Los Angeles based composer Jamie Forsyth is no stranger to putting out stellar scores for hit shows. He has an extensive resume spanning multiple genres but is best known for his work featured on the Emmy nominated Fox series BONES. Forsyth has recently been chosen to score the music for the highly anticipated REELZ miniseries “The Kennedys After Camelot”, starring Katie Holmes and Matthew Perry. The series is a follow up to the 2011 miniseries “The Kennedys’ which received four Emmy Awards. While “The Kennedys” chronicled some of the key triumphs (as well as some of the tragedies) of the Kennedy family, “The Kennedys After Camelot” has focused its attention on some of the most scandalous events to strike the family.
“The Kennedys After Camelot” is emotionally charged from its core and allows its viewers a glimpse in to what was going on behind the scenes with the family during some of the most difficult years of their lives. It is for this reason that the importance of having a composer who was able to take on the task of conveying these emotions to the audience through the music was paramount. Jamie Forsyth has gone above and beyond with his work for this miniseries and has proven to be the perfect match for an already compelling story. His music for the series plays as much of an important role in the show as the actors themselves and will draw you in to every emotion being played out on the screen.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jamie Forsyth to find out more about his life as a composer. He is as humble as he is talented. Not only was I able to learn more about what motivates him and what challenges he faces in his work but I was also able to speak with him about his music in “The Kennedys After Camelot” to find out more about what the creators were looking for in regards to the soundtrack for the miniseries.
JAMIE FORSYTH INTERVIEW:
TAMMY: Who were some of your earliest musical inspirations?
JAMIE FORSYTH: Early on, well, since I grew up in Canada in the 80s I was a big fan of Rush and “prog rock” in general. But my first exposure to music as a career was in musical theater. Firstly the usual Gilbert & Sullivan standbys and then venturing into a little more daring territory with Rupert Holmes and Sondheim. It was a great beginning to have I think because it’s a rich world dramatically and orchestrally and I probably learned as much during that period about how orchestras work as I ever have anywhere else.
TAMMY: What or who lead you in to wanting to become a composer?
JAMIE FORSYTH: Throughout high school I was often creating arrangements for this band or that acappella group or the other music class. It was a school for the arts and there was lots of opportunity for that sort of stuff. Dance classes needing pieces for recitals, choirs needing arrangements and so on. But I think I started to get a taste for writing for dramatic purposes while doing theater. There would often be a need to write extra songs or background music to accommodate set changes or an extra verse for a dance number or whatever else. I think the seed was probably planted there but I have to admit it wasn’t a burning desire since childhood or anything. It kind of snuck up on me a bit I guess it’s fair to say.
TAMMY: What is the most difficult aspect of your career and also what is the most rewarding?
JAMIE FORSYTH: THE CLOCK! The clock is the worst. The way the minutes and hours relentlessly grind past whether you feel creative or not. I’ve heard it said that it doesn’t matter in this business what you can do, it’s what you can do in 10 minutes! It is definitely true that you have to be able to just forcibly will something into existence sometimes. It can be a daunting feeling waking up and knowing as you wait by the coffee machine that whether or not you’re feeling creative 5 or 8 or 11 (or more) minutes of music needs to be conjured out of nothing before you’re getting any sleep that night. But it gets done one way or the other and it seems like a miracle sometimes. And that’s probably the most rewarding aspect of it really. Getting to the end of the day and looking at all that music that didn’t exist that morning.
TAMMY: What would you say has been a highlight of your career to date?
JAMIE FORSYTH: I think maybe the main title of Transporter: The Series, oddly enough. It was a pretty low profile project but it was an arrangement of “Working Man” by Rush which is an iconic rock song from the 70s in Canada. And because it’s iconic it created a bit of tumult among the purists and I actually found that kind of fun! Another one was winning a Royal Television Society award in the UK. My co-writer and I didn’t bother flying over to England for it because, well, obviously weren’t going to win, right? And we won! And we weren’t there darnit!! But it was a fun thing to pull off.
TAMMY: Your work in BONES is amazing and really featured a hybrid of styles – horror, romance, mystery, etc. What were the creators looking for in regards to The Kennedys After Camelot? How would you describe the overall tone or style of the score?
JAMIE FORSYTH: Well first of all thank you! Bones was a fun show to do because of that. Every once in a while we would get these boutique episodes that were set in a particular world; a western town, or something to do with aliens, or a ballroom dance contest and you’d have to conjure all these different influences. Particularly the 200th episode special which was modeled after Lyn Murray’s score to Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch A Thief”. To say that coming face to face with composing genius like that was intimidating is to understate it fairly dramatically. But it was a lot of fun. For Camelot there was a lot less jumping around genre-wise obviously. They wanted to connect the series to the original Kennedy’s series sonically so the palette is largely orchestral like the original was. But Camelot is a lot less political than the Kennedys, more intimate and darker really so there is definitely a different feel to it.
TAMMY: What are your favorite and least favorite styles to work with? I’ve heard from other composers that comedy can be a bit tricky with needing to get the timing just right without nailing it on the head too much.
JAMIE FORSYTH: Comedy can absolutely be a pain sometimes although it also depends on the comedy, the actors, the script. I often have to remind myself that less is usually more with the comedy stuff. That was actually a bit of an adjustment from me coming from the theater world. Onstage, everything is BIG and over the top and in theater it works really well. But tv is much more subtle and I had to learn to be less broad overall. I think for myself I mostly tend to respond to emotional things though. Melodic ideas. My favorite moments in film scores are ones that play a character’s inner world rather than just whatever’s happening on screen. There is a theme for Joan Kennedy I wrote that is like that. A solo piano suite that is more about her loneliness as a general concept than what is specifically happening onscreen and whenever I used it it just played through the scene as if we were just hearing inside her head. Moments when I can get that to work are extremely gratifying.
TAMMY: What does your creative process typically look like when you are starting a new project? How much research goes in to music of specific time periods etc? Or does your process really just vary with each project?
JAMIE FORSYTH: I suppose it’s different depending on the project. Sometimes it’s a matter of just sitting in the studio and playing around to see if something interesting pops out of my brain or out of some kind of digital accident. That happens more than you would think, the accidents do. I have deliberately kept in ideas that my cat inadvertently created by stepping on the keyboard while I was working. Just for the challenge of seeing if I can make it work. That’s another thing I enjoy doing; imposing arbitrary limitations on myself to push myself in new directions. There is a novel by Ernest Vincent Wright called “Gadsby” that doesn’t contain a single letter ‘e’, the most commonly used letter in the English language. I do musical versions of that on occasion, just to force myself to take different routes and approaches. It keeps it interesting and it stimulates my passion for solving puzzles.
TAMMY: The Kennedys After Camelot is, of course, a follow-up series to The Kennedys, which was scored by Sean Callery. Did you pull any inspiration from Sean’s score or did you approach the follow-up series from a different angle?
JAMIE FORSYTH: They were really deliberately striving to connect the two series’. A lot of the cast returned, most of the team returned. Sean has been a close friend of mine for 15 years or so and as it happened I already knew the Kennedys score quite well. I definitely used it as a starting point and sprinkled in some of his original themes here and there where it was appropriate. But Camelot is not as broad. The mood is darker and the stories are more intimate in a lot of ways. So the score certainly reflects that.
TAMMY: While working on the score for The Kennedys After Camelot, were you presented with any challenges that you’ve not had the opportunity to tackle and work through in the past with other scores that you’ve done?
JAMIE FORSYTH: One challenge with this project that I don’t know if I’ll ever encounter in quite the same way is The True Story Problem. Everything that happens in the series is, of course, not only public knowledge but also burned into the memory of a lot of the viewing public who grew up watching it unfold on tv in real time in the 60s, 70s & 80s. There is a moment in the series, and of course I’m not giving anything away here, where Senator Ted Kennedy drives off into the night from a party on Chappaquitik Island. That’s enough information for most Americans and Canadians of a certain age group to connect the dots. In fact in the screening at the premiere a large portion of the audience groaned knowingly as the car pulled away. Some people though have never heard about it. So how do you approach that musically? I don’t mind admitting that that was a scene that took a few different approaches before we settled on something. It was a constant problem and one which we all, director, producers, etc had constant conversations about to try and find the sweet spot in each scene which I think we did. But not without some trial and error, that’s for sure.
TAMMY: What song from The Kennedys After Camelot really stands out for you as one that really embodies the series?
JAMIE FORSYTH: Well that’s an impossible question. Which is your favorite of your children! I suppose if I had to narrow it to one thing I think probably the 3rd act of episode 2 is the most complete representation of the score. It covers a lot of story arcs and pivotal moments. My personal favorite moment from the series is the opening of Episode 3 although I wouldn’t say it embodies the series necessarily. Katie Holmes directed episode 3 and it opens with this beautifully framed shot of Joan and Teddy Kennedy standing on the beach. In conjunction with the solo piano theme for Joan it gave this lovely sense of how isolated Joan is from Teddy and the family. The piano theme, by design, sort of stands apart from the rest of the score and magnifies her isolation, or at least that was the aim. It was a departure stylistically from the rest of the score but I think I’m fond of it for that reason. And because the right people stood up for it and it stayed in the final cut.
TAMMY: What is the best piece of advice that you have for anyone who is hoping to reach your level of success as a composer?
JAMIE FORSYTH: That’s a tough one because it’s not just diligent work or raw talent or a ‘can do’ attitude. There is always a bit of luck involved and always a lot of relationships. I would say though… be ready, 1, have your chops in order, have a skill or a specialty that makes you stand apart…and 2, always say yes. Say yes when you’re terrified, say yes when you don’t have time, say yes when it’s something you’ve never done before. Say yes cheerfully, enthusiastically even, then put the phone down freak out all you want. Then put the coffee on and figure it out. Some of the best things happened to me when I said yes despite the fear and then went to work to just figure it out. You’ll surprise yourself. I will also add, I hate to include negative advice but I see it so much… NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU SWEAT! It’s a demanding business not only on your time but on your ego. When you get notes from producers and directors – and you will always always get notes (almost always at the worst possible time and under a blisteringly fast deadline) – say ‘yes’, say ‘thank you’, say ‘no problem’, say it with a genuine smile, then put the phone down and do all the swearing and complaining you want to your walls or your goldfish. But never let the client know you’re annoyed that their phone call ruined your dinner reservation.
TAMMY: What are you currently working on or have coming up that you are excited about?
JAMIE FORSYTH: Well we’re just wrapping up the last couple of episodes of 24 Legacy and there’ll be a few weeks of sleeping in a bit before Jessica Jones gets started which is a fun show to do. In May I’ll be traveling to Poland to play live with Sean (Callery) for his Homeland theme at a music festival there so that’ll be exciting too. And then right back to it for another year!
Be sure to check out Jamie Forsyth’s work in “The Kennedys After Camelot” which is now playing on REELZ.