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Yellowstone and 1883 Composer Breton Vivian on Linking the Shows Through Music While Striving to Make Each Score Unique


Luke Grimes and Kevin Costner in Yellowstone/Paramount Network

Breton Vivian had worked with Brian Tyler for a number of years as a composer’s assistant, but now he’s working with Tyler as an equal for a pair of Taylor Sheridan series — Yellowstone and 1883.

Yellowstone is Paramount’s flagship streaming series and one of many that Sheridan has either on the air or in the works. The show grew in popularity because of the pandemic, leading the fourth season to garner its highest ratings yet. Even though Peacock has Yellowstone’s rerun rights, all of the new spinoffs are going to stream exclusively on Paramount+, starting with Season 1 of 1883, which takes audiences back to when the Dutton family first went west from Tennessee and came to settle what audiences know as the Yellowstone Ranch in Montana.

Below the Line recently spoke to Vivian, who discussed the scoring process, his favorite track, and some of the challenges that came as a result of the pandemic. The big thing going for the 1883 score is that they had to create something new while also honoring what came before in the score first developed for Yellowstone.

Breton Vivian
Breton Vivian image via Paramount+

Below the Line: 1883 is the first Yellowstone spinoff series. When it came to scoring the series, what were you and Brian Tyler looking to do with the show?

Breton Vivian: With 1883, because it was a prequel to a series that was already very much established, I think the thing we wanted to do is to kind of honor the musical language that was already set up in place and established with Yellowstone. But this time, do something different whilst honoring it. A lot of that was kind of following on from the through-line of the score that we established before, taking inspiration from the musical language of immigrants moving to America but going earlier in history and going through it from that angle.

BTL: In what ways were you looking to set the score apart from Yellowstone?

Vivian: I think one of them was to really set up a new theme for the show, but then also to honor the smaller intimate themes because it’s a very character-driven show. There was kind of this balancing act between honoring the very intimate, character-driven scenes, then also playing to the wider sort of more cinematic scope of the narrative, and the beautiful shots of America during that time.

Sam Elliott in 1883/Paramount+

BTL: What was the process when it came to scoring 1883 — did you start with the scripts and work from there, or did you start working off a rough cut?

Vivian: We started with the scripts at that stage. We were doing a lot of writing big suites for the show and sending it to Taylor. Taylor was also playing into some of the cast members while they were preparing for a scene and things like that, so definitely started at the script stage. As we started getting cuts of episodes, we’ll see that some of the music that we sent is being edited within the cuts of the show and so it really helped us to get to the mindset of what the music should be and where it’s going.

BTL: Is there a track that you really loved composing in either series?

Vivian: For 1883, I loved “Requiem.” The piece comes when you first meet Sam Elliott. It’s this really sort of important moment because the guy has just lost his family and he’s about to burn his house. It’s a real moment that Taylor has really set the scene to have the music really be on the forefront. It was such a beautiful scene to have the opportunity to score.

Isabel May in 1883/Paramount+

BTL: What kind of challenges were there because of the pandemic?

Vivian: I think definitely there was a kind of challenge of recording and organizing recordings of musicians. I think nowadays with things being online, the internet being a lot faster, you can easily send stuff back and forth and do recording sessions via livestream-type things. I think in ways, it was harder, but then also, we were lucky that we had the technology to be able to facilitate it regardless.

BTL: Westerns sometimes feel like a dying breed but every now and then, it feels like they make a comeback. What do you like about working in the genre?

Vivian: Yeah, it does. Yeah, I think for both Yellowstone and 1883, I really enjoy that sort of the reality of what that time was and trying to make your way west than how raw and brutal it can be. But then also, when there are moments with Taylor’s amazing writing, these beautiful moments with the characters within the West and in this sort of backdrop you have with the show.

Kelly Reilly in Yellowstone/Paramount Network

BTL: Did you all get much direction from Taylor Sheridan?

Vivian: Yeah, definitely. There’s definitely direction in terms of where he wants the show to go. He [also] gives us a lot of room to interpret it and do what we want with the music. It’s really nice to have that kind of trust from someone and to be able to really explore what you can do for the show.

BTL: How did you first get an interest in composing?

Vivian: Growing up, I was in a lot of bands. I was a guitarist and I played in hardcore bands and metal bands. For a while, that was my thing. In the background, I always loved classical music and film music. Eventually, I just became more and more just obsessed with film music and classical that I just naturally gravitated towards that direction and eventually just stopped playing in bands and decided to pursue careers in film.

BTL: When it comes to film music, who are some of your influences?

Vivian: I think this is gonna be a boring answer but the OG for me was John Williams, especially his score for Star Wars, [which] was such a big part of my childhood growing up. I remember listening back to the score and remembering the scenes played out in the film. It was a way to relive the film without physically watching it. You just really relive it through the music.

BTL: You cannot go wrong with John Williams!

Vivian: Yeah, exactly.

Tim McGraw in 1883/Paramount+

BTL: Sometimes when people call me, I don’t want to pick up my phone because I’ve got the Star Wars theme song for the ringtone and I just want to keep listening.

Vivian: [laughs] Yeah, [exactly].

BTL: Being a composer’s assistant to Brian Tyler for a number of years, what was the most valuable piece of advice that you learned from him?

Vivian: Before working for him, I was never a part of a production that was so big [or] part of a team where you have to deliver a large amount of score in a certain amount of time. I think I learned a lot about the process and how to get things done — [how] to do it efficiently, and to do a good job. I think a lot [about] doing it that way. A lot of the stuff that he does, I do now, so it’s nice to have that experience.

BTL: How different is it working with him this time around as an equal?

Vivian: I think it’s been great. When he brought me onto Yellowstone, he had already known how I write and my kind of taste in music. When it came around, it sort of felt like a perfect pairing for it, really. I do a lot of recording of myself playing guitar or a different instrument. That’s sort of what he does as well so I think that it sort of kind of gelled well together for the project.

All four seasons of Yellowstone are currently available on Peacock, while Season 1 of 1883 is now streaming on Paramount+.

Danielle Solzman
Danielle Solzman
Danielle Solzman is a Chicago-based film critic and filmmaker. The founder of Solzy at the Movies, she is a member of the Critics Choice Association, Galeca, AWFJ, OAFFC, OFCS, and OFTA. She is MPA-accredited and Tomatometer-approved.
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