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Industry Report: Television

Masterclass Série Series 2016: Nathaniel Méchaly


- Composer Nicolas Jorelle interviews composer Nathaniel Méchaly at Série Series 2016

Masterclass Série Series 2016: Nathaniel Méchaly

(© Sylvain Bardin & Philippe Cabaret)

Nicolas Jorelle is pleased to welcome to the stage Nathaniel Méchaly, who has composed the scores for several films, as well as sound design for television and for events organised by major fashion houses.

Writing Music that Doesn’t Exist

Nathaniel Méchaly joined the Conservatoire National de Marseille, where he studied cello and chamber music for fifteen years; next, he joined the IRCAM musical research institute in Paris to study electro-acoustic composition. From 1993, he put his name to the sound design for several channels such as Paris Première, Ciné Cinéma and TF1 Jeunesse. “I was lucky enough, because I do believe it was luck, to be able to create and write music that doesn’t exist.” By “music that doesn’t exist”, Nathaniel Méchaly means a sound identity: “music that will not be heard in a series or a film”. This experience was an incredible education, both from a creative and a musical perspective. Nathaniel Méchaly had no training in scoring. This first job gave him the opportunity to produce music. “I learned by doing.”

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After composing music for credits at France 3 (Soir 3), Nathaniel Méchaly was contacted by Jean-Marie Cavada to write the music for the credits to La Marche du Siècle. He composed a new set of credits every week for two years, each one adapted to the theme of the episode (70 in total).

During the same period, Gabriel Yared, Alexandre Desplat and Jean-Claude Petit, on the initiative of Jean-Pierre Arquié, created an association – the Academy Pléiade – in which young composers had a chance to present their work. Nathaniel Méchaly was chosen from a hundred candidates for his work on La Marche du Siècle. This lead him to spend ten years working as an assistant to Gabriel Yared, who was “master of music” to him. In a way, it was he who, having taken him under his wing, opened the doors of cinema to him.

Composing for Cinema vs. Composing for Series

In 2004, Nathaniel Méchaly made his big screen debut by composing the score for Raphaël Nadjari’s film Avanim. He would go on to work with great directors such as Guy Ritchie and Richard Berry, and to work on several films produced and/or written by Luc Besson (Revolver, The Black Box, the Taken trilogy, Colombiana…).

Nicolas Jorelle asks Nathaniel Méchaly about the details of his musical compositions for series, and in his opinion, the creative space in a series is that of the moment, apart from the credits, which must be extremely distinctive. It is not like composing for cinema, where you can develop ideas in depth or use very complex themes. Music for series must be immediate and reactive. “Cinema allows a kind of poetry that series cannot fully achieve.”

Midnight Sun

Nathaniel Méchaly composed the score for the series Midnight Sun, the new CANAL+  original series, a Franco-Swedish co-production. The plot of this thriller takes place within the confines of Lapland, in the land of the indigenous Sami people. Leïla Bekhti plays Kahina Zadi, captain of the Central Office for the Repression of Violence against Individuals, sent to Kiruna to investigate the violent murder of a French citizen. To find the mysterious killer, she joins forces with prosecutor Anders Harnesk, played by Gustaf Hammarsten (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

Nathaniel Méchaly notes that this series was a unique case that goes against all of the views he has held until now. Midnight Sun was created by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein (creators of the series Bron / The Bridge) and therefore has the unique status of an “art-house series designed as though it were an eight-hour film”. The story is very powerful, and develops like a book in eight volumes.

Screening of the Credits of Midnight Sun

The credits recall a traditional chant of the Sami people, indigenous to northern Sweden, whose oppression is denounced in the series. This song, incredibly pure with very mysterious sounds, is one of the main themes for the series. It has become distinctive feature of Midnight Sun.

Screening of an Extract from the First Episode

A six-minute extract of the first episode of Midnight Sun is screened. The sound and dialogue have been removed: only the music remains. In this sequence, Leïla Bekhti, who plays the main character, is confronted by her son. The scene is filled with tension. Later in the extract, the actress wanders the streets of Paris, distraught. She breaks down into tears, then deliberately injures her own hand by scraping her palm on a nail. The pain seems to bring her comfort. In the last part of the extract, she is in a taxi. She receives a telephone call telling her that a murder has been committed in Sweden and the victim is French.

Nathaniel Méchaly particularly likes this extract. The music seems to be “belong”. In the first part, Kahina Zadi is reunited with her son. The music is discreet: it “creeps up on you”. During the long tracking shot through the streets of Paris, on the other hand, the music builds in intensity up to the point where the character self-harms, when the composition accompanies and expresses her profound pain. In the last part, the music is somewhat more modest. It is intended to accompany the dialogues, express a mood, provide an atmosphere.

Midnight Sun really marks the meeting of Nathaniel Méchaly and Leïla Bekhti, who, as far as he is concerned, carries the series from beginning to end. “She was so beautiful and powerful that I had no choice but to accompany her, to offer her support and to reflect the incredible energy she was developing.” Leïla Bekhti was Nathaniel Méchaly’s primary inspiration, and acts as the “conducting thread” of the music, which follows her through all her emotions. More generally, “you cannot produce good music without good actors”. The musician is the series’ first viewer: they react to what they see.

Creating the music in Midnight Sun was an incredible experience, notes Nathaniel Méchaly. He visited Sweden twenty-eight times over a six-month period to compose on-site (the production team had a studio set up for him). “The music was composed with complete interactivity”. Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein (also producers of the eight episodes) were present the whole time, reacting in real time. For six months, Nathaniel Méchaly dedicated himself entirely to this project. “The creative energy was so intense that I got caught up in this series.” “I was in a bubble,” he confesses. He remains haunted by the series to this day.

Composing the score for a television series is always a powerful and engaging experience. Nathaniel Méchaly indicates that it is sometimes necessary to compose up to 40 minutes of score in one week. It is always a challenge that demands a kind of “going beyond oneself”. For Midnight Sun, the music is constantly original and “nothing was repeated”. “I couldn’t allow myself to,” he adds, “the actress was so wonderful”.

In conclusion, Nathaniel Méchaly imparts some advice for composers. You must always be ready, which means you must never stop composing. Since “the day when you start a project, composing cannot be a problem”: the creation must flow instantly.

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