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Interview - Castle / Last Resort Composer Robert Duncan

(Check out my website, www.seriesmonitor.com)

A few weeks back I put up a request on SpoilerTV for questions from the fans for ABC's Castle and Last Resort composer Robert Duncan. The questions came at a really busy time for Rob, hence the long time period, but it was well worth the wait to hear what Rob has to say. So without further ado, here's the questions and the answers

1. First off, what do you think of Castle this season?? Are you enjoying the new direction of the show??

I think this is the best season yet of Castle, and kudos to Andrew and his team for stepping up to make sure every episode is an entertainment home-run in the face of the question that everyone asked in season 4: 'if/when Castle and Beckett get together and that tension is gone, will anyone still want to tune in?' I just finished the 'Christmas episode' 5.09 and I can say that Andrew is not one to rest on his laurels, he knew the time had come to let the show evolve into its next stage and everything I have seen so far just keeps getting better and better.

2. In a few of the episodes of Castle this season, we've heard varying versions of the amazing score "I Just Want You" that was made famous in the closing scene of last year's finale. Is this a piece of music that we will continue to hear in various forms throughout this season?? How do you go about adapting such a well known piece of music to fit a new scene??

Thank you. Some of the elements of that theme have some history. I had developed a darker haunting repeating piano motif for Beckett in prior seasons, often in conjunction with her mother's case and often underscoring the reasons that were keeping Beckett at a distance from Castle. It seemed fitting to re-invent and bring some of that to the Castle/Beckett love theme, but in a whole new context. There was still an element of caution, of waiting when Castle answered the door in the season 4 finale, and the repeating piano spoke to that moment of anticipation and non-closure until the kiss and the excitement and momentum carry it away.

3. The Castle/Beckett relationship is finally a reality this season. How has this altered the style of the music you are putting together for the various scenes between the duo?? Have you brought back some of the styles that we heard in the first couple of seasons in the series??

We found that some of the concepts in previous seasons aren't working for them anymore. From season one, there was a rivalry and a sparring trait to their underscore. Rob Bowman (one of Castle's executive producers) used to equate it to a bit of a chase between two animals and we almost had a sort of primal 'National Geographic' element going with the African ceramic drum playing to Castle's hijinks. That has all matured now, and although there is a long history and closeness between the two of them over the years and that has some tenderness, there is the other end, the saying that warns 'be careful what you wish for, you might get it.' We find Castle and Beckett bickering like an old married couple as seen in 5.08 'After Hours' and other episodes, that required a new language. It varies slightly from episode to episode, but safe to say there is a lot of fun, some tongue-in-cheek horror and some over-the-top dramatic moments to play with.

4. A lot of Castle fans have asked me to ask you what the chances are of a Castle soundtrack compilation being released. There is a lot of interest out there for one. Are you able to shed any light as to whether that might be in the pipeline??

There has not been any discussion lately about it. I have heard the demand for it, and I'm sure it will be a point of discussion down the road, but I'm afraid I can't say there are any plans in the works at the moment.

5. You're working on freshman show Last Resort this year. How are you finding it when compared to other projects you've been a part of??

Last Resort has been a real trip (unfortunately it won't go beyond the initial 13 episode run). Every week was like scoring a little movie. It's a very cinematic show with some great writing, acting and directing and I've had a blast working on it. Not to mention the chance to try and expand my percussion library in new ways aboard a real submarine!

6. What do you think of Last Resort as a concept?? How do you like the story and characters??

It's a bold concept, and I remember being intrigued since the minute I read the premise. I was already brainstorming ideas after reading the script and am very happy with the way the score turned out.

7. Watching Last Resort, it's immediately clear that the scores are completely different to Castle?? How do you compare and contrast the different styles and demands of the scores of each show??

It feels like speaking two languages sometimes, or at least two dialects. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you're entering a different world and different musical rules apply. If I'm in Castle-mode and I switch on Last Resort and my musical brain says 'OK what's that crazy submarine Captain up to NOW???' I realize I still have the Castle mentality on the mind, and have to switch gears into a darker world. It's all about emotion however, and the show, the writing and directing takes the lead in guiding me toward the target emotions, I just have to carve my route in that direction.

8. Since you started out, what do you think are the biggest changes that the film and television industry has experienced from your point of view as a composer??

The biggest challenge I have found in TV has always been the time constraints. David Mamet, producer of The Unit said once "Doing a movie or a play is like running a marathon...Doing a television show is like running until you die." TV composers often are working around the clock as the mix approaches and just when you're ready to collapse and recover, the next episode is already around the corner. It takes careful logistics and a solid team to pull this off on more than one show at a time.

9. From your unique perspective, where do you think the film and television industry is heading in the near future. Are there any new innovations that are in their infancy?? In particular, what do you see as the biggest opportunities and obstacles you'll have to face as a composer??

Television is heading into the vortex of the internet and I don't know if anyone knows exactly how it will come out the other end. My job essentially depends on a small piece of the ad revenue that ABC gets for airing commercials during Castle. If those ad budgets are reduced because of internet broadcasts, or a different framework of doing business, I could certainly feel the effects on my end. We shall see, but for now things are still wonderful and I'm able to make a good living doing what I love.

One of the greatest new trends in television music lately has been the use of orchestra. It's coming back into fashion to have real musicians playing on TV scores. Everyone seems to be appreciating the difference in quality that it can bring to a show. I liken it to the difference between drinking freshly squeezed orange juice and orange juice from concentrate. Yes, they are both orange juice, but one is markedly more satisfying than the other.

10. Do you have a particular style of TV show or movie that you favor the most to score for, eg. comedy over drama, light hearted over serious?? Why??

One of the things I love about my job is the variety. Granted I was sad when I heard that Last Resort wasn't going to get picked up for the full 22-episode season, but at the same time I knew that the silver lining was that I had no idea what exciting new project would come my way to take its place. Moving from 'Lie To Me' to 'Chicago Code' to 'Terriers' for example, three completely different shows with completely different musical identities, it prevents me from getting too comfortable in one musical niche which is a challenge I love.

11. How much time does it take to score one TV episode?? What are some of the main factors that influence the time it takes to complete a score??

Every minute of music you hear on average represents between one and three hours of work. There are many factors that influence the time needed to complete. Whether or not a new sound or theme is needed, creativity takes time. If it is an action scene, there are usually a lot more notes in a short amount of time as the tempos are quick, so those take more time. If musicians are called in to re-record the parts and 'sweeten' the score, that also takes time to put the parts on paper and record their takes. Sometimes though, you watch a scene, and your fingers just move and out comes something completely effortless. Truthfully, that is how the Castle Beckett love theme came to be. I think my brain had processed their relationship and character for so long that when it finally happened, the answer was already there and it just came out on the piano in a matter of minutes. When that happens, I'll record it so I don't lose it, but I won't immediately trust it. I'll need to listen back with fresh ears, and after trying out some more things before determining if 'it's the one.' With the Castle Beckett love theme, it was virtually unaltered from my first improvisation. It's a beautiful thing when that happens!

12. Do you ever second guess your scores, or think you could have done something differently on the odd occasion when you look back??

I would go crazy if I let myself think about that too hard. The fact is, you need to react in real time with a fresh brain and place trust in what happens next. Maybe if had rice instead of fries with my lunch I would have written something different that day, but the fact is that is how I reacted at that moment and to that end. You dig into a scene, and you uncover all the nuances you want to highlight and the things you want to speak to that perhaps are not already obvious on the screen but most importantly you find the key target emotion you want the audience to feel when they watch and you zero in on it musically and try to hit the bullseye. If the scene needs to make the audience cry, I have to search for the chords that will make me cry. I will never feel satisfied with a piece until it has the desired effect on myself. Once it passes that test, I can begin to let it go.

13. To finish up, what are the most challenging, and the most rewarding parts of your job??

Managing it all within the framework of a weekly series is the biggest challenge. TV production is a machine that moves very fast. I'd love to spend more time on everything I write, and rewrite it five times and pick the best one, but that's not the reality. The most rewarding part of my job is when I realize I have played a part in a great piece of entertainment that people respond to and enjoy and then let me know that they liked the music!

Thanks for the questions, and thanks for listening!


So there you have it. The answers from Rob are very descriptive, and they provide a lot of insight into his job as well as the shows he works on. You can follow Rob on Twitter and Facebook. It's also well worth checking out his website. Use the buttons below


Thanks for reading, don't forget to check out my website, www.seriesmonitor.com. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below

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