Jake Monaco is one of the most innovative composers today in television and film. Alongside Netflix’s Dumplin’, he is best known for composing 20th Century Fox comedies, Keeping Up with the Joneses and Let’s Be Cops, as well as the romantic comedy, Playing It Cool, starring Chris Evans.
Country Fancast recently got the opportunity to interview Jake and get a better look into the creative process behind Dumplin’, starring Jennifer Aniston (Rosie Dickson) and Danielle Macdonald (Willowdean Dickson). The project, based on the novel by Julie Murphy, will hit the streaming platform and will also play at select U.S. theaters starting on December 7th.
Enjoy our exclusive interview below!
Country Fancast: “How did you become involved in bringing the Netflix film Dumplin’ to life through musical composition?”
Jake Monaco: “I had been fortunate enough to work with the director of Dumplin’, Anne Fletcher, a couple of times prior to this film. When I went in for a meeting prior to being hired, the subject matter of the film and the introspective mother/daughter relationship were very appealing to me, given that I hadn’t scored a film quite like this before. There was a great deal of discussion about how to incorporate the theme from a new Dolly Parton song (which eventually became “Girl in the Movies”) into portions of the score. This musical continuity helped elevate the emotional journey that Willowdean goes on through the film.”
CF: “Country icon Dolly Parton’s music runs throughout the project’s soundtrack— does any particular song have special significance to you?”
JM: “The way that the songs ‘Girl in the Movies’ as well as Parton’s classic song ‘Here I Am’ are used in the film are both extremely impactful. Without giving away too much of the film, Dolly’s music is so intertwined with Will’s relationship with her recently deceased aunt, to the point that she feels like her aunt is speaking through Dolly’s songs, especially in the very cathartic moment when ‘Here I Am’ is featured.”
CF: “When composing for a film, what kind of creative steps do you take during the process? Does this differ from preparing for a television show?”
JM: “The biggest challenge was making sure that everything sounded very musically cohesive. With Dolly writing new songs for the film, everyone wanted to make sure that the score and songs flowed seamlessly together to create a unified experience.”
CF: “What kind of atmosphere did you aim to create for the Dumplin’ audience?”
JM: “The film has many serious moments, as it is a drama. However, the experience of the film is meant to be fun and positive. So finding the balance between the two was crucial. Some moments that I may have treated more ‘seriously,’ in fact went a little against picture to reinforce the slightly over-dramatic teenager responses to a parent; something most of us can relate to, I’m sure.”
CF: “Prior to working on Dumplin’, did you read the Julie Murphy novel that inspired the film?”
JM: “I had not actually! It is always very interesting to me to see what choices are made when transitioning a novel to a film, or vice versa for that matter.”
CF: “While creating the score, did you keep the actresses and actors in mind while helping to build their characters’ scenes?”
JM: “Absolutely. Anne and I discussed how the music doesn’t need to tell us what’s happening on screen, like it normally would, especially in animation for instance, but instead, support the unspoken and very subtly seen emotional journey that Willowdean is on. Finding the right point of view to musically tell the story was a challenge at first, but eventually we all found the right way and the music continued to fall into place.”
CF: “How would you describe working alongside directors, producers, writers, and even actors as a composer? What was it like working with the Dumplin’ team in particular?”
JM: “Every collaborative experience is completely different. Even if it’s the exact same team that you’ve worked with before, if the subject matter is different, it’s almost like starting from scratch. The biggest challenge is when not everyone is on the same page or coming from the same direction. It doesn’t mean that anyone is necessarily right or wrong, it’s just how to shape the character of the music so that it best fits the creatives’ vision. The start of the process was a bit rocky while we were locking in the right tone with the balance between the dark comedy and drama, but once the right balance was reached, it was like a light bulb went on for everyone.”
CF: “We have to ask— did you get to meet or talk directly to Dolly Parton? If so, how was that experience?”
JM: “Oh I so wish I had! My work was all done here in Los Angeles. I heard some amazing stories about the songwriting collaborations though. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during all of that!”
CF: “How many months did it take you to finish scoring Dumplin’?”
JM: “Haha! Well originally, it was supposed to be about 2-3 months. But things kept changing (for the better) which extended our process by another 2-3 months.”
CF: “How do you want viewers to feel after watching Dumplin’ for the very first time?”
JM: “Self-aware and confident. Yes, there are many different underlying themes to the story; however, it’s Will’s growth over the film that I personally think is the most poignant. Seeing someone’s confidence be ripped down and then watching how that person can overcome those struggles and be happy with themselves at the end of the journey is an incredible experience. We put so much weight on how we are perceived by others, especially through social media, that we forget to actually ask ourselves if we are ACTUALLY happy. Until you are happy with the person you are, I think it hard to develop meaningful and honest relationships.”
CF: “What emotions did you experience while viewing the finished film? Was it exactly as you had imagined?”
JM: “In all honesty, I have yet to see the completed film! I can’t wait for its debut on Dec. 7th!”
Be sure to share Jake’s thoughtful answers with others looking forward to watching Dumplin’!