Hi reddit!

We are excited to be here to discuss the music of ABC's Once Upon a Time, which recently completed its 7 season run. We were fortunate to record with a live orchestra in Los Angeles for all 156 episodes of the series.

We will be answering your questions about our score to the series, how to be successful as a composer for visual media, and anything else you'd like to discuss.

Ask Us Anything! AUA!

Proof: Tweet #1, Tweet #2, Tweet #3

About Us:

Mark Isham (/u/Mark_Isham) is an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning composer celebrated for his work on projects such as Blade, Point Break, Crash, 42, Marvel's Cloak & Dagger and Once Upon a Time.

Cindy O'Connor (/u/cindyoconnor) is an Emmy-nominated composer known for her work on Once Upon a Time, the Crash TV series, The Black Donnelys and more. She is known for her work in the theater world, most recently co-creating Flies! The Musical which premiered in Chicago in 2018.

Michael D. Simon (/u/Michael-D-Simon) is an Emmy-nominated composer known for his work on Once Upon a Time, The Squeeze, as well as musical contributions to The Mentalist and Notes from the Underbelly.

EDIT: Thanks for all the great questions reddit! We will be answering a few more and then signing off for the day. Please follow us on twitter for more OUAT news and also to learn about our other upcoming projects. We will be back again soon! -Mark (@MarkIsham), Cindy (@CindyOConnor), & Michael (@MichaelDSimonMX)

Comments: 195 • Responses: 28  • Date: 

Freedom-Fighter7827 karma

What is the oddest instrument or sound you've been able to incorporate into a score?

Is there any instrument you have NOT been able to use in a score but want to desperately?

Mark_Isham21 karma

I think we had a ney on an episode - played by the the incomparable Chris Bleth - that was pretty exotic!

carchasemovies15 karma

Mark, I've been a big fan of your film work for years. The Trial of Solomon Grundy that you composed for The Accountant is a truly magnificent cue. The way it starts out small and just builds to the big moment and then ends on a more melancholy note with the piano is incredibly beautiful.

If you could pick one track or album for a film that you've composed as an introduction to your work, what would you choose?

Thanks :)

Mark_Isham5 karma

The Trial of Solomon Grundy is a pretty good chase FLAMES from Crash as well.

bluenoser413 karma

Question for Mr. Isham: I've always loved the soundtrack for "Life as a House" have wanted to ask how you went about creating it? Do you get to see the film first? Were you given direction along the lines of, write something happy? Thank you.

Mark_Isham9 karma

Thank you so much! I saw the film first - definitely. I think I read the script on that one as well. There were interesting elements to play with - coming of age - lost love - reconciliation - I think the main direction was to simply help tell the story

spiderfan211 karma

Love your work on OUAT! What was your favorite episode of the series?

Mark_Isham10 karma

I loved the early Jekyll and Hyde episodes - light and dark - good and bad - good and evil - all wrapped up together!

joshooah10 karma

Thank you for your work on OUAT. The music for this series was amazing from start to finish; one of the best parts of the show. Season 1 and 2 scores were officially released, will there be future releases for the score covering all 7 seasons?

Mark_Isham20 karma

ABC/DISNEY will be releasing the Emmy nominated episode 722 LEAVING STORYBOOK in the next few weeks!!!! We have posted suites over the years for streaming. A BOX SET would be pretty great - would people like that??

squersh9 karma

What are all of your favorite musical artists?

Mark_Isham17 karma

I'm a big fan of Eno, Miles Davis, John Adams, Eliot Goldenthal - I have eclectic tastes!!

confidentialcartoons8 karma

What are the different challenges between working in film versus television ?

Is there a first film or show that inspired your pursuit of composing for visual media?

Mark_Isham6 karma

The main difference is time. In film work you have a bit of time to experiment - try things out. In TV your first choice of ideas better be pretty good or you've got some sleepless nights ahead of you.

I loved Nino Rota's scores and he is still a major influence for me

Finn_The_Ice_Prince7 karma

What were your musical inspirations from the show? Were you inspired a lot by classic Disney film music?

Mark_Isham11 karma

The themes were inspired by the iconic quality of the characters and the time-tested style of traditional film music. Every character got their own theme. Every melody strove to be memorable and classic. At the same time, I also wanted it to feel like you were watching a contemporary show with a modern sensibility.

marvelfan106 karma

Please release a box set! That would be amazing or some kind of collectible items with the soundtrack!

What will you miss the most about this show?!

Mark_Isham5 karma

I'll miss the camaraderie - the weekly challenge and victory of an episode well scored! The interactions with all of the immensely talented people that made up our team!

FearlessPath5 karma

What is your favorite thing about working in a team environment? Anything special about these particular collaborators? Fantastic job on "Once Upon A Time!"

Mark_Isham4 karma

These two people are my FAVORITES! They are 'nice' guys, extremely talented, VERY collaborative, really duplicate what is needed and wanted by me and the show's creators.

DigitalMorrison5 karma

How did you find out you were going to be the composers on Once Upon A Time ?

Mark_Isham6 karma

I had a preliminary meeting with Adam and Eddy, the show's creators. We hit it off so well in the meeting that they asked me to score it right away!!

FriedCheese15 karma

Favorite cheese?

Favorite cheesy score?

Favorite cheesy instrument?

Mark_Isham4 karma

Smoked Gouda

The Triple CHEESE (this is a real plug in)

marioswitch5 karma

Hi guys! Absolutely love your work on OUAT!! What is your first step when conceiving a cue?

Mark_Isham4 karma

When I develop a theme, I try to encapsulate the basic emotion of the character in the music. The wonderful thing about OUAT was the there were so many characters with several conflicting dimensions emotionally. Made for interesting and sophisticated themes.

Tamalene3 karma

Favourite desserts?

Mark_Isham5 karma

A pear tarte tartine - from Marco Pierre White's

erneststickley3 karma

What is your favorite soft synth? What new synthesizer has caught your eye? P.S. The Hitcher is one of my favorite scores of all time!

Mark_Isham5 karma

I must admit omnisphere is still towards the top of my list - it's just so musical! The new Roland boxes are very cool. On The Hitcher of course we didn't have nearly what we have today Prophet 5 - Oberheim 4 voice - ARP 2600 - SP 12

MrsFarrell2 karma

How strongly do the characters themselves influence your score (as opposed to script or the Directors and Producers)?

Mark_Isham3 karma

On this project the characters themselves were the major inspiration They are such iconic characters that everyone knows!!

Popnfried2 karma

Have you ever gotten to do a cover or original song in any of your music for visual media work?

Mark_Isham3 karma

I've done a number of them over the years. Mac The Knife with Lyle Lovett for QUIZ SHOW. HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON with Cassandra Wilson.

MysticKid2 karma

I thought being able to virtually attend OUAT recording sessions was the best, until you shared those Stems for the Remix Contest! Unpacking the orchestrations for those cues has not only been fun but educational. I’m also getting a lot of practice while ‘at play’ and will probably be still playing with the stems long after the deadline. And that’s my my 1st question, when’s the deadline for all the entries to be posted to Mark - #OUATremix ?

2nd Question: I know OUAT writers love sneaking in meta-homages. Am I crazy or have you guys given a tip of the hat or chord (if not whole riffs) from your favorites into your work? Like a “Twilight Zone” bass note, or “Planet of the Apes” cymbals, some “Interstellar” rhythm, or even a “Phantom of the Opera” progression? It’s okay to tell me I’m just crazy.

Michael-D-Simon3 karma

I believe the deadline is this thursday, so maybe think wednesday by midnight? I can't wait to hear what everyone has done with the remix.

As far as meta-homages go, I haven't done anything intentionally, but simply from the sheer volume of music we had to create I have no doubt some have snuck in there without my knowing!

Mark_Isham5 karma

I think the theme for the dwarves had a bit of the original hi-ho, hi-ho worked in there - maybe a retrograde inversion - :))

mrgirl2 karma

Mr. Isham, how did it feel creating such beautiful music for such a bizarre movie in Herzog's Bad Lieutenant with Nicolas Cage? (I loved that movie and your score really gave it heart.)

Mark_Isham3 karma

That was a fun one! Werner is one of life's truly unique individuals and it was a treat to spend time with him and get to know him a bit. His one instruction to me was "this movie is the embodiment of the bliss of evil!!"

elucify1 karma

Hey Mark, nice to see you here. I have always loved your music for Never Cry Wolf (I have otvon vinyl!) Did you compose the music with access to the film, or did you have to write it “blind” and ket the editors do what they wanted with it?

Mark_Isham3 karma

Yes - I worked directly with the film - trial by fire - the was my first film!

smileymn1 karma

Hey Mark, are you still in touch with Art Lande?

Mark_Isham2 karma

Not for the last couple of years - but he's one of my all time favorite musicians!!

Frolb1 karma

/u/Mark_Isham - are there any arrangements avaiable of the Cool World soundtrack? I love the swing-style music in it (it's my favorite soundtrack CD), and would love for my swing band to be able to play some of it.

Mark_Isham2 karma

Unfortunately not - but that's a great idea! I'll look into it!

spiderfan21 karma

What is your go-to breakfast for maximum composing ~abilities~ in a work day?

Mark_Isham1 karma


MrsFarrell1 karma

Mark, I am curious if/how your process differs between composing for TV v. composing for film?

Mark_Isham3 karma

The main difference is time. In film work you have a bit of time to experiment - try things out. In TV your first choice of ideas better be pretty good or you've got some sleepless nights ahead of you.

erman_la1 karma

Mr. Isham, thanks for your time today! Out of all the episodes of Once Upon A Time, is there a piece of music you thought of as your favorite work in terms of how it helped tell the story on screen?

Mark_Isham3 karma

I'm the most proud of the original themes - the ones that were relevant for all seven seasons and stood up so well. Rumple - Regina - Belle - Prince Charming and Snow White

TheReinsofFullnight1 karma

Thanks so much for your amazing work on OAUT! Are you guys Lost fans?

Mark_Isham2 karma


moxymoron171 karma

Mark. I love your music in Crash. What did you use for inspiration for that movie?

Mark_Isham1 karma

Actually Moby was big influence in using the vocals in that way!

eric-neg1 karma

what happens to the copies of the music used by the live orchestra?

I’ve always dreamed of collecting some sheet music that was used for television and film but it has been hard to figure out where to even begin!

Mark_Isham2 karma

Goes into the Disney Library