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Miracle Workers: End Times Composer Matt Novack On Why You Should Take Jokes Super Seriously


Miracle Workers
Daniel Radcliffe and Geraldine Viswanathan in Miracle Workers: End Times

The world of Miracle Workers is a wondrous with its nearly limitless possibilities. Recently, the TBS comedy series completed its fourth season, Miracle Workers: End Times, both a parody and an authentic post-apocalyptic love story. Once more, the series delivered kind-hearted laughs and gloriously silly slghts.

Plenty of credit is owed to composer Matt Novack.

Novack has now established himself as a seasoned composer in the realm of comedy, having scored Harley Quinn, Murderville, Children’s Hospital, and more. With Miracle Workers: End Times, which was his first season on the anthology show, he once again takes the most absurd sounds and sights with utmost seriousness. In a recent interview with Below-The-Line, Novack talked about scoring the outlandish with respect.

Composer Matt Novack (Credit: James Clark)

Below-the-Line: The score this season could easily play in a dramatic post-apocalyptic movie. Was that the intent?

Novack: Yeah, it’s part of the intent and that’s also something I’ve learned. I score a lot of absurdist comedies like Children’s Hospital and Harley Quinn, and we found that part of the absurdism is that you play it straight because the characters think it’s real. It’s not a joke to the characters, it’s not a sitcom even though there’s some sitcom-y elements to it. You play it straight and it just makes it funnier. You don’t want to tell the audience, this is a joke, you should be laughing. It’s not like a laugh track. But yeah, that’s been my bread and butter scoring silly jokes. Super seriously. 

BTL: Was that a goal early on in your career as a composer? Were you always gravitating musically toward comedy? 

Novack: It’s interesting. I’m a big sci-fi fan, so that was always my original goal, to score super serious sci-fi epic adventures. But I found my way into comedy from one of the first composers I worked for, Craig Wedren, who was a big comedy composer as well, and I fell into it. I love it. It’s just fun. 

I always love comedy, who doesn’t love good comedy? But I think over time I got used to scoring comedies, and I got a feel for it. It’s not something that we ever went over in college, but I grew to know it as I worked on it.

BTL: Did you study comedy scores much in college? 

Novack: I know we did study some comedy composers. There was a composer who scored some Adam Sandler movies, Teddy Castellucci.  So, we did study comedy when I was in USC. I remember we at least watched one scene from Young Frankenstein. There was a really great violin piece that one of the characters plays in the movie, so we studied that scene. I think it was more for pre-records, something that was pre recorded and had to be performed on screen, and even then, a lot of that score was scored seriously, it was scored with strings. 

BTL: Which creative choices keeps you up at night when you’re scoring shows like Miracle Workers?

Novack: I think one of the main goals is writing good music, but making sure you leave space for dialogue and jokes and make sure you’re not distracting from anything that the audience, so I do worry about that sometimes. Sometimes when I watch scenes back, I’ll think to myself, I could have done something differently just making sure I could have left more space or could have scored a specific moment differently. 

BTL: How referential do you get? For example, David Dastmalchian plays a role that’s very much a Dune parody, so how much do you think about Hans Zimmer there?

Novack: I remember referencing the score to Dune for inspiration. I don’t think I specifically parodied a specific track, but just kind of the vibe. It was creating an ambiance with drones, but also orchestra, but kind of made it a little ominous and eerie. I did some effects on it that gave it this reverse effect, to make it creepy and weird, but also kind of cool sounding. I feel like that would be something that Zimmer would do. What’s something weird we could do with a traditional instrument? And I think it turned out pretty well. 

BTL: When the season goes for its Matrix sequence, how’d you approach the parody? Again, go serious?

Novack: Yeah, there’s a bit of library music in there. It’s a mix of score and library. One I did knock off. I did parody a couple tracks, which was fun to dig in and try to figure out how they work. I have a physical copy of The Matrix score that I kind of glance at from time to time to learn something. 

BTL: Which lessons from it? 

Novack: Oh, very wide orchestration. I mean, the strings take up the full range of the octaves, but they don’t sound huge. The one thing that I wrote that I was really proud of is that there’s a really kind of emotional moment between Sid and Freya that I kind of referenced the Trinity’s love theme from The Matrix. It was interesting to kind of dig in and look at just the way they orchestrate the different octaves. The strings are using the full spread of the spectrum, but it doesn’t sound massive. It still sounds sweet and romantic, but lush and full, if that makes any sense. 

BTL: Some composers have said comedy can be restricting, but with a world as big as Miracle Workers, is it a more freeing place to score comedy?

Novack: Yes, exactly. There are moments where I can kind of stretch my legs and really go all out, especially there’s some bigger action moments in the season, and especially the finale as well, that I could just have a bunch of fun. I also really enjoyed scoring the smaller moments and trying to find ways to make the music interesting without calling too much attention to itself. I really like this kind of fun quirky theme I wrote for “Sit At Work.” It’s kind of bouncy and a little quirky. It’s a little slapstick without being too slapstick-y. 

Obviously, I love writing big action music. I kind of started my career writing trailer music, so big epic orchestral and synth hybrid cues, I love. Those are so much fun. But I think as I get older and as I grow as a composer, when I listen to other composers, like the big famous ones like John Williams, I kind of get more impressed when they take a really “small” cue but still make it intricate. 

I really think the best composers excel at doing internal cues, small-ish cues, but still intricate and beautiful. I think, at least for me, that’s one of the most challenging things to write. It could be easy, just kind of whip something out that’s not doing too much, but that’s something I still work on as I grow. That’s something I try to work on. 

Miracle Workers season four is now available to stream on Max. 

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