Composing at Warp Speed: Frederik Wiedmann & Stephen Barton Discuss Scoring the Final Season of Star Trek: Picard
Between them, BMI composers Frederik Wiedmann and Stephen Barton had already amassed an impressive body of work, having individually composed music for several feature films across multiple genres, animated films and televisions series. The German-born Wiedmann, who won an Emmy for his work on Disney’s All Hail King Julien, has become a key figure in the DC cinematic universe, given his work on Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, Son of Batman, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis and Justice League: Gods and Monsters, among others. Beyond his own roster of scores for films like Line of Duty, 4 Minute Mile, Last Weekend and Unlocked, as well as television programs like 12 Monkeys, Liquid Television and G.I. Joe: Resolute, British composer Barton accrued an extensive background as a producer, conductor, music arranger and programmer in composing music for several video games. He is also considered an expert in the burgeoning spatial-and-immersive audio field.
But when the option presented itself for these two composers to score the third and final series of Star Trek: Picard, the epic story of Jean-Luc Picard’s iconic reunion with his former crew from the USS Enterprise in the 25thCentury, they both realized what a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it would be to work on the beloved television series. To borrow Picard’s signature phrase, they both zealously agreed to “make it so!”
BMI caught up with Wiedmann and Barton to share their thoughts and experiences of working on this very special project. Here’s what they had to say.
Scoring Season 3 of Picard is a truly exciting project — How did you two get involved?
Frederik Wiedmann: My involvement started towards the later episodes of Season 3. The finale of this adventure had taken on such a massive scale, and the amount of music required for the last four episodes, as well as its complexity, required more-hands-on-deck. Since the editor on the show, Drew Nichols, had used one of my previously composed sci-fi scores quite heavily in the temp track (Occupation: Rainfall), which Terry, our show runner, loved, they decided to bring me on. From the moment I got the phone call from Terry to my writing my first note for the show took only a couple of days. Things moved very fast.
Stephen Barton: Terry Matalas reached out to me whilst he was making the third season of 12 Monkeys, and that launched easily the most rewarding collaboration of my career. We started talking about Star Trek sometime during the fourth season of 12 Monkeys, and once he was given the keys to the franchise to really make Season 3 of Picard his own, we started talking about the Star Trek legacy and the music which we have a shared love for, and how we might be able to weave all those elements together into what is probably the send-off for many of these characters.
How does it feel to step into the role of continuing the musical legacy of one of the most iconic television programs of all time? Were you given any specific parameters to adhere to or did they just give you free rein? Were you encouraged to dip into the series’ long musical history?
Frederik Wiedmann: It is every aspiring composer’s dream to follow the footsteps of either John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith. For a boy who’s loved film music since age 11, absolutely. While I have yet to contribute music to a Star Wars story, I feel incredibly blessed and honored to have been given the chance to work on such a legendary franchise. I am the generation that grew up watching Star Trek: Next Generation on TV, so I was very familiar with it and its characters. In fact, I was a big fan back in the day. I still remember the day I bought the 30-year anniversary compilation CD of all Star Trek music back in late 90s.
As for a musical direction, the idea was to stay true to the original Star Trek: Next Generation tone and sound, while keeping the score also contemporary and modern. The show offered wonderful moments to go back to all the incredible themes from previous Star Trek composers (Goldsmith, Horner, McCarthy, Courage etc.). I believe the audience will enjoy hearing familiar themes and motifs all across Season 3 of Star Trek: Picard.
Stephen Barton: We started really by looking at First Contact, where Jerry wrote one of his finest tunes ever. The feelings that movie evokes, and the fact that it had a “movie theme,” a tune that represented more than just a character or a ship, was a big inspiration. I then went back through all of the Trek scores from start to finish, pretty much, and there were motifs both from The Next Generation TV series and movies, as well as the original series and movies, that we felt had wider significance to the whole story.
The main theme of Next Generation is very much the “Enterprise” theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it means so much more than that now. So, we knew we needed to write a new tune that tied to the U.S.S. Titan (the ship much of this season takes place on), but also write a score that called back to the James Horner, Dennis McCarthy, Leonard Rosenman and Cliff Eidelman music, amongst others. We had free rein to use the tunes, but we wanted to use them as precious gems and not just Star Trek wallpaper. There are times where I’m staying very close to the Goldsmith orchestrations, or Horner’s, in particular, but also times where I’ve re-imagined it.
What was the most challenging aspect to the project? What was the most rewarding?
Frederik Wiedmann: The responsibility to stay true to the legendary scores of an array of incredible composers is quite frankly a daunting task. Those are some of the most iconic melodies in film music history, and to use them correctly within your own score, honoring them, is a massive challenge. You don’t wanna be the composer who botched up such legendary themes and scores. Those old melodies deserve all the love and attention.
The real challenge (besides my own anxiety) to do the old scores justice was the schedule. TV moves fast, and since we recorded every episode with a large LA union orchestra, things had to move quickly. There was no way I could have pulled this off without the help from my best team of people; my orchestrators, (Hyesu Wiedmann, Chad and Susie Seiter), Disney Music preparation, my wonderful assistants (Henrik Astrom & David Byrne), our fantastic mixer and engineer Phil McGowan, Matt Friedman - our music editor, and so forth.
As for what’s rewarding…. Finally looking back on those stressful days, it was, without a doubt, one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career. To have my name associated with Star Trek, STAR TREK, seems so surreal that I have to pinch myself to believe it.
Stephen Barton: The most challenging aspect was the fact that we decided, very early on, to use as little tracking, or re-used music as possible, so a cue from Episode 301 was very unlikely to be in Episode 302. The feel Terry wanted was the feeling you get from the Star Trek motion pictures, which are very much through-composed. But it’s ten hours of television, with over seven hours of score, and we had inherited a prior schedule. At around Episode 6, I’d already written, orchestrated and recorded over four and a half hours of music in the space of under three months, working seven days a week, around the clock. And that was already coming right off writing more than three hours of score for Star Wars. Terry was exhausted from post, too, and one afternoon we were looking at the temp of one of the remaining episodes, which had a lot of Freddie’s music in it, and very much simultaneously realized we didn’t have to sacrifice our original vision of scoring every minute of music fresh, even though the time to do it in was so short.
Can you tell us a bit about your creative process?
Frederik Wiedmann: Terry Matalas, the show runner and also the director of some of the episodes, is incredibly knowledgeable with music and scoring. He knows everything there is to know about soundtracks, and Star Trek music, in particular (to the smallest detail I might add), and therefore knew exactly what he wanted his Season 3 to sound like. With Terry’s direction, as well as our editor Drew Nichols’ fabulous and detailed temp track, we had a very clear roadmap on what to do musically. After the spotting session, where each music cue is discussed in detail, I’d start writing and send Terry the mockups as they were completed so we’d have time for feedback and revisions. The schedule of this show was rather rapid, scoring sessions for each episode were coming at warp speed, so I sent the cues to Terry as soon as they were composed rather than presenting the entire episodes, as a whole, so that I could get feedback, revise the cues, and send them off to the next process for recording.
Stephen Barton: Terry and I have a very unusual process which I think would freak many directors and composers out; I actually like writing with him in the room. I set up a duplicate studio to my main room, up at Santa Clarita Studios where they were finishing shooting the finale. The Titan theme which is the new main tune in the show was something we absolutely wrote with him in the room. I had the basic idea of it already but finding the arc of it and how to resolve it was entirely done with me at the piano and going around and around different melodic ideas with him for more than two hours. I really don’t know of another director who would have the patience, but for me it’s by far the best tune I’ve written, because of having that sounding board to play off.
What’s the secret to a fruitful collaboration?
Frederik Wiedmann: To create synergy between two creative entities, we need to understand each other. I have to really listen for what the filmmakers want to achieve using my skills. One of the worst things you can do in a collaboration is take any criticism personally. Ultimately, we want the same thing, tell a story in the most convincing way.
With every new project, I remind myself to be open-minded to all my collaborators’ ideas and concepts, especially when those challenge me in a way that I am not used to, forcing me to step outside my musical comfort zone for example. I believe all parties in a collaboration need to have a constant sense of curiosity, that doesn’t fade until the project is done. For me personally, curiosity is the greatest fuel for creativity.
Stephen Barton: I think being unafraid to speak your mind and working with people you really like and respect deeply. My mantra of this year is really that I want to work with my friends, and don’t have time for situations where there isn’t that mutual respect. You always need to try out your collaborators’ ideas alongside your own and often it is possible to literally “have your cake and eat it.” You can often do both when ideas differ, and Terry’s musical instincts are fantastic. The only time collaboration doesn’t work is when either side self-censors, usually out of fear of saying the wrong thing. And at the end of the day, working with people who love what they do is the most important thing.
What career advice can you share with aspiring composers?
Frederik Wiedmann: One thing I always tell young and up and coming composers is to write, write, and then write some more. The more music you compose, the better your craft will be, your arranging skills, your production skills, even your melody writing. Even if you don’t have any scoring assignments, write as much as you can, so that when that one big opportunity knocks, you are ready!
If I might add one more thing specifically to aspiring film composers, even though every path is unique and different, I highly recommend trying to work with someone established in the field and learn from them (as an assistant for example). I believe there is no better way to learn about film music than being in the trenches on big projects with someone who knows and understand the industry. After my studies at Berklee College of Music, I worked as an assistant to a few composers and felt like this was by far the best learning experience for me.
Stephen Barton: The main one is that you set the tone and that saying “no” is a very important part of a career. It’s also the area in which I’ve often been worse, and that’s true of most of us. It’s a complete myth that you have to sacrifice your life or your values to succeed. That isn’t to say you won’t have to work extremely hard; you will. You have to set up a working environment that allows you to create, joyfully. Everybody’s path is different, but a career is based on working with people who get that it is a give and take. There are a great many people who will try and take from you without giving, both creatively or otherwise; they’re not worth your time. But you have to value your own time too; if you don’t, you can’t expect anybody else to.
What projects do you have coming up on the horizon?
Frederik Wiedmann: Up next for me is a rather suspenseful film called The Refuge, directed by Renny Harlin, the next season of Neftlix’s animated series The Dragon Prince, and the beautiful adventure film called Boys of Summer, directed by David Henrie.
Stephen Barton: Amongst a bunch of stuff upcoming, I have Star Wars Jedi: Survivor releasing in April, which Gordy Haab and I co-scored. It’s a game score on a stupendously huge scale, it has about seven hours of music in it, something like 460 music cues, recorded over 28 days of orchestral recording. Later this year The First Descendant is also coming out, which is this fantastic Korean game with a big orchestral score. I also have four more seasons of Apex Legends to do this year! It’s insane that’s now on its sixteenth season, it seems like yesterday we were launching it.
What role has BMI played in your journey?
Frederik Wiedmann: While at Berklee College of Music in Boston, I was fortunate enough to receive the BMI scholarship for film scoring presented by Randy Edelman, and BMI’s Doreen Ringer-Ross. When I moved LA, Doreen graciously offered to meet me in her office, where she instantly got me an interview with no other than Hans Zimmer (I was never hired at Remote Control, but nonetheless a big and memorable moment for a young composer). For someone who had no connection whatsoever in the new city, having BMI at my corner felt very comforting.
Stephen Barton: I literally would not be here doing this job without BMI, both from the connections it has helped me make, and the career support. Every composer starting out has quiet periods, and the royalty income stream is often the thing that makes it continue to be possible to pursue as a career path. It certainly was for me. But more than that, from the moment I joined, it was clear that BMI has its writers’ backs and will fight for writers’ rights and interests everywhere it can. In a rapidly changing and fluid industry, that’s who you want in your corner.
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