Composer Jim Dooley Discusses His Score to Netflix’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’

A Series of Unfortunate Events – Netflix

For the last three seasons, the wicked Count Olaf (played by Neil Patrick Harris) has been trying to gain control of the vast Baudelaire inheritance in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, failing miserably episode to episode. 

With the third and final season recently being released, the creators wanted to close the tale with moral lessons meant to help kids deal with hardships they face in the world today.  An older generation might remember shows such as Punky Brewster and the original Full House taking on this task too, but it’s rare to see this on TV today.

At first glance, the show looks like an animated dark comedy, but it’s a lot deeper than that. This is what sets A Series of Unfortunate Events apart from all the other content viewers can pick from today.

Another aspect of the show worth noting is the score by Emmy winning composer Jim Dooley.  Jim was also responsible for the music from the gone to soon series Pushing Daisies, for which he collaborated with A Series of Unfortunate Events creator Barry Sonnenfeld on too.

From episode to episode the score changes with the settings, going from opera to island tunes, all the while being pushed along by a majestic underscore.  In the exclusive interview below, Jim goes more in-depth about his score for the series.

Jim Dooley at FYSEE

A Series of Unfortunate Events followed the books and wrapped up with Season 3. What was one of your greatest memories working on the show?

There are so many wonderful memories while working on ASOUE but one day we were in a spotting session and Barry Sonnefeld’s phone started ringing.  The ringtone was a man yelling at Barry to answer his phone.  It turned out to be the voice of Werner Herzog!  That gave us all a great laugh.  It’s always a hoot to be around Barry!

Neil Patrick Harris had many characters in the series, what was your favorite one to score in Season 3?

My favorite moment is in The End when Olaf does a courageous act by rescuing Kit Snicket.  It gave me the chance to take the evil Olaf Theme and play it one time in a positive and majestic version.

You mentioned in a previous interview that you experimented with some yodeling for Season 3. Can you elaborate on that? Were you the one actually doing the yodeling?

No, I didn’t do the yodeling myself.  With every book in the series, we try to put in unique colors for that book.  It was a challenge for Slippery Slope. In our spotting session, I mentioned the idea of yodeling and Barry laughed at that.  If he laughs, it goes in!

With A Series of Unfortunate Events being on Netflix and able to stream all at once, did that factor change how you approached the score?

This does have an impact on the score but not in the way you may think.  When doing a show for traditional TV that you finish week by week, everyone is looking at the ratings.  Music is the last thing to go on a show and it’s a relatively inexpensive portion of the budget.  So when the ratings start to slip on a show a lot of the time they criticize the music since it’s really the only thing you can change at that point.  With Netflix, you have to commit to the idea of a show independently of how many people are watching weekly.  There’s no second guessing after you finish it and that allows us to focus on our job.

A Series of Unfortunate Events is very animated, much like another show you scored, Pushing Daisies. Always pushing the musical boundaries. Have you learned anything in particular after scoring each of these projects?

You learn something at the end of every project.  With ASOUE I had to learn how to work with operatic themes in a narrative function for an animated-style series.  That was a new one and lots of fun.

There are many songs in the series that are sung by the different characters, did you help write or contribute to any of these?

I did write the music for all the Volunteer songs in Heimlich Hospital.  That was a lot of fun.  I used ‘It’s A Small World’ as a template to find something that would hurt your brain if you listened to it enough.

In Penultimate Peril: Part 2 there is a scene where everyone is getting ready for court and a gong-like sound goes off on each of the character’s close-ups.  What instrument did you use for that?

That was our brilliant sound design team led by Paul Ottosson.  I have to thank Paul for his amazing work.  He’s a supreme talent that makes the whole show sound amazing.

Was there any tune that you created for the series that didn’t make it in?

I had one tune that I wrote at the very beginning which I loved.  I wanted it to be a long tune that descends when the kids are in peril.  It turned out to have a little too much ‘whimsy’ in it and every time I used it I had to take it out.  I’ll keep that one handy for the next one!

You can stream all three seasons of A Series of Unfortunate Events now on Netflix.