Adam Blau is a composer and songwriter whose most recent project was composing for Netflix’s Dead to Me, which featured a musical palette that infuses the show’s offbeat mystery with genuine suspense and an emotional core.
PH: Which scene was your favorite to work on in Dead to Me?
Adam Blau: Dead to Me is such a fun show to score, particularly as a mystery/comedy filled with all kinds of suspenseful twists and turns. Alongside Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini’s hilarious portrayals of leads Jen and Judy, the emotional stakes are high throughout the show’s run, and the episode cliffhangers ensure that the tension continually ramps up throughout the series — a unique situation for a show that is, on paper at least, a half-hour comedy.
If I had to pick one key piece of score from Dead to Me that is a favorite, it would probably have to be a moment from the end of the second episode of the first season, in which Jen (Applegate) finally re-enters her husband Ted’s studio for the first time after he's died. It’s a standout dramatic moment early in the series, and one that offers a different tone from what we’ve seen so far, setting up some key emotional themes that echo right up through the series finale.
PH: Describe this scene and the significance it has to the rest of the series.
Adam Blau: Up to this point in the show’s action, we’ve been focusing primarily on an offbeat mystery, some strange occurrences that revolve around the dynamically funny Judy and Jen. The score follows suit — up to now we’ve been hearing music that is either a bit lighter or more mysterious in nature.
But for this scene, in which Jen gathers the strength to re-enter her husband’s personal space for the first time, we reach a true, extended emotional moment in which we can experience the genuine grief and loss that Jen is feeling. As Jen wanders through the studio catching glimpses of Ted’s space and his belongings — the physical manifestation of what she and her children have lost with his death — we see her finally begin to grieve and wrestle with the emotions she’s been holding back.
The score follows suit, really embracing the complex emotions of the moment — a facet we revisit at key points throughout this series in which loss and grief play such key roles. Dead to Me does not shy away from existing in the more emotional aspects of these characters and their circumstances, even amidst the craziness of the mystery and humor coming from the performances.
PH: What tools, plugins, or instruments did you use in your production of this scene?
Adam Blau: I really enjoyed using some of Spitfire Audio’s boutique string libraries throughout the series, including this scene. Their “Tundra” library and “Olafur Arnalds Chamber Evolutions” collections in particular are fabulous for creating quietly lush palettes that are so full of character, and they provided the delicate yet complex textures that serve as the canvas for the piano melodies in this scene. Much like Jen's emotions that start rising to the surface during her walk through the studio, the little idiosyncrasies in these sounds were perfect for indicating the unpredictable, complex, and intangible aspects of dealing with loss and grief.
PH: What technical challenges did you encounter while working on this scene?
Adam Blau: The only real technical challenge for this scene was one of timing. We had to get the first few episodes of the show out very quickly, even more so than the tight schedule a television score usually dictates. The scoring process began a bit later in post production, and we were close to a final deadline by the time I came on board the show. Indeed, I ended up doing a first pass on the early episodes over a holiday break, so that they were ready and waiting for preview when the rest of the crew returned. Thankfully, our brilliant showrunner Liz Feldman was so good at communicating to me the overall vibe of what she was looking for musically, so I felt comfortable letting the score sit in this more emotional moment, letting it breathe and convey the necessary emotions for the scene.
PH: What was the dialogue like between you and the series showrunner regarding this scene?
Adam Blau: Early on when discussing the show with Liz, it became clear that we wanted to avoid anything that sounded like conventional “comedy music” — our two leads were so dynamically funny themselves that to play lighter music along with them would step on their toes. Instead, the music is usually used to provide a more serious backdrop in front of which the performances could shine. Listening to Liz speak early on about the overarching themes of the show, it was apparent that Dead to Me was more than just a pulpy mystery surrounding two zany leads; rather, Liz let us know to feel more comfortable leaning into the more genuine emotional themes of loss and grief, as well as the strength of a growing friendship that is tested by incredibly difficult circumstances. It was important, then, to have the music in scenes like this one — more heartfelt moments that appear throughout the series — feel authentic and grounded in true emotion.
PH: How did this scene advance the story or reveal something important about the character/storytelling?
Adam Blau: Up to this point in the show, we’ve seen Jen as hot-tempered and tough as nails, angry at the dreadful circumstances surrounding her husband’s death. Entering Ted’s studio is a big step in the grieving process for Jen — it’s a release from the tension that’s been building so far, both for Jen’s character and for the show in general. What’s more, the conclusion of the scene sees Judy comforting Jen as their bond starts to grow, even as the audience starts to realize that Judy is keeping some big secrets from Jen — a little twist at the end of the scene.
The piano melody in this scene is one of the first times we hear a recurring motif used throughout the show — an oscillating theme that pairs two piano notes pushing and pulling against each other in alternating dissonance and harmony, much like Jen and Judy do throughout the series. Most of the time we hear this theme in the show, it is at the more sly and suspenseful points, but here it is used in a more heart-wrenching manner.
PH: Did this scene come together on screen the way it was creatively envisioned initially, or did you make creative changes to have it flow with the film better?
Adam Blau: Musically, at least, the score kept its general shape and tone from the first version I composed, save for a few nips and tucks along the way. The cue follows Jen as she first enters into the space and slowly unfolds as she picks up her husband’s various belongings, evolving with her emotions. We played a bit with the speed at which the cue develops, choosing to grow at slightly different moments along the way, or letting the different stops in her journey through the studio trigger a bigger response. We also shifted the ending a bit musically — initially, the score stopped as Judy enters the studio to meet Jen, playing it as a separate, vague entrance, as we are still figuring out Judy’s intentions. But we ended up scoring the end more emotionally as Judy hugs Jen, simultaneously demonstrating her caring nature for Jen and the internal tumult she’s feeling, hiding some key facts from Jen. These little musical changes helped shape the overall contour of the scene, subtly highlighting individual beats before landing on a poignant moment between the two conflicted main characters.
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