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April 2, 2020 35 mins

Host Jamie Loftus talks with the composers behind the brilliant score, the production designer who brought ‘90’s Shaker to life, and the real artist behind Mia Warren’s artwork.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Ye, welcome back, honorary Shaker Heights residents. I am thrilled

the ear back with us on the podcast. My name
is Jamie Loftus back for another episode of Little Fires Everywhere,
the official podcast, the only show that takes you behind
the scenes and into the minds of the creatives on
the show. Today, I want to talk about bringing the
Shaker world to life visually and sonically, because building the
world of Little Fires Everywhere was no small feat. It's

a location specific period piece and yes, I know the
nineties two count as a period piece, now get over it.
It's also a deeply emotional world that requires a pitch
perfect score and soundtrack, and it's a world full of complicated,
brilliant art. So in this episode, we're going to take
you through the minds that shaped the Shaker Heights of
the Hulu series, both in sight and sound. We're gonna

speak with artist Connie Martin Travino created all of me
as art for the show. We're gonna talk to production
designer Jess Kender, and I'm very excited to have sat
down with the show's composers, veteran composer Mark Isham and
first time TV composer is a Summers who is literally
the machine of Florence and the Machine, so really really
cool collaboration there. And we're also going to speak to

legendary music supervisor Mary Ramos, who put marking Isa together
collaboratively and shaped the sound of the show. So lots
to look forward to today. But first I wanted to
understand where the approach to the art of the series
came from on the production side, and so I got
a chance to speak with Little Fires Everywhere showrunner, head writer,
and executive producer Liz tig Alar, along with Lynn Shelton,

was also an executive producer on the show and directed
four episodes in the series, including episode one oh five.
So let's take a listen to our conversation Highland Hi. So,
as the series goes on, there's an increased focus on
MIA's art and weaving it into the plot. So I'm curious,

what were the discussions like around when the art comes
into the story in a meaningful way and what was
your approach in finding an artist to make it. Well,
I just have to say that it was something that
really was nerve wracking for me because just the representation
of her as an artist end up what her art
work would be. I've seen so much bad art in movies,

you know, and it's and TV shows, and it's just
it's embarrassing, you know, and being somebody who's true, a
true art lover, I wanted it to feel really good
and really you know, interesting and disturbing. And Liz oh
she I mean we talked about the art in the
room for so long and really Amy Talkington, who is

an artist and and kind of you know, it was
in New York kind of in the in the music world,
in art world. She really curated everything for us and
kind of came up with ideas and came up with,
you know, all these different artists that could kind of
drawn in terms of collage and sculpture and everything that
Mia did, and so she kind of had all the

ideas of what the art would be. And then of
course anything that was in the book we also drew
on where we drew from the book. But then we
interviewed artists and we landed on this wonderful artist, Connie
Martin Trevino, who you know, we knew we wanted a
black artist, Um, we knew we wanted a woman. Connie
was just you know, she'd never worked with a show

before in this capacity. She is visionary. It's it's a
real challenge and she just really grows to it. I do.
I want to say that Carrie took photography classes and
she really dove in to prepare, to prepare. Yeah, and
that's really and she had on the days that she
was in the dark room we were shooting her in

the dark room, she had her photography teacher actually come
to say so that she you know, to make sure
she was doing it correctly, and you know, she was
again the total investment um. But I just wanted to
give a shout out to that as well. Well, thank
you so much, Lynn, thank you, thank you. First thanks

again to Lynn Shelton and Liz Tiglar, and we'll be
hearing more from them in future episodes of Little Fires Everywhere,
the official podcast. So when Liz told me about Connie
Martin Trevino, an incredible artist who later became the heart
and talent behind me O Warren's art, I knew that
I would stop at nothing to talk to her, and

I was lucky enough to get a chance to sit
down with her and the Little Fires Everywhere production designer
Jess Kinder, who masterminded and was the creative heart behind
the sets of the show all the way from finding
Elena's house to the granular, brilliant details and building out
a teenager's bedroom in the nine nineties. So let's listen
to some of that conversation. My name is Jess Kender,

and I was the production designer on Little Fires Everywhere.
And my name is Connie Martin Trevino, and I was
the artist who created the work that Carry's character is
creating in the show. It seems like more dense job
than your average production design job, because not only are
you bringing a place that exists to life, it's also

a period piece. And then there's also not just an artist,
but like a great artist working inside of it. So, Connie,
what drew you to this project to begin with? It's
so strange how it all kind of came about. Someone
referred me to this project that was happening that was
looking for an artist who happened to work in certain

mediums like photography, collage and sculpture, and I was like,
that's weird. I felt like it was for me, but
I've never worked in this environment in terms of on
the studio set kind of thing before and so I
wasn't really sure what to expect. Yeah, we actually we

had a whole bunch of artists that we looked at
UM and we only interviewed very few, and Connie came
in the room and there was actually this one piece
of art she showed, which is a photograph that had
cheesecloth on top of it, um that she had manipulated
in a bunch of different ways, And that was literally
something that was written in the script on how the

artists sort of played around with her photography. And the
second she pulled that out, all of us in the
room were like, you know, and she yeah, it's like freaky, Yeah,
it was weird. Yeah, Connie, I want, I want. I'm
so curious about what this process was like for you.
And so for for listeners, you did all of me

as art that appears in the show. That correct, okay, UM,
So what was that process like for you creating art
as a different person. There was a part of me
that didn't necessarily feel that I was a different person,
because I felt like the character of Mia was actually

like myself. So it came to me actually kind of easily.
I didn't find it challenging at all, And and there
are times when people have asked me, you know, I
didn't have really any stress or any anxiety or anything
about it. It just kind of flowed. And it is

still a very strange, sort of surreal experience, because you
would have thought that it would have kind of created
a a weird kind of environment or a place, since
I had never actually worked in that capacity, But it
it was not a challenge at all. I also think

what is good about Connie's work is that she is
a strong enough artist that when she came in and
she said this is this is what I do, you
know like, this is this is me? Like here's the
me that fits what you were looking for, but here's
the me that you didn't know you wanted. She a
lot of her styles, like she does this great collaging
that wasn't written in the script that developed after everybody

saw her work and we're like, we're like, what you're doing,
let's let's use this and make this into it. I
was I was wondering that of of how much of
the art was determined by what was on the page,
And then I know that you have your own work
and instincts of what would mia create, what was that process, Like, so,
I guess initially there were certain things that they were

kind of looking for. So they would say, you know,
this is what what we're thinking. And I could say, well,
this is how something like that would happen and work
at that time period, like that doesn't make any sense
if it was the case, yeah, or I would think about, okay,
so how would something like this be done, and how

would I do it as this person as the artist,
but also to as Mia who is you know, from
that that time period, And so that's how the work
kind of got created. Okay. So I think a good
example of that is the piece that you've seen everywhere,
which is Lena's face burning what had originally it had
originally been conceived as uh, you would see Izzy cutting wire,

you would see Izzy cutting strips, and then there was
like this three D mold that would happen that would
form a Lena's face and in fact, the burning wasn't
in there in the beginning, right right, Yeah, it wasn't
in there in the beginning at all. That was something
that that developed throughout the season, and when Connie came
in and we were talking about it, We're like, okay,

because they once she sort of she didn't really have
to prove herself, but it's soon as she got in
and people were like, let's hear what she has to say,
and she we ended up with me and being much
more organic and what she did. And Connie was like,
I mean, I don't know you speak to this part.
But what I saw happening was this is too it's
too much. It's too you wouldn't Yeah, you wouldn't do

all that, and you wouldn't do all that in the
time constraints or in the environment. It's it's like, you
have to be realistic. Okay, So when does she have
time to do this, working jobs, working two jobs, just
you know, all the things that that she's doing. So yes,
so what had it had to make sense to me
that because it's all I kept thinking was if my

artist friends, if they were looking at this, and they'd
be like, that's not possible, because I often do that,
you know, and I'm looking If I'm looking at something
and and it's something that I am familiar with and
have an understanding, and then I see it happening in
a certain kind of sequence or or in a certain way,
it doesn't feel believable. And I guess I really it

was important to me to think about these things looking
true and looking possible, you know, at that time period. Absolutely,
and and that um that Elena piece is so powerful
and cool and to the point where when it shows
up organically in the show, I'm like, was that in
the book? It seems like it should have been if

it wasn't, you know, like it just feels like, yeah,
like just such a grounded part of of the world.
And I think what's great too, is it there's like
a little bit of like the actual what you need
for the show, which is like Liz said, it's important
to me to have the beats of Izzy and Mia
working together. So we were like, Okay, how many beats
do you need? And so they gave us that many

beats and Connie was like, Okay, let me see this
is what I'm thinking, and she drew a quick sketch.
One of the things I loved about working with her
is I tell her this all the time, like my
mind would never think the way that she thinks. And
so she came back and she drew a sketch of
what you end up seeing, and I was like, this
is so good. It's so good and it was. There's

something about the like simplicity and not the overwrottenness that
just worked. But she still was like, Okay, they will
cut these things together, they will tie these things together,
they will punch these holes together. So it's still hit
all the beats, but was just stunning and what it was,
and then you know, like it burned, like it looks

so cool. Liz loved it so much that her rap
gift to everybody was she made little mini ones of
those and she would write a note on the back
of it and give it out to people, so they
were like, this, this is the best. Then that's so cool. Uh.
The other piece I wanted to ask you about specifically
that I it's it's so interesting like that when I

read about it in the book and then what you
created it felt so the um the spider uh photograph.
What was the process of putting that together? Because it's
so striking. I think for people who have read the book,
it very much holds up and exceeds like how you
imagine it when you're reading. Okay, well, I mean you

want the actual started well initially, so when they said
that they you know, this was the first so the
minute that they told me that I had it and
then we met, it was like, okay, zero to a hundred.
So it's about you know, automatically, you know, getting into

a certain mindset of having to try to like, you know,
make things. These things happen in a certain sort of
UM time frame. And so once I know I had it,
I was like, Okay, well we don't have the model yet.
We don't have the model yet. Let me use myself
because I mean, UM, a lot of my photography also
too early UM images are all self portraits. UM. And

having also to experience and had gone through pregnancy and
miscarriages and stuff like that, I tried to really think
about the feeling that we were trying to convey about
this spider woman image and how this picture came to
be in MIA's head, and so to just kind of

jump start that, you know, to be Miam in that place,
I started practicing or practicing or just shooting myself and
doing time exposures and slow exposures and moving in and
out and feeling you know, a lot of emotional kinds
of feelings that I wanted to convey in that UM
it became about layering. I was playing with fabric and

textures and all kinds of things to really also give
this feeling of a web and web Like I took
a picture of spider webs on my fence that had
some do you know, so that gave also to a
certain amount of texture which then became you know, some

of the background sort of texture that you see in
that hole. Yeah, and you live closely, it's there if
you look, if you had a chance to look at
that image, yeah, knowing in the process that you practice
it on yourself too. That's so that's so cool that
that image. I think it's so striking and beautiful and
it's a little terrifying. Yeah, yeah, but it feels it

just feels like such a perfect encapsulation of you know,
where Mia is that when she creates it too, And
so I'm curious. Liz had told us that Carrie was
very committed to channeling Mia and was like taking photos
on set and was really trying to put herself in
that mindset. Did either of you speak with her or

do any sort of prep with her just to make
that connection. She was very involved in the MIA's art
and where where it was going. She was also very
respectful I think everyone. Connie proved herself, so everyone was
super respectful, but she there wasn't a single piece of
artwork that went out without her seeing it and giving

it a thumbs up. That's awesome. And what's even I
thought was really cool was at the very beginning, um
Carrie texted me and asked me she could call me,
and I said, yes, of course you can call me,
I guess and it was really about us discussing Mia

as a character and the vision, and she was so
open and wanting to hear what I had to say.
Um as an artist, it just made being able to
create the work so much easier because they did give

me the opportunity because at first, you don't know if
you're going to feel as though you're being micromanaged. Um
am I just creating this just exactly like how they
want it, um or or am I able to actually
feel like I'm being able to do what it is
that I do. And I totally felt like I was

able to be able to do what it is that
I do. And of course there's still is some there
was some going back and forth sometimes kind of like
how can we like, let's have some more of that?
So then it was like, well, okay, because I'm not
sure how much you want, so we can always make
it more. And being able to talk to carry not

only on at the very beginning, but then when I
would chow up on set and she was asking me
about how am I holding the camera? You know, is
there anything that you see that you would suggest that
I do differently? Because I really wanted to come off
like you know, this camera is a part of me,
and absolutely so. I you know, if I said, well,

I wouldn't probably hold it that way. I would do
it like this. She was totally receptive, and um just
really again open to just wanting to give the most
authentic portrayal I feel. I mean, and that makes a
lot of sense just based on Carrie's interpretation of Mia
and and your artistic interpretation of MEA feels so just

in sync with each other. That's that's so cool. And
then and then for just I guess, just kind of
addressing what seems I would guess it be an additional
challenge of your not just building out this world, but
you're setting it in a specific time as a production designer.
What are the things you consider, especially going into a
period piece. Well, I mean I think for me, because

it was set in the nineties and I graduated in seven,
it was very easy to be reference that time frame.
I think the tricky thing is the nineties is not
a um design loved era, and so you don't have
at your fingertips people who have restored all these things

or kept all these things. Like trying to track down
stuff that looked like the nineties, it is hard because
everyone is like, you know, I got rid of it
exactly like we We didn't keep that that wasn't I mean,
maybe it will have its heyday again, like mom jeans
are back, so but just there for it. Yeah. And
were there any just because you know the nineties at

the time you're very connected to anyways, were there certain
design elements or like references you were like, oh, definitely,
I want to include this because this is a part
of my nineties experience. What's funny is that actually the
things that got to me more than anything else were
like the props, Like I thought about you know, I
was graduating college, so I was eating a ton of
snack wells, you know, like I was I did the

slim fast after I put on the freshman fifteen, you know,
like and whenever those would come out, we had like
a nine O two and oh game that was in
Lexi's room, you know, like it was fun stuff like that.
Really the creating the overall of the world that was
more about like my dad was raised in Cleveland, you know,

I lived in Jersey most of my life, and it
was sort of pulling those like I remember when Ralph
Lauren and Ethan Allen and all of that, and so
just pulling up those references again to get the right vibe.
But what I enjoyed the most was almost the little
the little things that would come up where you're like,
I did that, you know, God seeing that slim fast

can I just like saw my mom's fridge. I was like, yep,
I know that. It's fantastic. Connie, Jess, thank you so
much for sitting with us, and um, congratulations on making
such an amazing show. Thank you, thank you for having me.
Thank you again to Connie, Martin Travino and Just Kinder

for that look behind the visual world of little fires everywhere.
I won't be talking to Jess more in future episodes
of the podcast as well, So now that you have
a better understanding of the visual world behind the show.
I want to take you in to the sound music
supervisor Mary Ramos and composers Mark Isham and Isabella Summers, who,

for the uninitiated, is the Machine portion of Florence and
the Machine worked in harmony to blend an incredible dramatic
score with the music of the nineties that shaped the
world of all the characters in the Shaker Heights of
the Shell. I got a chance to catch up with
the three of them ahead of the Little Fires Everywhere premiere,
So let's take a listen. Thank you all so much

for joining us today. So we're listeners of the podcast
who are new to the music for television process. Would
you tell us what your jobs are on the show
and what those jobs entail. Hi, I'm Mary Ramos. I'm
the music supervisor on Little Fires Everywhere. UM. My job
is to kind of handle all musical aspects of the show,

which includes helping to um pick song choices, helping to
create characters, tastes in music, and also to make suggestions
on who who the most awesome composers should be. And
in this case, we have two of the most amazing
musicians as our composers building this world. Mark Isham who

is responsible for so many amazing scores, crash his incredible
score for Once upon a Time, the ABC show. UM,
and I have borrowed from Mark's collection of music many
times when I've been working on other shows, trying to
create the emotional feels because he is so good at that.

And then we also have is a machine Isabella Summers,
who is the architect of the Florence and the Machine sound.
She is the fire and the drums and the drama.
Uh that you hear in Florence in the Machine amazing?
All right? So, now now that we know what you do,
I think that there is not really a lot of

well known information about how the sonic world of a
TV show is created. So with the three of you,
mind talking a little bit about what is your collaborative process,
like when you're given a project like Little Fires Everywhere
and told how does this world sound? This was an
exciting project for very many reasons, UM, two of which

are Carrie Washington and Reese Witherspoon, amazing actresses, producers, UM
with their vision and this book. I did read the
book beforehand, so I was familiar with the story, but
not familiar with the way that Liz Tiglar had orchestrated
changing the characters around and really brought the story even

more to life. And I knew that their intention was
to bring a personality to to really imbue a personality
with the music. UM for Little Fires Everywhere, And I've
worked with is a Machine on another project, Assassination Nation.
She had done a piece of score for that that
was killer, and so I'd always thought of a time

that I want to use work with her again, not user, sorry,
work with her again. She's not. I didn't know, and
she hadn't scored a full project before, and it was
just a natural because I knew. I'd worked with Mark
I shouldn't before on a movie called Freedom Writers, where

he did an amazing job and really brought together Mark.
Remember you worked with will I Am on that score
and Mary ben Um and it was it turned out
really beautiful, and honestly he was a ringmaster on that
situation too. So I knew that Mark was not only

an amazing composer, but also it was really a good
base for UM to work with an artist like is
A okay, and then Um, markin is a What what
was your collaborative process like composing the music for this show,
so we managed to set it up so that it
could come here and we just sat in a room
for days, had a really good time making music. Essentially. Yeah,

and I think I think that it did actually do
exactly what we set out to do. I don't think
either one of us would have written a score like
this on our own. In fact, no one for sure.
There's something completely unique about this. I would have never
done it like this, as it wouldn't have done it
like this, and yet it's very strong and it has
definitely a point of view. The beautiful thing is that

I've never schooled anything before I've done music, and like
it's in a piece of school for a film. That
is how I met Mary. But to be presented with
this opportunity and then you know, partnered with Mark, I
should just I mean, I feel like I just fell
into like the most beautiful situation because they were all

was so nice. And that's you know, validating what I
do from a rock and roll perspective and then bringing
that together and making a sense of it with Pho.
It's just as peaceful thing. That's so cool, that sounds
like such a great collaboration. Oh, it was so fun.
And there were oftentimes when we'd you know, I go
over to the studio with them and they put up

the picture and they you know, play a pass a
queue and it'd be like, oh, bring more flier and
Mark would say, oh, I happen to have a burning
piano sample? Wait what sample? There are some crazy guys
who will make these sample libraries. And one of them,

for god knows what, he thought we should set this
piano on fire and sample. It's exactly that's exactly what
they did, and it's well pretty, it's a pretty whacked
out sound I can imagine. Yeah. And then is of
course did set a piano on fire, so, you know,

would put it past it? I was like, oh, man,
I did. Mary. I wanted to ask you a little
bit about the use of cover songs throughout the show.
You do such a beautiful job of taking music from
that time and grounding it in this very modern, emotionally
resonant sound. So how did you go about finding the

right songs to fit the little fires everywhere universe? So
in order to be able to be a little bit
unique or have something that's unique to our show, it's
you know, was an idea to try and use covers,
but also, um, really because we had this opportunity with
these two amazing composers. Um, the idea would be to

make these covers uh organic with the score, that's the word.
Because we had this fire and this great vibe to
the score and then just to segue into a song
that's really part of that score is what really makes
them work really well. I think I'm very curious about
how you go about finding the right voice for each cover. Yeah,

it was kind of a little bit of a ry
with a little help from your friends type of situation.
I you know, was already writing hard way to writing
a song was my friend Judith Hill at the beginning
of this year. Anyway, So when we're in the studio
one night, I said, do you want to do a
corobble with me for my first TV show? And she

was like, I'd love too. So we kind of went
through the like a very well curated list of potential songs, UM,
and you know, Judas took to the idea of Phil
Collins in the air tonight and UM, we we kind
of like smashed it out in like an hour an
hour and a half and it's so easy to work with.

We're so easy to work with, amazing voices, so like
because you know they just that there's not it doesn't
take a great amount of effort to get something incredible.
They're so beautifully done, and they also do feel so
cohesively inside of this world in the same like it
it's just yeah, it's really well done. I loved the
cover so much. Were there any scenes that stood out

to the three of you, is like this was particularly like, oh,
I can't wait to score this scene, or like this
scene was a little challenging, or I remember there were
two scenes that were really fun to UM consider you
guys working on. One was when Mia goes through the
house the valume cue and the war path basically, and

then the culmination where she creates that one piece of
art uh in episode one oh four um at the end,
and those were cues I was really looking forward to
to to pull back a little bit. I am curious
at what drew everyone individually to this project. I had

read the book before and obviously dug it um. I
also have worked with Carrie Washington before with her company
before and also worked with her own Jango and changed
Um and Pillar Savone. Her partner is a good friend,
and so they brought me in. But I had also
been a massive fan of Reese Witherspoon, her her taste

and material, her acting, her you know, just her production company,
all of it. And then walking into the room for
my first meeting and seeing all these women around the table,
you know, was pretty incredible. And is there anything else
about the composing for television process that our listeners might
not know? There's one thing I thought we should talk about,
which is is so we actually had a seventeen string

group and a harpist and one of the world's greatest drummers,
and that's sort of rare and television and that really
brings this stuff to life, and it's really a big
part of why we could choose to write the music
in the way we chose it. You're going to have
here in Los Angeles some of the finest musicians in

the world able to come in and play. You start
to think in another way, and I think it's I
think that's a big part of what makes this score
just pop out and just stand up up as something
really unique. Absolutely, you can't be live musicians, and we
were so blessed to be in Capital Record Should Record

fantastic East West. We were in these amazing rock and
roll recording studios that had you know, they just have
these ghosts in this their DNA and there, you know,
so are our recording sessions for this score roll like
rock concerts really fun. One thing I'd like to say is,

you know, we talked a lot about Carrie's character in
the music that she listened to and stuff. We did
actually really consider what Elena would be listening to. And
it was very important because one of the first cues
you see in the pilot is a piece of music
at Elena um listens to, and it was really important

to strike the right chord and to hit the right
tone and to have the right pep, but also something
that was hip, but that was you know, it all
had to fit within her character. And really, even though
we only hear one of her choices that Elena would
listen to, we really gave a lot of consideration and
re gave a lot of consideration to the music or

character would listen to and the music in the world
of Shaker Heights. So that was really important to stand
out for Elena's like this would have been in her
heavy rotation. There was I think Shania Twain. You know, man,
I feel like a woman of um. But she but

they also weighed in heavily about we we went back
and forth over UM. In episode one of three, there's
a school dance, and we went back and forth and
back and forth about what kind of music would play there.
We really felt like it was you know, first we
thought was it was going to be an awesome opportunity
to play some um, you know, cool cool music, you know,

alternative music from the time period. And then we realized
as we put it to picture, no, this is a
school dance. They would have played you know, the top
forty yea. So we ended up, you know, going with
what would have been on the radio at the time, UM,
which is still cool. I mean, we hit it up,
you know. We we end up with a really fun

song um Via Luke It's your Birthday yea, And it's
a It's really fun because the cast like starts dancing
around and having a great time to that song. It
was really fun talking to the younger cast of this
show and I was like, did you know any of
this music? They're like kind of but they're all none
of them were alive when this whole show was happening,

which is a very sobering thing to hear. Uh. Yeah,
all of them are like, yeah, it's part in two
thousand one, so I'm not really sure. It's like right, right, right, right, right, Well,
we're gonna introduce them to some cool music exactly. They
got the perfect in. Um. Thank you to all three
of you so much for for making the time and

talking to us a little bit about your process. I
really appreciate it very much. Yeah, thank you. Thank you
again to the incomparable Mary Ramos, Mark Isham and Isabella Summers.
And thanks to you our listeners for coming to hang
out with us for another episode of Little Fires Everywhere,
the official podcast to get a feel for the sights

and sounds of Shaker Heights, Ohio. I would tell you
what next week's podcast is about, but it would give
away too much about the incredible episode that's airing on
Hulu next Wednesday, So you'll just have to subscribe to
the podcast and come back next week to see what's
in store. Remember to follow Little Fires Everywhere on all
platforms at Little Fires Hulu and look forward to a

new episode of Little Fires Everywhere the podcast. After new
episodes of the show air on Hulu each Wednesday. My
name is Jamie Loftus and until next time, Shaker rides
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