Elyssa Samsel & Kate Anderson are the songwriting team behind Central Park and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. They took a break from preparing from their upcoming “Music For Animation” panel to talk about Central Park and writing in the Wild West.
Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel are in a very real sense out on the frontiers of writing music for animation.
They met years ago at the Advanced BMI Workshop, Anderson grew up doing musical theater and improv comedy. Samsel is a classically trained pianist and violist who has a love for musical theater. Together, they’re best friends who write fun, quirky, heartfelt songs for musicals.
“I wanted to branch out and break all the typecasting molds that had been set in musical theater in general,” says Samsel. “So, when I met Kate, it was a perfect combination. We could be two female songwriters, pair up, and just break the mold of characters that you see in musical theater.”
Samsel points out that they had other female mentors who went ahead of them to pave the way. She remembers seeing sheet music for “Taylor the Latte Boy” by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich. “I was shocked, because I had never seen two female names at the top of sheet music. Even with all the music I’d learned since the age of six. Seeing that inspired me to pair up with Kate and become more names on the top of sheet music, so other girls see that and think, ‘I can do that too!'”
“Being two women in this industry has had its challenges, but we feel so grateful that over the last 10 years or so there’s been more room for women to come in and tell stories that are really authentic to the female experience.”
The team played a founding role (musically speaking, at least) in the new AppleTV+ series Central Park. It’s only on AppleTV which is a huge bummer, but it does look hilarious. (Side note: when will streaming services collapse down to a manageable number so we can all watch cool shows like this?)
The show is a musical TV show (!!!!!!!!!!!) about a family who lives in Central Park and must protect the park from a greedy developer. “Writing for a comedy show was always a dream of mine and of Elyssa’s, so [Central Park] ended up being a dream of all of ours,” says Anderson.
Samsel and Anderson’s work on Central Park is where they’re pushing the boundaries of creating music for animation. It’s a true episodic musical. Plenty of series have done musical episodes- it’s literally a trope at this point- but there aren’t many other regular musical TV shows. When you limit that to animated shows, I don’t know that there are any regularly running that aren’t for small kids. Hazbin Hotel never really got going, and other than that there’s… uh…
Well, now there’s Central Park.
Samsel explains how writing for Central Park is different from their work with Disney, who she describes as having a finely-honed conveyor belt for creating “stunning projects”: “With Central Park, no one had ever done this before. We got to have all those players involved [Editor’s note: she mentions Josh Gad, Loren Bouchard, Nora Smith, and AppleTV] and then basically step into the Wild, Wild West. No one knew what it was going to be, what the process was going to be. Doing Central Park became its own conveyor belt. Being part of that process- building a new format- it was a challenge but so rewarding.”
“[We were] doing ten times the amount of songs at ten times the speed with ten percent of the resources, and also building the music team as we were going through Season One,” Anderson adds. “We had to think ahead before things became a necessity. Like Elyssa said, it was the Wild West.”
“But we figured it out,” she finishes with a smile. “There’s not an 80 piece orchestra, but there are songs that sound like there’s an 80 piece orchestra.”
“We have about two weeks from demo to when it’s approved,” Samsel says. “You really have to work fast and rewrite fast. It got easier as the series went on because we’d established a musical language for each character. That helped write as fast as we needed to write.”
The two give aspiring songwriters some insight into what their writing process looks like. “We usually get the lyrical hook first. We want to know what’s going to drive the song and get us the most real estate from Point A to Point C. What phrase can we create different meanings for throughout the song so we can have an evolution of the plot. Often we write the music first. Once we have the lyrical hook Elyssa will go off and create a musical structure, then bring it back to me. I give her feedback on how to guide the structure, and we go from that.”
What’s next for the team? Right now they’re still writing music for animation. “We have some musicals that were slated to go off Broadway, but that’s on hold. Right now our focus is on Central Park or things we can do over the phone or Zoom.”
Editor’s Note: The “Music For Animation” panel is Thursday (today!) at 2 pm PDT, just in case you want to stream it while you read this. Take a look at who’s going to be there:
Here’s the full panel description:
Find out what it takes to create the sonic worlds of your favorite animated shows! Learn how creatives in entertainment write songs, create sounds, and compose music for projects like the Harley Quinn animated series, Central Park, JJ Villaird’s Fairy Tales, King of the Hill, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia, and more! Featuring panelist songwriters Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson (Central Park), and composers Jefferson Friedman (Harley Quinn), Roger Neill (JJ Villaird’s Fairy Tales), Sebastian Evans (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and Tim Davies (Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia). Moderated by actors Keith David (JJ Villaird’s Fairy Tales, Gargoyles) and Alan Tudyk (Frozen, Harley Quinn).
Check it out, then come let us know what you think!
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to “True War Stories”, a comic anthology published by Z2 Comics. When she’s not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.
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