May 12th marked the international premiere date for Netflix’s Anne with an E series, based on the 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery. Mostly in Canada, the book has been adapted as films, made-for-television movies, and animated and live-action television series. This retelling breaks new ground as the whole world will now discover the story of Anne of Green Gables. Even though CBC/Netflix made this adaptation for an international audience, one aspect that the show is keeping Canadian is the score by Toronto-based composers Amin Bhatia & Ari Posner.
You probably have heard Bhatia & Posners’ work on shows such as CTV’s police drama Flashpoint, for which they won a Canadian Screen Award & were nominated for a Gemini Award along with the CBC’s spy thriller X Company to name a few. We decided to speak with them about what makes a successful collaboration and putting a fresh take, musically, on a story that has been around for over 100 years.
You all scored Anne with an E together but some projects you choose to work on individually. How do you choose what you are going to collaborate on?
It usually comes down to the type of project and the workload. If there are many different styles of music needed and the project has a very fast turnaround, then we love to team up. That usually seems to happen on tv series. However, on other projects, where there’s more time and not so much jumping around in styles, we each like to pursue our own individual sound and score. That seems to happen more on features. Interestingly, we’ve noticed that in our solo work we might learn a new style or sound that can then be added to our palette when we team up again. It’s really about two artists supporting and encouraging each other with their careers. It’s not a formal business arrangement. We just complement each other well, and that seems to be leading us to a growing body of work.
When you first began Anne with an E did you feel any extra pressure than you normally do when beginning a project because so many Canadians are familiar with the Anne story and seen many adaptations?
Really it was more about seeing the rough cut and how it resonated with us as well as talking to the showrunner Moira Walley Beckett and producer Mirdanda DePencier about the kind of score they wanted. Right from day one the series truly inspired us. If there was pressure, it mostly came from the hectic schedule and tight turnarounds.
Did you go back and watch any of the old Anne programs? Either to get inspiration for the new show and/or to consciously do something different?
We had both seen the original series long ago so we were familiar with that sound. But Moira and Miranda wanted a very authentic Celtic feel as well as a dramatic 19th century sound. This new take on Anne was incredibly intimate and emotional, dealing with some very serious and timeless universal issues. We didn’t make a point of revisiting the old series since we were asked to depart on a very different musical journey.
Did you initially know that the show was going to be on Netflix too, not just CBC? Would it have affected your scoring technique and sound knowing it was just going to be shown in Canada?
For us, playing on multiple networks only affects the logistics of show deadlines and possible repackaging of episodes for different formats. Stylistically it’s all about the story no matter what the network is or the country it’s playing in.
You all received an Emmy nomination for the theme music to Get Ed. What did that feel like when you heard the news?
We were truly surprised and thrilled. We loved working on that show and were very proud of the score. But we had no idea it was getting the kind of attention that would garner an Emmy nomination! It was fun doing the junket with all the Hollywood glamour and press that goes along with it. It was also nice meeting composers that we had admired for years, like Alf Clausen and Stu Phillips.
Do each of you have different strengths musically? If so, what are those?
AMIN: I’m more classically based but I also experiment a lot with sound, especially electronics.
ARI: Though my original introduction to music was through classical piano, I consider my writing roots to come more from the pop and jazz world.
Where we overlap though is our love for orchestral music and melody. We’re constantly challenging each other with new themes and progressions that can be passed back and forth for development and variation.
Describe your process musically for a show like Anne with an E. What was one of the first things you did when beginning work?
We start by setting up the palette of instruments and finding the signature sounds that resonate with specific characters or settings. It’s this early process that takes the most amount of time, whether that means finding new sounds in our studio libraries or working with other musicians. For Anne with an E, we used Celtic period instruments alongside a more standard orchestral palate. Sometimes we were accompanying the stunning visual landscape of PEI and other times we were emphasizing very raw feelings or emotions. A large part of the sound of this show came from our very talented “Anne Band” consisting of Drew Jurecka on violin/viola/baritone violin, Kirk Starkey on cello, Sara Traficante on both traditional and Celtic flutes, and Joel Schwartz on acoustic and electric guitars as well as mandolin.