Alan Lazar is the composer behind the music for The Princess Switch: Switched Again, Netflix‘s hugely anticipated sequel to the hit romantic comedy. As viewers enjoy the follow-up, I talked with Alan about what it’s like to create the sound of a sequel – especially when you never worked on the first film.
Plus, how does working on a film with a finite beginning, middle and end compare to composing cues for ongoing television? Alan’s work can also be heard in Bravo’s massively popular Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and that’s a whole other beast compared to a Netflix comedy.
Learn more about Alan in our interview and then visit his website for even more about him and his music.
Brittany Frederick: How do you create music for a sequel without being involved in the first film? Where’s the balance between keeping continuity and bringing your own sound?
Alan Lazar: The first one was a surprise hit. It performed way beyond expectations, and so for the sequel, they wanted to do something bigger and better. Mike Rohl, who is the most terrific director, gave this message to everyone on the crew. So the sets and the production design, the cinematography, everything kind of really went up a notch. It just feels like a much bigger movie all around, and it was his direction with the score as well – just to give it a very grand, royal, but also very fun feel.
The score for the second one is quite different from the first one, and it just matches with that overall direction. We used an orchestra in the score, while the first one was just a sample score. I’d watched the first movie, and I appreciated what the score did in that one, but we took a very different approach on this one.
The other thing is there’s the third character added in the sequel, Fiona, [also] played by Vanessa Hudgens. It’s so awesome the way she plays all these different roles, and the new character really needed a completely different sound. We experimented with that, and I’m very proud of what we came up with.
BF: The Princess Switch is very different from most of your recent credits. Is that why you said yes to it? Or were there other reasons why it appealed to you?
AL: It came out of my collaboration with the producer, Brad Krevoy, on Holiday in the Wild, which was another holiday movie on Netflix about a year ago. That was set in the wild in Africa, with Rob Lowe and Kristin Davis, but Brad was very happy with my score on that.
In terms of the tone of that movie, and generally with Christmas movies, it’s very similar in a way. It’s all about feel-good emotions, romance, [and] a little bit of comedy. The sound palette I used on Princess Switch was very, very different from Holiday in the Wild, but there was quite a lot of similarity in tone.
It was great scoring Vanessa Hudgens, who is just amazing to watch on screen. I was excited about doing that, and then really hit it off with Mike Rohl and the writer-producer, Robin Bernheim. She’s a very, very talented lady [who] also had great creative input on the whole process.
BF: Are there particular pieces of the score that you want Princess Switch fans to listen out for? What were the musical highlights of the film in your opinion?
AL: I find it very hard to narrow the list down. I wrote about 70 cues in the movie; it’s a very big score, so it’s difficult finding my favorite. One would probably be the opening animated sequence. The cue when Margaret walks out to greet the audience at the Christmas ball, which is her first appearance as Queen – she’s greeted by fanfare and then there’s a piece of score as people walk up to her and pay tribute to her. I particularly love that cue. Then my theme music for Fiona, which is repeated about seven times in the film; we originally had it just on [her] entrance and then gradually started adding it everywhere. It became emblematic of the character, and I do love that theme.
BF: It feels like people are becoming more aware of composers thanks to more scores getting released, and wider exposure on things like iTunes and YouTube. Have you found that to be the case in your experience?
AL: I have felt that, actually. I think there’s generally more music in movies today as well. When I first started scoring 20 years ago, we’d probably do maybe 25, 30 percent of the movie and there’d be a lot of dialogue scenes without music. Something like Princess Switch, I think we hit about 90 percent music. People have just become very accustomed to constant soundtracks and it feels empty, almost, when there isn’t music in a movie.
All of our favorite TV shows have very large quantities of music, generally, and it’s because it’s a very classic, emotional language. That’s what’s fascinating about music; it’s a universal language.
On Netflix movies, it’s incredible what they do. When they finish the mix of the film, they send it out to about 10 different countries for translation. They translate the dialogue into 10, 15 different languages straightaway so it can play on Netflix around the world. But they don’t translate the music. The score stays exactly the same, and that is because it’s this powerful language which the whole world can understand and feel. It’s not a language that you hear words in your head, but it still affects your emotions in such a powerful way.
BF: Your career has been extremely varied between scripted, documentaries and reality TV. What do you look for when taking on a project? Is there a common thread for you musically?
AL: For me, it’s really very much about the story at the end of the day. I think as a film and TV composer, the music is not primary. It’s not the central thing. I came from a pop background, and there as we were making a song, it was all about that song. When you’re writing for film and TV, it is all about supporting the story, supporting the characters. So I’m really drawn to that more than anything. I just love a good story, and writing music for a film is so exciting because you literally put yourself into another world. You never know what’s going to come out.
My scores are all very varied, and it very much depends on what that world of story is, and that’s really what I get drawn to at the end of the day. I don’t listen to a lot of music. I watch a heck of a lot of movies and TV, though. That’s what I truly, truly love.
BF: How does doing something finite like Princess Switch compare to, say, a Real Housewives where you’ve been working on the sound for years and it’s potentially always evolving?
AL: I think every show and every film is so different. There’s no real hard and fast rule for anything these days, and it’s because of digital editing systems that so changed the way that these things get made. But in general, I would say something like a narrative film, like Princess Switch, I received the cut of the movie and I started working directly so the music literally came out of those images. I’ve been kind of thinking of ideas for melodies and stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s got to serve what I see up on the screen.
Something like Real Housewives, I actually create the entire score before they even started editing because they like very much to edit those shows to music. [At] the beginning of each season of Real Housewives, they’ll place an order with me. They’ll say okay, we’re going to take 50 cues. They’ll reuse some of the stuff that they’ve had in previous seasons, and then they’ll say we need 10 light tension themes, 10 gentle comedy, maybe five sad, five sweeping glamour for the big shots of Beverly Hills taken from the helicopter. At this point I know the show so well that I can kind of imagine what they’re going to be using the music for and then they’ll just edit to that, as opposed to most narrative films that fit music in at the end.
BF: What are the things that you’re passionate about?
AL: Movies and TV, which is just truly my passion. I spend so much time watching them. I just love it so much. I am a bit of a foodie as well. I love going around to the top 100 restaurants in Los Angeles under normal circumstances. We kind of make it our mission every normal year, so I’m looking forward to getting back to that once the pandemic has gone.
The Princess Switch: Switched Again is now streaming on Netflix. For more about Alan Lazar, visit his website.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.