INTERVIEW: Composer Nathaniel Blume And The Sonic Puzzles Of ‘Prodigal Son’

Last September, FOX premiered Prodigal Son, a crime drama series starring Tom Payne (The Walking Dead) as a former FBI profiler with a serial killer father who’s now working for the NYPD. Elevating the tension and emotion is composer Nathaniel Blume.

On Prodigal Son, Michael Sheen (Good Omens) plays Dr. Martin Whitly, an incarcerated serial killer known as “The Surgeon.” In a Silence of the Lambs-Esque turn of events, Martin’s son, Malcolm Bright (Payne), is investigating a series of copycat murders and needs his father’s help in stopping the crimes. At the same time, Bright is living with the fear that he might one day follow in his father’s footsteps.

PopAxiom spoke with Nathaniel Blume about working under quarantine and the evolution of the score for Prodigal Son.

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Composer Nathaniel Blume

Working While Quarantined

When last we spoke, Nathaniel had just scored the first episode of Prodigal Son. That was six months ago. “I feel like I’ve aged 10 years.”

Thankfully, in these trying times, Nathaniel and his family are healthy and safe. “Typically, I woke out of a studio with Blake Neely and other composers in North Hollywood.”

Fortunately for Nathaniel, he can work from home. “A couple years ago, I built a home studio which basically matches the work studio. It’s been great to be able to do things from home in the morning or evening or weekends and not always having to be at that studio.”

New productions in Hollywood have come to a halt but, as Nathaniel explains, “Post-production hasn’t stopped on either Prodigal Son or The Flash. We’re still working on those.”

Season Finale

Flash did not complete three episodes,” Nathaniel says that Prodigal Son, “… did not complete two episodes.”

Both The Flash and Prodigal Son were just episodes away from completing their seasons. For Prodigal Son, “… they had to shoot the last two episodes out of order to accommodate some scheduling issues. So, there’s an ending to the season which will air this month.”

However, not all shows are in the same beneficial spot. “Unfortunately for The Flash, there’s no ending to the season. They may film the end as the start of the next season.”

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Michael Sheen in Prodigal Son on FOX

About Prodigal Son

Prodigal Son is a textured show with layers about father-son relationships and personal demons. “There is the main theme of the show usually used for Malcolm and sometimes Martin as well.”

About the themes, Nathaniel says they were “… really fun to play with throughout the season. You hear it in tidbits and various styles. Some episodes took on their own character and stood out a little bit different musically than the others.”

Nathaniel explains, “… when we got into the ‘Junkyard Killer’ stuff, those scores tended to be really dark. Some episodes were more fun, “Internal Affairs,” where there’s an event that happens at the beginning of the episode. Still, you’re not aware of the context. That’s all uncovered throughout the episode during an interview with an internal affairs officer. You’re learning bits and pieces of the story.”

Nathaniel dives more in-depth into another example. “The one that just aired, Scheherazade, it took place at a ballet company, and they happen to be rehearsing for a production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. So I used it sometimes while the dancers were dancing on screen but also as a piece of score or as a jumping point for the score to come in or out of the episode. It was a fun puzzle to figure out.”

The use of a classical piece and new work blends beautifully throughout the runtime. “It gives the show a different character. For instance, when Gil and Malcolm are interrogating the lead performer in the ballet, in her dressing room, I would play it a certain way in a typical scene like that. But in this case, I actually used one of the themes from Scheherazade with a solo violin. It took on a different mood than it typically would for the show.”

A Week In Scoring

Work starts on a Monday where Nathaniel, “… spots the show with either one or both of the show-runners and the music editor, the editor, all in all, usually about eight people in the room. We talk about where music is going to come in, go out if there’s a particular story point that needs highlighting. I go back to the studio and jump through the episodes myself deciding what cues I’ve already written may apply. Not necessarily to edit in but to bring back the musical material and use it differently. A lot of times, you change keys … timing is everything.”

Over the years, Nathaniel’s put his process together. “A lot of pre-planning goes in before I start writing. I like to know what I’m going to do. Over the course of the week, little-by-little, it’s almost always a slow start, and then it goes faster.”

For Prodigal Son, Nathaniel says, “… there were four episodes where we actually went to a big recording stage and had 40 musicians. For those, I have to be done by a certain time to send the music out to the orchestrater and copier. You have to build in that time. A couple episodes here and there have a violin soloist or a cello soloist. That’s quicker and easier to do.”

In the pre-pandemic days, working on a weekly TV show is a grind that composers like Nathaniel love. “Often, you’ll have a stretch where it’ll be an episode a week for four or five weeks in a row. It feels like an Olympic event.”

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Tom Payne as Malcolm Bright

New Normal

COVID-19 is still holding the world hostage. In the meantime, the working world adapts. “Now, in the age of Coronavirus, for these last couple episodes, what I did was hire a string quartet, send all of them the music to their home studios. They recorded themselves and sent it back. I sent it to the mixer who worked with the string quartet and samples.”

Fortunately, today’s technology allows us the freedom to adapt. “We’re making due to still get those live musicians in there. It turned out really nice.”

Wrapping Up

Nathaniel credits part of his success as a film and television composer to the man behind a million shows. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at if not for Blake Neely. He taught me so much about efficiency and organization. It takes time, too, to build your toolbox.”

The grind of creating music on a weekly basis isn’t for every composer. “It’s a whole skill-set, and for 99% of the composer population, it takes time [to learn]. Fortunately, I acquired that learning from Blake Neely.”

In the age of remakes, what would Nathaniel like to be a part of? “Growing up, my absolute favorite TV show was X-Files. They kinda have kept going with that. If they did a legit reboot on that and Mark Snow didn’t want to do it, I would 1000 percent in.”

I always end with the same question. What’s next? However, that’s a bit difficult to answer considering the near halt in productions. “This was one of the rare summers where I might actually get a summer off which would be nice. If production doesn’t start up until August or September, then post-production won’t kick in until much later. It’s a waiting game. It’s going to be interesting.”

Are you watching Prodigal Son on FOX?

Thanks to Nathaniel Blume and Rhapsody PR for making this interview possible.

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Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.