How a Middle School Violin Teacher Became HBO’s ‘Latest Movie Stars’ Music Secret Sauce

Singer, songwriter, former frontman of indie rock band ‘The Walkmen’ and now composer, Hamilton Leithauser can’t play horns, but that hasn’t deterred him from accepting a gig to put music on the show. in six episodes of HBO’s “The Last.” Movie Stars.”-

Directed by Ethan Hawke and produced by Martin Scorses, the documentary series chronicles the love story of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward alongside their simultaneously blossoming Hollywood careers. Hawke called on a host of well-known voices — including Karen Allen, George Clooney, Oscar Isaac, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Zoe Kazan, Laura Linney and Sam Rockwell — to tell the story. It was also Hawke who brought on Leithauser to compose both music and songs for “Last Movie Stars”.

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“1000 Times”, “Rough Going” (I Won’t Let Up) and “Here They Come” were among the songs Leithauser chose to include. In a conversation with Varietyhe shares his process for composing the series – with added credit for his eight-year-old daughter’s guitar and violin teacher.

What conversation did you have with Ethan early on about scoring that?

He had been working there for a while and had invited me to this house. I’ve seen very old footage with my song, “1959”, on it. This sequence was haunting, with those old, beautiful shots of Paul and Joanne as that sad tune played.

About six months later he asked me if I could write something for the opening credits and that’s how it started. We talked about soundtracks and movies we liked. We also looked at Paul and Joanne, that iconic Americana couple, and the first people I thought of were Randy Newman and Scott Joplin.

It is a series in six episodes divided into three acts: their marriage, Hollywood and the last years. How did you approach such a long timeline musically?

We were talking about “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” or the 1963 movie “Hud”. This soundtrack is very minimalistic and has classical guitar, so his films were the starting point for me.

I wanted the music to be appropriate to the era and to the film. Sometimes a song worked, and sometimes it didn’t. The show was originally going to be a movie, but then it became an eight-episode miniseries and they cut it down, so the story changed.

Episode five has a long sequence about Paul being an alcoholic and Joanne is upset because her career was sidelined and one of my old plays was still there. It sounded like a raucous, rock song. It didn’t sound good, so I ended up doing a darker piano piece and it worked.

Instrument level, how did you choose what to use?

He was my daughter’s violin teacher over and over again. I have a home studio and I like to do everything at home. So when I wanted big strings, she would bring a viola, a cello, and a violin. We were recording and making it sound like a big orchestra.

In episode two, I was in my hotel room at night and had my nylon guitar. It was then that I realized these guitars had a western, almost cinematic sound that worked with the cowboy movies he was making at the time. It was the first time I had hit my stride, and I had the clarity of classical guitar.

How and when did you decide that score or music would work rather than silence?

When Ethan tells the story, it’s my score, it’s modern film. When we showed film clips, we used the soundtrack of the film and that’s how it was planned. He also used one of my songs for the end credits of each episode.

Ethan’s audio credits, which include the star of the popular “Fishpriest” podcast, appear to be on the rise. How was the collaboration process with him?

We have direct communication. I can text her whenever I want. We also have a long friendship and understanding of similar tastes and music. I was working in my house and then I was walking right over, we were watching a cut. It was just easy communication.

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