INTERVIEW: Future Man Composer Halli Cauthery On Building A World Of Sci-Fi Sound
Dylan Ford talks electronica and the 80s with composer Halli Cauthery.
Future Man, Hulu’s new sci-fi comedy from executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, follows down-on-his-luck janitor Josh Futterman. When Josh becomes the first to beat an “unbeatable” video game, its protagonists appear in the flesh, recruiting him for a hilarious and action-packed adventure through time.
Much of the series’ tone is set by its thrilling score – the work of Emmy-nominated composer Halli Cauthery. Cauthery sat down with Cultured Vultures to discuss the challenge of developing Future Man’s sound:
“The thing that preoccupied me quite a lot at the start, when I was working on the pilot episode, was the video game that Josh, the main character in the show, is obsessed with – Biotic Wars- this fictional video game that he plays for hours every day. When I was sort of trying to think of, well, A: in a general sense what the sound of the show should be and B: more specifically, when I was trying to write a main theme, the question I kept asking myself was, if this video game existed, what might its music be like?”
The answer, he found, was to draw inspiration from the same sources that inspire the show itself: 80s science fiction.
“The show is very much an 80s throwback. It’s full of references to classic 80s sci-fi, and relatedly, this video game is set in this sort of wasteland of a dystopian future, where, you know, the machines have taken over and human civilization has sort of collapsed – rather Terminator-like. Once you’ve got that as an idea to start with, that in itself suggests an idea of what the music should sound like. It was clear that it needed to be quite synth-heavy and futuristic in sound, and so really it was a short leap from that to finding the overall sound world of the show.”
One of the major influences on the English composer’s score was composer Alan Silvestri, who’s responsible for the music of some of the most famous films of the last 30 years, including The Back to the Future trilogy and Predator. Cauthery regards the score to Predator “as something of an underrated masterpiece.” It contains “harmonic language,” he says, “that I find a constant source of inspiration.”
Cauthery, who’s worked on everything from Shrek to Wonder Woman, learned early on two of the most important qualities in his line of work: versatility and adaptability. Though he’s trained as a classical violinist, Future Man’s sound leans much more towards the electronic end of the musical spectrum.
“Going into a project like this that was very synth-heavy and coming from a very classical background, there is a steep learning curve involved, but that sort of challenge is quite fun really, to dive in and do something that you’re not perhaps familiar with. I find that one surprises oneself. Even if when you go in, you don’t exactly know what the outcome’s going to be, but often you get the best sort of results when you’re faced with a situation like that.”
Future Man is a unique combination of legitimate science fiction and fairly raunchy comedy. In balancing those two sides, Cauthery took a cue from his mentor, composer Harry Gregson-Williams.
“When I first moved [to Los Angeles], it was a couple of years after he’d done the score to Team America: World Police. It was a puppet movie that the South Park guys did. It’s an absolutely hilarious movie. Harry told me this story that he’d been hired at the last minute to come in and sort of put out a fire, as it were, because the previous score that had been written to the movie, they’d found wasn’t working. And the reason it wasn’t working was because it was felt to be too overtly comedic. So it was in a way kind of stepping on all of the jokes.
“So when Harry came in – he did a new score for the movie at the last minute. The reason that worked so well was because the score treated the action on screen absolutely as if it were not a comedy. So in other words, it was twice as funny when the music was really serious, even though what was happening on screen was incredibly silly and ridiculous and hilarious. And I thought that was a really interesting lesson. That with certain types of comedy, the best thing you can do is treat it as if it’s serious rather than as if it’s comedic. It doesn’t always work, but in certain scenarios that’s really the best approach. And so that’s kind of the approach that I adopted in Future Man.”
Cauthery shared his thoughts on a couple of the episodes he most enjoyed composing:
“The episode set in James Cameron’s Future House, I think it’s episode 6 or something, where our heroes, for various complicated reasons, have to go to his house in the year 2023 and steal something. Which is a really funny episode. Because Cameron is a focus of a lot of the humor in that episode, it meant that I had the chance to write a lot of music that was sort of inspired by music from various Cameron movies, which was lots of fun.
“And then I would also say the finale was a really good episode to work on, because that was very music heavy. I mean, it’s almost wall to wall I think in that one. And when you’ve got these very long stretches – long scenes that require music from start to finish, even though that’s very labor intensive, having to write a lot of music, but when you’ve got long stretches of music, that really gives you an opportunity to develop your thematic material. Because that’s the finale, I was able to pay off a lot of themes that I had been developing throughout the series. That’s always a nice thing to be able to do.”
Cauthery had nothing but good things to say about his experience working on Future Man. He had high praise for executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
“It was fantastic. It was such fun. Such a blast! They’re really, really nice guys. Very down to Earth. There’s no sort of pretension about them. They’re very funny guys, their comedic instincts are impeccable, and it was terrific to work with them. Because they know exactly what works and what doesn’t. They know what they want.
“As [the series] wore on, their co-writers Ariel Shaffir and Kyle Hunter were the ones that I had the most contact with on a day-to-day basis. And they were also fantastic to work with. And it was just a really, really fun experience. An absolute blast.”
Pressed for hints about Future Man’s upcoming second season, Cauthery said he’s looking forward to finding out just as much as fans of the show.
“Oh good Lord! I know as much as you do! I have absolutely no idea. They’re keeping that very much under wraps at the moment.”
No release date has been set for season 2, but viewers can rest assured Cauthery will be back with an equally electrifying score when Future Man returns later this year.