Tuned in Tuesday: Composer Pedro Bromfman Talks Netflix’s Narcos [Exclusive]
In the late ’80s the war on drugs exploded and the U.S. was woefully unprepared to stop cocaine from entertaining its borders. Coupled with wide-spread corruption on all sides, there was really no way this drug wasn’t going to make the fortunes (literally or figuratively) for almost everyone involved. Narcos chronicles the gripping real-life stories of the drug kingpins of the late 1980s and the corroborative efforts of law enforcement to meet them head on in brutal, bloody conflict. It details the conflicting forces – legal, political, police, military and civilian – that clash in an effort to control the world’s most powerful commodity: cocaine.
TV Goodness had the chance to talk to composer Pedro Bromfman via email about how he started in the business, what made him want to work on Narcos and his process of composing for this series.
TV GOODNESS: When did you know you wanted to be a composer and how did you go about trying to break into the business?
Pedro Bromfman: “To be honest I never set out to be film composer. Iâ€™ve always been passionate about music and film, but never thought I could make a living combining both.
I studied music from a young age and played acoustic and electric guitar throughout my teenage years. Iâ€™ve always taken music seriously and when the time came to go to college, I moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. My main focus was Jazz back then and I majored in Performance and Composition.
After years of experience as a session musician and record producer I met my wife, who is a filmmaker, and a few years later we moved to LA. I feel like my studies and my career as a musician, composer and arranger have prepared and have led me to become a film composer. Now, I couldnâ€™t imagine myself doing anything else.”
TV GOODNESS: Do you think it’s valuable for composers to work on a lot of different kinds of projects like video games, films, TV, etc. and, if so, why?
Bronfman: “Certainly, I really believe that every musical experience, not only as composer but as a player, arranger [and] programmer ultimately contributes to your voice as a film composer. The ability to play multiple instruments, understanding and being proficient with technology (an intricate part of a film composerâ€™s job nowadays), an understanding of classical music and orchestration, of narrative and story-telling, film history, I could go on and on. It all contributes to your sensibility and ability to support images with music.
I think each type of project you work on will make you more proficient and secure as a film composer. Itâ€™s great to learn to tell little stories in 30 sec and deal with crazy deadlines doing commercials, to produce music that can play for 2 min or 15 min, layering different intensities when youâ€™re working on a video game, to be able to tell a story and develop character themes in a two-hour feature film or, when youâ€™re working on a series, over a ten-episode arc.”
TV GOODNESS: I was doing some research and I learned that you were born in Brazil. Does the type of music you listened to growing up influence you now and, if so, in what way?
Bromfman: “It certainly does! I also spent a lot of time in Argentina, lived in Switzerland and have now been in the US for half of my life. That knowledge about different rhythms, cultures, instruments certainly permeates my music.
I like to incorporate different flavors in the films I work on. Just to give you an example, on RoboCop, a movie I scored in 2014, I composed what could be considered a ‘mainstream’ modern Hollywood score. It was recorded with a 70-piece orchestra in London and peppered throughout the score I used instruments you find in traditional Brazilian music, like the berimbau and the cuÃca. Those instruments are not playing Brazilian rhythms, but they bring in an alien sound to the world of RoboCop. That is something we wanted to portray with the music a man trapped in a metal suit, feeling like an alien, completely out of his element.”
TV GOODNESS: Looking at your credits, you’ve done TV before but this is your first series, right? What was it aboutÂ NarcosÂ that made you want to work on it?
Bromfman: “First and foremost, the fact that JosÃ© Padilha my longtime friend and collaborator was one of the creators of the show and the director of the first two episodes. Being from Brazil, Iâ€™m also fascinated about the history of South America. I remember in the ’80s hearing about the situation in Colombia and the stranglehold the Cartels had on the country, the people and politics. Itâ€™s amazing to watch it all on TV and to think that even though names were changed and some characters made up, most of what you see on-screen actually happened. [Pablo] Escobar was certainly an evil man but he is a fascinating figure, a ‘family man’ responsible for so much death and destruction.”
TV GOODNESS: Are there any challenges that go along with a “period” piece and, if so, what kind of research did you do to make sure the music was right for the series?
Bromfman: “We didnâ€™t really worry too much about setting the score in a specific time period. I think that was mostly done through production design, costume design and source music (music playing in restaurants, radios, TV, etc.). The score is primarily acoustic, there are almost no electric or electronic sounds, making it a bit timeless. There were a couple of pieces, when they are flying drugs into the US for first time for example, where we wanted that sound of ’70s American funk music blended with Latin American percussion. But again that only happened a couple of times.”
TV GOODNESS: Talk to me about the sound ofÂ Narcos. What were you going for and were there any instruments you wanted to highlight?
Bromfmann: “Narcos was a fascinating exploration of South American instruments. Again, not necessarily playing South American rhythms.
There are Cumbias and other Colombian rhythms in the show but primarily, I wanted to use the sound of those instruments while creating a crime drama, action score. There are several south American guitars, accordion, percussion, different Peruvian and Colombian flutes and most of those instruments were actually played by me.
Conceptually, there is also an inspiration on Spaghetti Western scores. I had this thought in the beginning of the composing process, that the Colombia of the late ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s was like one of those towns in a Sergio Leone Western. The entire country was a hostage to the Cartel and the Narcos and not even the ‘sheriff’ could do anything about it.
Of course the situation in Colombia was much more complicated and it would take much more than one tough ‘outsider’ to fix it. To illustrate the Western vibe I used different harmonicas and significant percussive punctuation.”
TV GOODNESS: Tell me a little bit about your process. When do you see episodes and how does it inspire you to create the music?
Bromfman: “In Narcos I was involved before they started shooting. I read the first few scripts and started researching Colombian music when they were getting ready to start. As they shot some of the scenes I started receiving dailies — unedited scenes shot that day. Itâ€™s amazing to think that the main themes for the show were written that early on and actually worked on the final product. A lot of times most of whatâ€™s written early on wonâ€™t necessarily work on the final edited episode, but with Narcos we were right on the money from the very beginning.
After writing those first few themes I worked on a different project and waited for the edited episodes to start coming in. In that stage of the game I need to compose and adapt what Iâ€™ve already to picture and ‘marry’ my music to what weâ€™re seeing on-screen.”
TV GOODNESS: I’ve seen the first few episodes and I love how subtle the sound is. Can you talk a little bit about working with the producers and making sure all the music makes sense and adds to the drama of what’s happening on-screen?
Bromfman: “On Narcos, because the producers and directors were in Colombia shooting the show, most of the music for first episodes was done on my own. Of course I received notes and discussed my ideas with JosÃ© and the producers but that happened after I had basically finished my own take on Episodes 1 and 2. Fortunately we seemed to be exactly on the same page and everyone connected with the music right away.
From there JosÃ©, Chris Brancato and Eric Newman were very involved in guiding me through the history of Colombia, our characters and where the my music needed to go but fortunately our palette and main themes were already an intricate part of the show.”
TV GOODNESS: What are your favorite cue(s) or musical moment(s) in the series and why?
Bromfman: “This is like having to choose a son, Sophieâ€™s Choice. Iâ€™m very proud of my early theme for Pablo, he ended up having more than one, but early on in the show Pablo has a theme that is also used for Colombia, or the aspirations he had for Colombia. Pablo ventured into politics and claimed heâ€™d be the president of Colombia someday. He was a complex character, vicious and romantic at the same time. With that theme I tried to play some of those feeling and aspirations, I think I managed to create a piece thatâ€™s romantic, hopeful and dark at the same time. It was one of the first pieces I wrote for Narcos.”
TV GOODNESS: What else do you have coming up?
Bromfman: “Iâ€™m currently working on a show for Fox called Rio Heat with Harvey Keitel and Victor Webster and a Brazilian movie entitled Em Nome Da Lei.”
Edited for space and content.
All 10 episodes of Narcos are streaming on Netflix now.
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