SYFY Interview: David Newman Talks Serenity Score


With the release of Serenity on limited edition vinyl, composer David Newman looks back on Firefly‘s miracle movie.

Some two decades later, the series Firefly and its theatrical sequel, Serenity, continue to add Browncoats to the fanom. The Space Western created by Joss Whedon is set in 2517 aboard the “Firefly-class” spaceship captained by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). Running odd jobs out in the galaxy, the “crew” is comprised of a hodgepodge of Mal’s fellow veterans of the Unification War against the Alliance, plus some loners and runaways who all eventually become found family.

When Firefly was cancelled in 2002, the show’s fandom made such a ruckus that Universal Pictures green-lit a 2005 theatrical adventure, Serenity, that has become as much of a cult gem as the series. In the years since its release, there’s been a steady flow of new Firefly universe merchandise from books to collectibles. The latest release is the first-ever vinyl release for David Newnan’s (Galaxy Quest) expanded Serenity film score, which is now available to purchase.

To celebrate the release, Newman, who currently has 117 composing credits to his name, got on Zoom with SYFY WIRE to reminisce about the inspiration for certain music cues in the score; the instrument behind River Tam’s theme; and the legacy of the score among his incredible resume of compositions.

David Newman Talks His Last Minute Gig Scoring Serenity

The cast appears in Serenity (2005). Photo: Serenity – Trailer/Universal Pictures All-Access YouTube

Back in 2005, composer Carter Burwell first had the job to score Serenity, but he had to exit due to prior commitments. It was then that Newman – the son of legendary composer Alfred Newman and brother of fellow film composer Thomas Newman – was brought in to create the films main themes. In 2005, Newman scored four films including Serenity, so he admits to not having much time to immerse himself in the Firefly universe.

“I hadn’t seen it, but I was aware of it,” Newman said. “But once [Whedon] and I talked, we decided for me not to look at it until we were done. Joss didn’t want to score it the same way.”

Newman remembers that time was a huge factor, but his way into the score was through River Tam’s motif based around a piano tone discovered on a trip ti Indianapolis, where their orchestra was playing a piece Newman had composed. He happened upon an old piano that he knew would be perfect for River’s character cue.

“Probably that piano had been sitting there for 40 years,” he said. “It was a square piano inn an Indianapolis home that had probably been there since the early 20th Century and never been tuned. It sounds ethnic, a little bit, with mystical imagery. I had my assistant go back and sample it. I used that and then I wrote her theme first. It was four out of tune notes and Joss really liked that.”

Making the Serenity Sound

Vinyl cover of the Serenity (2005) Soundtrack. Photo: Varèse Sarabande/Universal Pictures

After Whedon’s approval for “River’s Theme,” Newman said he tried to write the “Serenity Theme” for the beginning of the movie. “I really struggled with it,” he shared. “I think I did 13 [passes]. It was only 40 seconds, the first cue before the wing falls. And I finally hit on this thing with a cello quartet.

“I’m a big opera enthusiast,” he continued. “Opera people are really rabid, nerdy, geeky fans, similar to soundtrack people. They know everything and they love what they love, but they know all about it. So I thought of the second to last opera that Verdi wrote, which is Otello. In the last act, right before Desdemona gets killed by Otello, there’s this beautiful cello quartet. I thought that seemed like a good idea for Serenity in that it was old, but new. I put some other stuff under it, and then it went into this Zydeco. It’s ethnic American stuff with orchestra blended with it.”

To get the mix of Americana mixed with Asian-inspired cues of the past and future that Whedon wanted, Newman said he layered the Serenity score with a lot of electronic sampling mixed with musicians playing. “I had a guitar player that could also play banjo and dobro guitar and 12-string guitar and tuning guitar. And then a percussion player playing washboard, or whatever we could find. I would pre record a lot of that and I would take that to a stage and I’d have orchestra over it, bigger or smaller. But it still was the live [recording] and the I would glue it all together.

“That really got the score going for me,” Newman explained. “And I think for Joss too, even through we struggled on lots of it. Like that main title was the worst. [Laughs] Once I solved that, it was better. It was a lot of going back and forth.”

    Vinyl of the Serenity (2005) soundtrack. Photo Varèse Sarabande/Universal Pictures

    Newman is still scoring films and conducting many live orchestra dates, like his annual shows at the Hollywood Bowl with John Williams. Of Serenity, he said that he’s often used the opening and closing themes to put on his demo to pitch for new scoring projects.

    “There are certain cues I really like in it,” he said. “There’s a cue called ‘Crash Landing’ that I like because the end of it is reminiscent of this opera by Leoš Janáček called Jenůfa, which ends on this insistent, over and over, C octave smashing. So the end of that cue is just smashing C octaves and being as loud and nasty as possible without being dissonant. I like the attitude of it.”

    With this new vinyl release, Newman said he was able to go back into his hard drives and find a lot more music that didn’t make it into the traditional CD release way back in 2005. The new 2-LP vinyl release pushes the music content up to 90 minutes.

    Thrilled that his score is still appreciated along with the film, Newman said he’s always surprised by which compositions continue to endure. “It’s the thing with movies and television, you just never know what’s going to happen,” he said.

    To grab a copy of Serenity on vinyl, including the Varèse Sarabande Vinyl Club variant (pressed on “Browncoat” vinyl and limited to 500 copies), head over to Varese Sarabande.

    Serenity is now available from Universal Pictures

    Original article at

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    Author: Cider

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