For reasons that are completely mysterious and unknowable, the health and wellness industry has been exploding over the past year, with the wellness tourism industry alone worth $639 billion and growing at double the rate of general tourism. It was only a matter of time until storytellers began to explore the inherent drama of more and more desperate people (or as we call them these days, “people”) paying high prices in exotic locations to stave off the specter of death and holding on to the youth and vitality of their aging bodies.
Nine of them – played by Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon, Luke Evans, Samara Weaving, Asher Keddie, Melvin Gregg, Grace Van Patten, Regina Hall, and Bobby Cannavale – have made the trip to a 10-day retreat at Tranquillum House, hosted by the mysterious Masha, played by Nicole Kidman in David E. Kelley and John-Henry Butterworth’s new dark comedy/thriller miniseries Nine Perfect Strangers, now streaming on Hulu for subscribers. As the series has gone on, secrets are revealed and the wellness retreat is not what it at first appears to be.
Adding to the off-kilter atmosphere is the eclectic, unnerving score from co-composers Marco Beltrami and Miles Hankins, veteran musicians who have been teaming up since their first professional collaboration on Fant4stic, which is, as Miles was keen to point out, “becoming an increasing trend in our profession.” Marco is grateful for the partnership: “Composing is often a solitary business, a lot of alone time. One of the things I’ve enjoyed has been working with other people. Not just directors but other musicians. I first knew Miles through a mutual friend before working on Fant4stic and, I have to say, collaborating is more fun. Miles helps center me; brings me back to the core of the project.”
You’d think a fruitful professional companionship would not get its start on such an infamously troubled production that resulted in one of the most embarrassing box office bombs of the 21st century, but according to Marco, such a fraught environment was a blessing in disguise for them, “A project like Fant4stic, oddly, can forge a stronger creative relationship. In a project like Fant4stic, when you’re constantly having your decisions second-guessed, it’s so important to have a sense of strength in that support network, and with a bond between artists who have each other’s backs.” For Miles, it’s something he’s grown more prepared for, adding “every project has its own set of challenges that are unique to each project. It’s part of the gig.”
Counterintuitively, a streaming miniseries with a total runtime of several hours can be a far more structured environment than a feature film like Long Shot or The Night Before, “[Working on] Nine Perfect Strangers was a smoother process. There are stricter deadlines as opposed to a long production time of a feature film,” Miles continues, “There’s a great creative force when you have a deadline attached. You don’t have the luxury of second-guessing yourself that you can fall into with a feature film.” Marco agreed, “There is a different scope, a different structure and recording process [for shows].”
Marco outlined the initial creative blueprint they were offered, “TV shows are a much faster-paced environment. The deadlines are much tighter, though with Nine Perfect Strangers we did get the first few episode rough cuts ahead of time.” This has its advantages and drawbacks, as Marco stresses that “there is a thematic ‘core’ to the music that you can fall back to as the show goes on. If you have an open-ended show with no set timeline, ideas can be overly thought-out… and not always for the better.”
Despite the more predictable and orderly schedule of a TV/streaming production, Marco did note quite a few challenges unique to this production: “this endeavor was a project during COVID, and on top of that was shooting in Australia, so we had to communicate with [the director] Jonathan [Levine] remotely. It was a tricky process, which is why it was good to have Miles around as backup.”
Personally, I was most taken by the sheer variety of instruments, influences, and styles in just the first three episodes, which drew upon their combined experiences in a number of musical disciplines. Miles loved the canvas they were afforded, “The variety of instruments and influences used were a blessing. We use a lot of styles, but we always kept it tied to a thematic consistency even as we were having fun using different means of fleshing out the different characters and tones.”
What can we look forward to as the show’s concluding episodes unfold next month? With the music, it’s more about the mood and what Marco describes as “emotional current.” As Miles explains, “There are so many layers of the show that I’m still picking up on new things from it. As composers we’re only interested in the emotional integrity of the characters, and a mistake can be to zero in too much on one thing or try to ‘get ahead’ of the show.”
They were both very impressed with where the show goes in its later episodes, with Marco saying it “covers a lot of ground from personal emotional journeys to darkly comedic,” and Miles added “there are so many layers of the show that I’m still picking up on new things from it.” With their music as a guide through this tangled web of secrets, lies, and health smoothies you have to finish in one sitting to the very last drop, they’re excited to share what they’ve worked on with Kelley, Butterworth, and Levine as it goes on.
“We’ve talked about thematic continuity, but there are so many twists and turns in this show that it kept us guessing. Let the material inform you, keep an open mind as to where the music might go.”