The best zombie show you’re not watching, Black Summer, is finally back with its second season on Netflix and it remains an incredibly suspenseful and thrilling series. We had the chance to chat with the show’s composer Alec Puro, who returns from Season 1 to score the season.
An award-winning film and television composer, Alec has previously worked on shows like The Fosters and The Crew. We talked to him about what goes into scoring a horror show like Black Summer and much more!
Chatting with Black Summer composer Alec Puro
1428 Elm: Can you compare what your goals were for the show going into Black Summer Season 2 versus the first season?
Alec Puro: With this show, in particular, it has a different creative process, different and awesome, and unlike any other show that I do. I start by having a creative conversation with John Hyams (one of the show creators) before they start shooting.
We’ll talk about the season, I’ll read the scripts — get an idea of what the vibe is because we connect well with music in terms of our sensibilities, what we like and don’t like, etc. We start there, and I start writing different thematic ideas and experimenting with sounds. For this season, since it’s a second season, I was able to elaborate on themes from the first season but also make new themes since it takes place in winter with lots of snow.
It’s a different vibe yet we stay the same with the handheld camera and almost a documentary-style of filmmaking so we try not to hit viewers over the head with jump scares or music that’s super in your face the whole time. I try to support and complement what’s happening. Sometimes you might not notice there’s music, because the sound design and music are one.
1428 Elm: Based on that, I’m curious about horror shows and thrillers, how composers decide when to pull back with suspenseful scenes and when to go all in with lots of intense music.
Alec Puro: I think it’s all so subjective. Making music, making films, making any sort of art comes down to somebody’s taste. For me, it varies from show to show. I want to get in the head of the showrunner, executive producer, director — whoever I’m forging that creative bond with for the show to get it where it needs to go.
With John, he loves these long, subtle builds. I could have a heartbeat-type feel, maybe using a drum, that starts super slow where you don’t even hear it and all of the sudden you’re thinking, “why am I so stressed out, why is this scene getting to me,” as the sound gets faster and faster. We take the more minimalistic approach. It’s really scene-to-scene. There are also moments where the music takes over in this show.
1428 Elm: Moreso than other genres, horror needs such a delicate balance because you don’t want the music or sound to overtake the suspense of the scene.
Alec Puro: Completely. You don’t want to take anything away. That’s the thing about music in film, you want to wait to bring in music most of the time so you’re not foreshadowing or giving something away. If you’re more sparing with the music when you do have those moments I think they’re more impactful.
1428 Elm: Did you get the chance to create individual themes for characters?
Alec Puro: We did, actually! A little bit more than last season. There were certain episodes in Season 2 that were more about a given character and I did write some themes like this one character Spears, there was an episode that focuses on him and his past.
I wrote a theme specifically for him that comes back in different spots. It’s fun to come up with a theme for somebody and later in the series there’s a new interaction and you can take that motif and turn it into something different. It’s subliminal for most people but I think there is some connection that you can feel when it happens.
1428 Elm: Right, I love when I recognize a theme as it comes back because it usually mimicks the character’s arc. It’s fun to hear it at the end of the season versus the beginning.
Alec Puro: For sure. It’s a balancing act to get it right since you don’t want to hit people over the head with it and the show does a good job of that.
1428 Elm: And in the first season, Black Summer did a lot of long takes, which is always so impressive. Is that something that returns this season and what’s it like to compose something for those takes versus traditional takes?
Alec Puro: It’s interesting because sometimes the creator tells you that there is going to be music for something that’s five minutes long. In my head, I’m thinking, “There’s no reason to have five minutes of score.” It always makes me think. But in Black Summer, one of the last things I scored there is this one scene where this guy is running, trying to get away from all these crazy zombies and it goes for, I think, 5-7 minutes.
I think it was the longest cue I’ve ever written. In doing that cue/sound design, it’s like one thing. It’s not like this long, melodic thing, it’s more like I’m helping push the energy and the scene because it’s so long and I don’t want it to be repetitive. It was a challenge, but I think it came out great.
1428 Elm: Are there any specific moments or episodes that you’re particularly proud of scoring this season?
Alec Puro: I had a great time scoring episode 2×07 because it’s music-heavy in terms of the suspense, there are a lot of suspenseful moments and not a ton of dialogue. The music and sound design really pushed that forward.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Black Summer Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.