Pushing Daisies - TV Show - Poster



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October 20, 2007


Composer James Michael Dooley
Music to Die (and Live and Die Again) For!

James Michael Dooley

Earned degree in Music Composition from New York University

Studied film composition with Christopher Young, Elmer Bernstein and Leonard Rosenman

Joined Media Ventures in 1999

Official Site

Composition Credits (Film)

Daddy Day Camp
The Simpsons Movie
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
First Flight
The Da Vinci Code 
When a Stranger Calls
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-rabbit
The Mars Underground
King Arthur
Something's Gotta Give
Matchstick Men
Pirates of the Caribbean
Tears of the Sun
The Ring
Black Hawk Down
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
The Time Machine


Composition Credits (TV)

"Pushing Daisies"
"What About Brian" 
"The Contender"
Ordinary Miracles
The Detective
The Hollywood Mom's Mystery
HBO Sports: Rebels of Oakland
ESPN: "Citation"
ESPN: "Greatest Games"
ESPN: "Richard Flowers"
History Channel: "Louisiana Purchase"
National Geographic: "Ascent"
National Geographic: "Dean Kamen"

Composition Credits (VG)

Castle Wolfenstein
Def Jam: Icon (Cinematics)
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Combined Assault (2006)
SOCOM 3: U.S. Navy SEALs
Dead to Rights II








"So every moment that I'm awake I'm writing!  And if I'm not writing it's because I'm eating. That's kind of all I do right now."

James Michael Dooley

On a late Saturday afternoon, Tracksounds was able to catch a few moments with composer JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY who is deep into writing a ton of music for the new, hit television series, PUSHING DAISIES.  He shares his feelings about his work being compared to Danny Elfman and the creative challenges he faces in writing for such a unique show and the sheer volume of work he must produce every six days!  Don't miss the exclusive Pushing Daisies Suite by James Dooley below.

Pushing Daisies airs Wednesdays on ABC

Pushing Daisies airs Wednesdays on ABC

CC:  Let me ask you about your new project PUSHING DAISIES. I have seen a couple of episodes of it and I have to say that it is a very unique show, which I'm sure you've heard a thousand times already. At first, I couldn't get my head around it but by the second episode, I started to see what show was going after.The show itself is constructed so differently. You've got narration going through much of it, yet the episodes seem to be almost wall to wall music. There are very few scenes where there isn't any music going on, which itself is a rarity these days. The volume of work must be a challenge for you but what other challenges did this specific TV show present to you??

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY: It's a very good question. Besides the fact that it's just a massive amount of music. Each episode is about 40 minutes and I have about six days to write that.  So every moment that I'm awake I'm writing!  And if I'm not writing it's because I'm eating. That's kind of all I do right now.  And what I find the most challenging about scoring this is that it's all about subtext.

Used by Permission.

CC: What do you mean?

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY: You're adding layer after layer.  It's never playing what you see.  There is just a lot going on.  You'll see in the episode we call "Dummies," where there are two people who fall in love.  And the two are looking at each other and there's this huge sequence that goes through many different story telling points including flashbacks.  When the flashback begins it shows how they met and then it goes from some happy times to the bad. It keeps going on from there. And that's just a two and a half minute segment!  So in that brief amount of time you have to capture all of these things and keep the story moving. You want to merely nod to these things and not be so overt in it.  Ordinarily a scene like that would take me three days to write, but I don't have that luxury anymore.

CC:  PUSHING DAISIES is quite entertaining on a lot of different levels and your score has a lot to do with that. The feeling that I get when I watch and listen, is that there is a Tim Burton slash Danny Elfman vibe to it. Is that kind of a starting point that you had or is that coincidental?

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY: Actually, itís not. It's funny. That sound is not really close to what we were going for. I've heard the Elfman comment a lot though and I do understand why people come to that conclusion but it was never intended to be that.

CC:  How would you describe the differences of your show/score?

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY: I'd say one of the differences is because the love themes are French with accordions and harpsichords.  It's also different  in the editing - it's in the style of the traditional French themes.  The music for the show is based on these ideas, which Danny (Elfman) doesn't really do.  Still, if you put a boys' choir on top of that type of music, it's suddenly sounds like Danny.  We were going for more of an AMELIE type of sound, which is a "wide-angled," adult-fairytale, with a narrator and this super-real world.  The more you look at it, the less similarities there are with a Danny Elfman type of score.  There was never any Danny Elfman music used to temp the show or anything like that.  All that said, I take it as an honor for such a comparison to be made.

CC: It sounds like that comparison might bother you at least a little.

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY: It actually doesn't.  This is my first interview talking about the music and I really only heard about the Danny thing recently.  When I first heard such a comparison I was like, "Wow!"  I'm a big fan of his and he is partly why I got into the business!  While I'm happy with the score for PUSHING DAISIES, I don't want it to be called an ode to Danny or some knock off,...which I donít think it really is.

CC: The show itself is constructed so differently. You've got narration going through much of it, yet the episodes seem to be almost wall to wall music. There are very few scenes where there isn't any music going on, which itself is a rarity these days. The volume of work must be a challenge for you but what other challenges did this specific TV show present to you?


James Dooley with scoring mixer Steve Kaplan

James Dooley with scoring mixer Steve Kaplan

CC: What about all of that narration?  That must have played a role in how you approach writing the music for this kind of a show.

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY: The one thing that I know I must do in writing this score is that I always have to have the dialogue on. Sometimes you do a show where I need a drum beat or I have to hit this when the car goes out.  In that case, I can turn the dialogue off and just write, but for PUSHING DAISIES, I have to have it on because that's exactly where the beats are.  The beats are at the end of the narration.  

CC: If you would, talk about that piece you did for the "sword fight" in a recent episode.  It's a very interesting piece.

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY: Yes.  There is an episode that had a sword fight in it and it was five and a half minutes long.  When Bryan Fuller told me about this sword fight, I said, "Okay. That's great. Sword fights. Love them, right?"
They are just like car chases. You don't want to do them but you have to and they have to be great. So how do we do this and make it a "Daisy sword fight?"  That's essentially what we have to do all the time.  How can we do something but do it in our world?

So we have a little sword fight. Okay. It begins how most sword fights do, which are very trailerish - act out and then act in. it just so happens that one of the swordsmen is this is an Asian man from the Deep South. Now, this character's great, great, great grandfather was working on the Pacific Railroad and went the wrong way essentially and he ends up taking a Confederate uniform from a soldier. So now I'm playing an Asian man from the the Deep South! I play Asian instruments and then I put banjos in it.  Then we have a flashback and the flashback includes this "marching" segment.  So now I have to carry those marching elements from the flashback back into the sword fight!  Of course, you add the dialogue on top of all that, where Ned even says that he wanted to be a Jedi. I have to play this big Star-Wars-chord in the middle of the fight.  Whew. We have some really complicated and dense stuff here.  At the same time, we try not to make them convoluted.

CC: Now tell me if I'm wrong, but the main theme of this show, which is about death, is actually a love theme. Is it not?

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY: That's exactly right.  The main theme is based on this love theme. It's a bit melancholy, but I was trying to think about and express all the things that a love-theme should encompass.  If I did something like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" it just wouldn't fit for this show. Now that was a great tune, but just not the right tune.  So I wanted something that had a little bit of sentimentality in it as well.  [Begins playing on his keyboard] There's hope in it and there's sadness at the same time.  That might sound a little hokey but it's just more "old fashioned."   There is also a child-like quality to it, because they are children when they first fall in love. So yes, everything is held together with this love theme as the show revolves around Chuck and Ned and their relationship.  Now I try to only use that theme when the scene centers around our two lead characters.

CC: It's a great theme and a distinctive characteristic of the show. The whole show is such an interesting dichotomy. It's a story about death but yet it's done in this hyper-real setting where everything is bright and light and lively and the music matches that. Still there is that undertone of sadness as it is a love-story but about two people who can't be together essentially.

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY: Oh, I'm glad that you picked it out. It's funny. I was watching the other day and thinking to myself that I'm so glad my show isn't filled with murders and death and . . . then I caught myself.  I was watching this show that does have murder and death in it but it didn't feel that way.  It's done in such a different way that I completely forgot!

James Dooley with Ellen GreeneCC: That's absolutely true. It doesn't feel that way.  Well, I definitely want to congratulate you on it. I hope that, have they mentioned if they're picking up for season two already or is it too early yet?

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY:  I think it's a little early. We've been doing very well and everybody's been very happy to the point where the executive producers have come together to decide that we're going to continue using a live orchestra.

We dub the show Thursday, so I write up until then.  I do all the orchestra cues first and then those go out for approval. Once I get all that stuff done, the orchestra warms up while they're orchestrating. I continue writing the rest of the show.  The guys work around the clock getting everything in order and then that goes in Thursday morning.  Also on Thursday morning, I'm on the next episode. It never stops.

CC: Anything special planned musically for any of the upcoming episodes?

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY:  Yes...there some great news here.  The characters get to sing in the show! So I get to do arrangements now for like Kristin Chenowith and Ellen Greene.  You know, they both sing.  I did an arrangement of Hopelessly Devoted for Kristin and Ellen sings Birdhouse In Your Soul by They Might Be Giants.  I've already done a Cat Stevens song and there are rumors about doing more.  We have so much musical talent on this show!

CC: Working on such a television series, you must work well under pressure.

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY:  I do like the pressure. I do like the time constraints.  You know, that's what this kind of gig is all about. Anybody could probably write this show but can they do it with the detail and all the nuance?  I say, if you can find anyone else who can...call them!  Bring them down here.  I'd love to hire them. (laughs). Actually, nothing could make me happier than to dedicate myself to this show. This sort of opportunity is only going to come around once in a lifetime where I get to write such odd things with harpsichords, finger snaps, and music boxes!

CC: For sure.  Not a lot of demand in video game scores for that sort of thing.

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY:  You're absolutely 100 percent accurate there.

CC: Well, I appreciate your time this afternoon.  Thank you.  Good luck with the show!

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY: Thank you so much, Chris. Thanks for the conversation and interest in the show. Just know that like I'm going to keep doing my best to get this stuff out there and make it great.

* Special thanks to Charley Walters (CW 3 Public Relations) | Session Photos by Dan Goldwasser


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