Welcome back to More of a Comment, Really…, a weekly interview podcast hosted by Clint Worthington! Every episode will feature interviews with actors, filmmakers, producers, and more, giving you the skinny on the latest films and TV.
While composer Michael Abels was awarded “Discovery of the Year” at the 2019 World Soundtrack Awards for his eerie, minimalist score for Jordan Peele’s Us, he’s hardly a fresh-faced up and comer. Before transitioning into film scoring, Abels was already an acclaimed orchestral and concert composer, having composed symphonies, ballets and operas for orchestras across the country.
This history with classical music seemingly clashes with his unexpected, experimental work on the films of Jordan Peele, but in Cory Finley‘s Bad Education (premiering today on HBO), it allows him to return to a very familiar wheelhouse. Based on the true story of the largest fraud case in American public school history, Bad Education centers on the superintendent of a prestigious public school in upstate New York (a charming, complex Hugh Jackman), and the complex web of deceit, hidden desires, and lies resting just beneath the surface of his quest for excellence.
Abels’ score is lush, intimate, and reflective of Finley’s uniquely arch approach to the material — baroque, string-heavy requiems for forbidden love (“Eye Contact”) clash with concert-band bombast that reflects Roslyn High School’s razor-thin veneer of academic prestige (“Ave Noster Redemptor”). For Abels, it was a return to familiar forms, and he even mined his own history as an educator for inspiration.
For The Spool, Abels sat down with us to talk about his score for Bad Education, how he gets into the mindset of the characters he scores for, and the complex dynamics of being a mixed-race composer in heavily white environments. He also talks us through the process behind crafting one of the score’s cues, “Eye Contact”, while performing it on the piano for us.
You can listen to the full podcast above, and below listen to Abels’ full score for Bad Education on Spotify (including the tracks he plays in the episode, “Eye Contact” and “Eye Contact — Appassionato Alternate”).