Brian H. Kim Talks About Composing Scores for TV and Film

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Brian H. Kim who has composed music for many shows and movies including Bones, How I Met Your Mother, My Name is Doris, Star vs. the Forces of Evil, and most recently, Abby’s. Unfortunately, due to some technical issues, I do not have a transcription of our conversation, but here are the highlights.

First, I learned that Kim plays guitar, piano, and the saxophone. He says he tries to incorporate the sax into some of his scores, but it’s removed at least 90% of the time. I learned that depending on the project, he’ll either just use MIDI, or sometimes he uses MIDI for mockups, but then he is able to have musicians performing the piece. His weapons of choice include the Roland A88 keyboard into Cubase or an iPad with the app TouchOSC.

Kim also mentioned that composing for live-action projects is different than animated projects. For animation, he describes his job as more of an ability to enhance the visuals the audience is seeing. Meanwhile, he finds that live-action projects need the music to help set the mood and letting the lines and moments breathe and have some space.

While Kim couldn’t tell me his favorite piece for Star vs. the Forces of Evil because it hasn’t aired yet, he did tell me his favorite from the episodes that have aired.

My favorite scene came at the end of season 3, where the character Eclipsa (voiced by Esme Bianco) has to battle against her daughter Meteora (voiced by Jessica Walter), who she hasn’t seen in 300 years and has turned out to be evil. I had written Eclipsa’s theme long before I had to score this scene, and to evolve the theme in such a way that it had to both be an action cue and an emotionally turbulent cue was really something I didn’t expect and was so satisfying to do. Most of the time on the show I have to write cues pretty quickly, given the amount of music I have to write each week, but I made sure with this cue to write it earlier on in my process for the episode, and every day I would go back to this cue after working on other cues, just tweaking little things here and there to make sure I got it right.

He also said that one of his favorite things about working on Star vs. the Forces of Evil was working with that almost retro synth sound.

In addition, while Kim did not create the hit “You Just Got Slapped” from How I Met Your Mother, he did help create the Boyz II Men version and the Slow Jam Remix. When asked about a dream project, he said that he would love to work with an Asian American director on a project. He named Cathy Yan and John Cho specifically, but he got really excited about working with other Asian Americans.

I think it’s a really interesting time to be an Asian-American in filmmaking right now, and I would love to work with someone telling Asian-American stories. 2018 was such a banner year in Asian filmmaking, with Jon M. Chu making Crazy Rich Asians, and Aneesh Chaganty with Searching, and Cathy Yan with Dead Pigs, and Domee Shi with Bao... I would be really excited to work with a director or writer or producer who is interested in telling stories where I see people who look like me on the screen.

Finally, I asked him (at the request of a coworker) if he ever related to Jason Segel’s character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. He really liked that question and said it’s a very normal one to hear which shocked me. He said he could relate and the ominous tones are actually a thing. He then went on to explain that while Segel’s character is seen with another person in the room with him, Kim is usually all alone while working.

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