“She-Hulk” Composer Amie Doherty on Blending Megan Thee Stallion With Marvel’s Orchestral Bombast
With 2021’s Spirit Untamed, composer Amie Doherty became the first woman to score a DreamWorks animated feature film. Known for her work on The High Note and Happiest Season, she has also made a name for herself as an orchestrator. Her most recent project is as the composer for the Marvel series She-Hulk, where she has combined the bombastic, orchestral Marvel style with a very modern and beat-driven aesthetic that gives the show its unique sound.
The Credits chatted with Doherty about achieving her dream of scoring for Marvel and how she built the blend of drama and quirk that keeps the She-Hulk score within the spectrum of the studio’s projects while evoking beloved female-led legal dramas like Ally McBeal and The Good Wife.
What do you see as milestones that led you to creating the score for Marvel on She-Hulk?
First of all, it was a huge dream. So in a funny way, I still can’t even believe I did it, so to think about how I got there is still kind of mind-blowing. I’ve been here in LA for about 8 or 9 years now, just working my way up, or working my way through. I started out on student films, and then slowly graduated to independent features and festival-type films, and then while I was building my credits as a composer, from very small stuff all the way up, I was also working as an orchestrator for the composer Jeff Russo. He’s fantastic.
He won an Emmy for Fargo, and scored For All Mankind, Star Trek: Discovery and Picard.
I got very lucky that I got to orchestrate and conduct on Star Trek: Discovery and Picard, and we had done Fargo, which was an amazing series. The Umbrella Academy is another one. So I had worked for Jeff, I think for 4 or 5 years orchestrating all of his stuff, and I really got to cut my teeth there. I’m so grateful for the experience, in a lot of ways, because we got to work with an orchestra week in week out and got to become very comfortable with the orchestra and learn what to ask for, how to communicate with them, and how to lead a session or how to get the sound that you want. I feel like all that experience was really invaluable. I was also working to score as many projects as I could by myself, and I got into a couple of workshops and programs that promote composers who maybe wouldn’t otherwise have their chance to get music in front of studios.
What were the programs?
I did the Sundance Music and Sound Design Lab in 2016, and that was huge, and introduced me to a lot of people. Then in 2018, I was in the Universal Composers Initiatives, which is the first of its kind, there to help composers like me, women, people of color, and people from different backgrounds who haven’t really historically had the chance to just get their music in front of the likes of Mike Knobloch, the head of film music at Universal. His whole team really put their money where their mouth was, and I was hired to score a short film, which was the first task we had when I joined the program. After that, I got to know DreamWorks a little bit, and I ended up scoring Spirit Untamed. So it’s a kind of direct path. Once I finished Spirit Untamed, She-Hulk came up, which was getting to work in that orchestral sphere, which I love.
How did you go about building the She-Hulk theme?
When I was writing the theme, I really wanted it to be one that could be applied to the two sides of her life. There’s Jen’s life, where she’s a normal person in her 30s with a fairly normal job and a normal life. She’s dating. She’s a lawyer. I needed this to be able to work in the courtroom, but when it transitions, to work in this big superhero world. It was really fun to work within the Marvel Cinematic Universe because it has this very well-established sound, so on the superhero side of things, I knew what to do. It’s big and bombastic. She’s a Hulk. The challenge was how to score the Jen side of things and bring that into the MCU, so we create our own unique sound for the show. I actually went back and watched a bunch of legal dramas like Ally McBeal, The Good Wife, and The Good Fight.
There are different themes for the characters introduced throughout the series.
Yes. The main, obviously, is the She-Hulk theme, and I used that as an anchor to ground everything, and so you hear that throughout the season, but in every new episode, there are new themes and stories. That gets added to the palette. I’d write a new theme for each character and treat each of the 9 episodes like a mini-movie. As an example, there’s the Donny Blaze theme in episode 4. Blaze is a magician, and I had so much fun writing that one, which was very separate from the theme for She-Hulk, but then when they are interacting, like when there’s a big fight scene at the end of that episode, I combined the She-Hulk and Donny Blaze themes together.
How did you go about balancing the bombastic and orchestral with the synthetic or electronic elements that are used in the score?
When we first started talking about the sound of the show, a word that kept coming up was ‘modern.’ We definitely wanted it to be modern and reflect the fact that she is a woman in her early 30s, living in the modern, normal world. What would that sound like in the music that she listens to? Megan Thee Stallion shows up in episode 3, so that was part of it. We considered Megan Thee Stallion, some Billy Eilish beats, and whatever was top of the charts that week we were talking about. We thought, ‘What if we combine this with that big orchestral score? That would be fun.’ One musical thing I did is I left the woodwinds out of the orchestra pretty intentionally. We only recorded brass and strings and used the synths in the place of, frequency-wise, where the woodwinds would go, so the synths are often used similarly to how the woodwinds might flourish.
How did writing She-Hulk for Marvel change you as a composer?
It definitely made me write quicker, and it made me just trust my instincts. The whole process on any project is just figuring out what the filmmaker intends for every scene, and by the time I got to the end of the season, I felt like I had it fairly locked in, and we were on the same page. That always happens right at the end of the season, so fingers crossed for season 2, as I’ll be good to go!
A new episode of She-Hulk premieres every Thursday on Disney+.
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