Matthew Sklar and David Klotz have never met each other. At least, not in person. But that didn’t prove to be much of an issue for the two composers, who still managed to bring their respective skills together to create the score for Netflix’s The Prom. Working together from opposite coasts, the pair relied on emails and phone-calls to help transform the Broadway musical into a film musical.
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“Our process began with some very polite emails back and forth, but as we grew closer to the scoring session, we chatted on the phone and we texted each other at all hours,” Klotz tells American Songwriter. The Covid-19 pandemic affected the film’s post-production, meaning the two composers had to find ways to get to know each other’s process virtually.
“I’d write something and send Matt the midi files and he’d add or change a part and send it back,” says Klotz. “We’d sing melodies over the phone to each other. It worked great. I don’t think anything suffered creatively because we weren’t together. It just would have been made the process more enjoyable.”
Klotz, a multiple Emmy Award-winning music editor known for his work on Game of Thrones and Stranger Things, had worked on a number of projects created by the film’s director Ryan Murphy, including American Horror Story, Hollywood, Ratched and The Politician. Sklar, a Tony Award-nominated composer with a firm footing in theatrical musicals, created the music for The Prom on Broadway, which was nominated for seven Tony Awards. Together, they made for a complementary duo.
“David knows Ryan Murphy’s musical aesthetic better than anyone and I certainly know the Broadway score for The Prom,” Sklar tells American Songwriter. “I think it was good to have both voices present in the underscore.”
The film, which follows the stage production in telling the story of a high school PTA that decides to cancel the prom rather than allow two girls to attend together, stars Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and James Corden. It’s up for two Golden Globe awards, including best musical. Based on the stage production, which first bowed in Atlanta before making its Broadway debut in 2018, the film presented an opportunity to expand on the original songs.
“Only in the movies can you do something at this scale—not just in the size of the cast onscreen, but in the size of the orchestra,” says Sklar. “On Broadway, we were limited to nine musicians due to the space at our theatre. Our orchestrators did a miraculous job with very limited resources, but oh, what I would have given for more players.” The movie had a larger orchestra and that meant a larger sound. “We had the ability to flesh everything out,” adds Sklar. “Most importantly, a large string section, which gave the music a whole new layer of emotion.”
Sonically, Klotz knew from working with Murphy previously what was going to help elevate the story on film. “Ryan has always had great instincts with music and how it can help tell a story and that was no different here,” says Klotz. “We set out to write a score that was going to be minimal. We wanted to help give the ears a break from the big song numbers and also have a score that would gracefully transition in and out of the songs.”
They also wanted to include melodies from the songs in the score. “It was important to underscore the emotion in some of the very intimate, dramatic moments like when Dee Dee [played by Streep] pours her heart out in the hotel room or when Barry [played by Corden] finally confronts his mother. We really labored over those themes to help make those moments even more heart-wrenching.”
One of the first score cues Sklar and Klotz wrote was when Principal Hawkins [played by Keegan-Michael Key] meets Dee Dee in the school hallway. “I had sketched out a few score ideas for that scene using pizzicato strings and piano,” says Klotz. “Ryan responded favorably to that instrumentation, so that became the main sound of the background score. We captured the tone of the underscore in that moment and applied that to a lot of cues going forward. But for that scene, we also tried various versions incorporating the melodies from ‘We Look To You’ and ‘The Lady’s Improving,’ and finally landed on a combo of both themes in that moment.”
It’s a favorite of Sklar’s too. “The underscore in that scene uses melodies from the songs as themes for the characters and I think it works quite effectively,” he says. His other most-liked moments in the film are the songs “We Look to You”, “Tonight Belongs to You”, “Love Thy Neighbor”, and “It’s Time to Dance”. “I’m just blown away with how Ryan shot them and how great they sound,” he says. “The whole experience has been a thrill.”
Sklar also co-wrote “Wear Your Crown,” an anthem that carries the film’s message of acceptance and pride, featuring a verse rapped by Streep. “Ryan wanted a celebratory upbeat song for the women of the cast to sing over the end credits,” he says. “The assignment was to write a pop song blended with a theatrical sensibility, so Ryan asked Chad Beguelin [lyricist from the Broadway musical] and me to team up with Adam Anders and Peer Astrom, who are his go-to pop music writers. It was a fun collaboration.”
It was a collaboration that also had to be done remotely. Sklar was in New York City, while Anders was in L.A., Beguelin in the Hamptons and Astrom in Sweden. “Adam and Peer had the idea for the hook and built the track.” says Sklar. “Chad and I took the verses and bridge and then the four of us went back and forth until we were all happy. Then Adam and Peer recorded a terrific demo and presented it to Ryan. Ryan loved it—whew!—and then it was up to the guys to get it recorded with our cast.”
Sklar calls it “a logistical nightmare” to record, due to everyone being scattered all over the world, but credits music supervisor, Amanda Krieg-Thomas, with making it all work. “The goal was to create a song about being proud of who you are with no apologies. I think a lot of people —especially young people—need to hear that,” he says.
With the task of having shared the film’s message through the music completed, Klotz hopes they may still get to meet in person one day soon. “I look forward to the day that we can finally have a cocktail in person. Maybe we can meet at Sardi’s when Broadway opens up again.”
Photos by MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX