Late last year, Marvel released its fifth series, Hawkeye, which was a hit with both critics and fans of the MCU. Jeremy Renner returned as the title character, a master archer and former Avenger, and the series took place one year after the events in Avengers: Endgame.
Created by former Mad Men scribe Jonathan Igla and largely directed by SNL veteran Rhys Thomas, Hawkeye saw the superhero confront enemies from his past alongside fangirl Kate Bishop (Hailee Stanfield). The series had a bit of a different tone than other MCU entries as the story took place during the December holiday season, which called for decorative lights and a more cheerful soundtrack.
Below the Line recently spoke to the show’s two composers, Christophe Beck and Michael Paraskevas, who discussed how they set out to distinguish their score from other superhero projects. Beck and Paraskevas are longtime collaborators who have teamed with Marvel before and composed music for holiday-themed movies, having worked on WandaVision and Christmas Chronicles II. Their other credits include the box office hits Frozen II and Free Guy. For this show, however, Paraskevas graduated to co-composer, after many years of learning from Beck himself.
Read on to discover how they created the music for the well-liked Marvel series.
Below the Line: How did you get involved with this product?
Christophe Beck: Well, [I did] WandaVision, the first series out of the gate for Marvel. And of course, Michael was involved as an additional composer. As we wrapped that one, Marvel reached out and told me about this one and that they wanted me involved. I have a very long relationship with Marvel so it was an easy “yes.”
I knew very little about [it] and I actually thought it would be a film noir type of vibe and that this would be reflected in the score. As time went on, it turned out to be a buddy Christmas comedy! And this also felt like the perfect project to finally bring on Michael as a full collaborator, as a partner, after five years. I pitched that to Marvel, and they were very enthusiastic.
Michael Paraskevas: We have done the Christmas thing and the Marvel thing, so the meld of the style was very amusing.
BTL: Having done both Marvel and Christmas movies before, how did you give this project its own unique sound?
Beck: That’s a great question! For me, it was the incorporation of electronic elements. If you listen to the main theme of the Hawkeye show, it has a processed bell sound. It has bell-like qualities to it, but it’s most definitely synthetic and electronic in nature. That subtle electronic incorporation makes it feel more contemporary and brings it into the Marvel Universe.
Paraskevas: Right, and then we expand on those synthetic bells throughout the score, and incorporate them increasingly with subtle musical cues. There are even some spots where we took some classic Christmas carols and rearranged them in a more contemporary way to serve as underscores. That’s how we got that fun and festive tone melded with the superhero tone.
BTL: What were some of those Christmas tunes, for those that may have not recognized them?
Paraskevas: One arrangement we used a lot was “Carol of the Bells,” especially as Kate Bishop, our main heroine, is sleuthing around. In the last episode, there is a big tension built with Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies,” another classic, recognizable tune. It was fun to use those songs, adapt them, and bring out something new for the story.
Beck: If I recall correctly, in that first episode, the filmmakers had already put in “Carol of the Bells” as the score, the hold for the score. And we were able to adapt it in a more creative, original way. After that first episode, we were on the lookout for big set pieces that we could score with a classic Christmas theme in the back. And as Michael said, that last big set piece in the episode leading up to the climactic fight, we saw it and said, ‘Maybe this is where we can do something grand.’ And that song is one of my favorite Christmas tunes of all time.
BTL: What was your collaboration like with the show creators — what ideas did they bring in, and which ones did you pitch?
Beck: As I mentioned, there was a bit of an evolution for what the sound of the score was going to be. At first, it was going to be a darker tone, focused on Hawkeye, his despair around the events of The Avengers, and the dark things he went through in his past. But the show, the story, and therefore the score evolved into something much more playful, especially between Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld. And the idea that this would be a ‘Christmas in New York’ sort of thing, we took. Whenever there was an opportunity to sprinkle in Christmas magic, we did. Not just the big set pieces we mentioned, but also incorporating classic Christmas textures into what was a more traditional Marvel superhero type of score.
BTL: Were you creating these as the show went along and watching as they filmed, or did you create the music after the show was shot and edited?
Paraskevas: We came on board as they were editing. And it was quick because there were only six episodes. We started writing themes right before we received picture and then adjusted as we dove in, and that’s when we started shifting perspective, as Chris said. We found what was organic to the story in the editing process.
Beck: One of the things I love about these miniseries Marvel is working on is that I had a sense for the entire story. Back in the earlier days, like when I worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was flying by the seat of my pants. They’re cranking out an episode a week for a long time and I just had to improvise. Here, by contrast, I know where it’s going, so I was not surprised by a plot twist later, and I could create a holistic musical universe.
Paraskevas: It’s almost like a longer feature film, with a long story arc to guide the music.
BTL: What is your collaboration model?
Beck: This was our first true, real 50-50 partnership. We started off knowing that would be the case. We said, ‘here are the six or eight themes we will need.’ The ones that lit me up the most, I worked on those, and then Michael on the other half. And then at the start of each episode, we would go through the whole episode to make sure they worked together.
The main Hawkeye theme was mine and the main Kate one was Michael’s. If we had a Hawkeye-centric moment, I would take the lead, and if it was Kate-centric, he would. But there’s a lot of back and forth, especially of cues being passed between the two of us. One of the things that’s nice about how we are set up technically is that it’s very easy for me to write a cue that’s set up, say, to the three-quarters point, and then hand it off to Michael. And it’s a very easy way to do it vice-versa, and then I can take it from his cue. It’s a lot of divide and conquer, but also a fair amount of back-and-forth collaboration.
Paraskevas: It was a natural extension of our process, our many years of collaboration. I would put his themes into my computer, and work around with it, play around. It was very easy to pass all of that back and forth.
Beck: One of my favorite instances of this was when the audio drops out completely, because as you know, a couple of the characters are deaf. We had a lot of discussions [about] what we would do musically and sound-wise in those moments. Michael took the bell themes and put them in reverse, [and] it made for a surreal atmosphere, that heightened surreality. That was only possible because of our easy-going collaboration.
BTL: Any particular instrument you found yourselves drawn to for this series?
Paraskevas: Well, the show has such a mix of styles. So, very many different instruments depending on the segment. The buddy cop had heist rhythm sections, the Christmas ones had bells and harps. The Marvel superhero moments have [their] own language, with big bold brass.
Beck: Distorted electric cello, which Michael came up with for Hawkeye’s past, when he’s “Ronin.” You get a dirty, dark texture that perfectly captures the period in his life when he’s a ruthless vigilante, and how that now haunts him in a way that evokes regret. Taking the cello and making it the center of the Ronin theme was a great way to capture it.
BTL: What was your favorite theme from the show and why?
Beck: Very easy. The bold, heroic Hawkeye theme, because I wrote it. There’s a hint of darkness to it, and it’s always fun to write those.
Paraskevas: Loved that one, but I liked my theme for Kate. She has the same dark qualities, but she has a rebellious streak to her. Actually, I really loved the theme for Maya Lopez’s character in the show, Echo. It had a cool blend of her humanity and her tragedy, with a flute. It really touched on this intimate story about the relationship with her father, but also when she’s in this badass mode, going into an electronic place. I found the theme very adaptable to all of her moments.
BTL: What’s next for both of you?
Beck: Another project for Marvel we can’t talk about and another Disney film we can’t talk about!
Hawkeye is currently streaming on Disney+.