The new Netflix series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is set to premiere in 2021. Michael Kramer, who composed the score for the original 1980s cartoon, will be returning to compose music for this live-action reboot.
The He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a popular 80’s animated series. It was recently announced that Netflix will be producing a new live-action He-Man film in 2021.
I recently spoke with composer Michael Kramer about his work on the Netflix series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which was just released. (Not to be confused with Masters of the Universe: Revelation, which was released this summer.)
Michael Kramer is a composer for cinema, television, and video games who has received two Emmy nominations. He studied film scoring at USC and has worked on a variety of projects, including LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures, and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, to name a few.
He-Man and his strong companions Teela, Duncan, and Cringer discover what it means to be a hero while fighting the evil powers of Skeletor and his henchmen in this retelling of the tale of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
Please enjoy my conversation on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe with Michael Kramer!
(Warning: there are storyline spoilers for the episode below.)
What was your path to becoming a composer?
I’ve always been drawn to music, and I used to walk into the piano room and practice the pieces my sisters were learning for their lessons. My mother used to read to me all the time, and reading was woven throughout all of our days together. At an early age, I felt like I had a story-telling imagination. Those two elements [music and narrative] twisted and turned throughout my life, ultimately merging into cinema composition. Being able to influence people’s emotions with music and make them feel one way or another is a really amazing thing. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like a magician.
I went to music school and ultimately transferred to USC’s film scoring department. To get me started, I had fantastic instructors and a fantastic network.
How did you hear about the upcoming Masters of the Universe series?
This time, the procedure was really very simple. My agency gave me a brief to make a demo for the program, and I wondered to myself, “Is this what I think it is?” With the demo, I really went for broke and took some risks. I wasn’t sure whether [the showrunners] would like what I wanted to hear in a He-Man remake soundtrack. They did, however, seem to be on the same page as me, and they chose me to score the performance.
Is a “demo” a large item, a little thing, or something else entirely?
That is an excellent question. You [the composer] are often given a few test sequences [to score], which I believe is more typical with animation. Because it’s early [in production] and you’re dealing with preliminary animatics or storyboards, they’re usually very rough. This may make it tough to figure out what’s going on on screen, and you’ll have to rely on your imagination to figure out “Is this character doing this?” Are they leaping to their feet and slamming against this character? Sure, I’ll take that.” All you have to do now is fill in the gaps.
I was given three distinct sequences to score: one action scene, one under-dialogue scene, and one comic one. [The filmmakers] were putting me through my paces with various emotional cross-sections to ensure that I could hit all of the show’s many tones. And that was the [demo] I handed in.
Before working on this series, how acquainted were you with Masters of the Universe? And what did you think of the story’s revised concept?
I was born in 1983, the same year the program debuted, therefore I was too young to see it when it first aired. Action figures, on the other hand, were a big part of my childhood. And the program itself didn’t occupy a significant portion of my imagination. Later on, I saw some of the episodes, but it was mainly about the action figures when I was a kid. The interesting part about the situation is that I felt like I had already formed my own opinions about the characters. I had my own interpretation of these people, as well as the world and mythology. It was much simpler for me to go on this path of redesigning the series after that. Mattel deserves credit for taking a chance and trying something new.
The closest comparison I can think of for making a remake of anything is performing a cover song. I attempt to imagine what makes a great cover song. It needs to be something that remains faithful to the original song’s melody and lyrics so that the original song’s essence is preserved. What’s more, it needs to be distinct from everything else around it; otherwise, what’s the point? This characteristic can be found in the most interesting cover songs, and I believe it can also be found in the most thrilling remakes. When it came to tackling the series, we wanted to remain loyal to the lyrics and music, MOTU’s “soul” (Masters of the Universe). Everything else…we wanted to take a risk and try something new. I believe it’s a fun and original approach that a new generation of youngsters will appreciate.
Was any of the music based on the original series, or any version of the narrative, or was it decided to go entirely unique with the musical soundtrack, given that this is a reinvention of He-story? Man’s
It was really unique. I went back and listened to a lot of the original music to familiarize myself with it. It’s so particular and of that era, and aesthetically, a lot has changed. When you consider the quantity of cinema music that has been released between 1983 and today, it’s easy to see how much has changed.
I did attempt to capture some fascinating tidbits, stuff that maybe no one else would notice but myself. Adam’s transformation melody in the original soundtrack is one such example. It’s in a certain scale/mode. Obviously, I didn’t use the same melody, but I did stick to the same scale. When you listen to the two themes, you’ll notice that they have distinct melodies yet use the same scale. When you hear that scale of music, you experience a same sort of feeling. I attempted to utilize little things like that to make some connections. At the end of the day, I wanted to create something that was both honest and genuine to me, as well as authentic to the show’s characters and narrative.
Was there a particular sound the filmmakers wanted you to aim for, or was it really up to you?
The showrunners allowed me a lot of leeway on this project, which was fantastic. It’s amazing how much they trusted me to simply go out and do new things. They made me feel like I could attempt anything and were always so encouraging. They were excellent at giving me feedback and would let me know if I was going in the wrong way or down a rabbit hole they didn’t want to go down. It seemed like I was in my own sandbox for the most part, and it was a lot of fun.
Do you have any instances of things that didn’t work out? Without giving in the first place?
That is an excellent question. The wonderful thing about my work is that a lot of things that are originally discarded ultimately make their way into the soundtrack. I discovered that if I was respectful of the items we discarded and didn’t forget about them, they would often reappear in unexpected and intriguing ways. One of the things I like about working in television is the wide range of possibilities. When working on a film, the narrative arc is rather brief. But with television, it’s epic; you’re scoring for hours and hours. Because the canvas is so big, there are lots of opportunities to experiment.
Do you have any particular themes in mind for the characters or locations in this series?
It was intimidating when I initially sat down to plan out the thematic world since there are so many distinct characters. The program has a lot of different topics. The music would not only reflect people, but also various concepts and locations, according to one thematic approach we chose. The famous “Force” theme from Star Wars is a great example. Some claim it’s Luke’s theme, while others say it’s the Force theme, both of which I agree with. As a character theme and a theme for this idea [of the Force], it works very well.
It’s a similar situation with Adam. His theme is also the Castle Greyskull theme. And the opening few notes of that tune serve as the theme for Greyskull’s “power.” His personality and power stem from the same source, Castle Greyskull, therefore it’s all connected. When you begin to make connections like this to character and idea, the music may begin to make intriguing connections and open wormholes to other moments that the audience may not have considered. As a composer, it’s my duty to attempt to establish all of these links and bring out elements in the narrative that rhyme.
I had a question regarding Keldor, who transforms into Skeletor: does Keldor’s theme transform into Skeletor’s tune, or does one feed into the other?
The motif for Skeletor was one of the first things I truly got into. His tune is identical to Skeletor’s and Keldor’s melodies. It’s the same person, same character, and same plot. The instrumentation, on the other hand, is unique. For his Keldor version, he uses eerie, slinking, shifting noises. It’s like putting the symphony through an amplifier as soon as he changes into Skeletor. There’s a lot of distortion, and I’m yelling into a microphone to make various shouting noises. If it didn’t give me the creeps, it wasn’t good enough for me. I put a lot of effort on this theme in order for it to live up to the title of “Lord of Darkness.”
How long did it take you to complete Masters of the Universe?
Each episode lasted a couple of weeks on average. It’s a massive piece of music with a lot of detail. This music is time-consuming since it isn’t simply huge orchestral, theme music, which takes a long time to compose. Furthermore, almost every character has their unique set of colors. Before I began scoring, I ran a lot of tests to make sure that each character had a distinct sound that you can recognize when you hear it. Within the musical environment, each character has their own distinct tone. It’s a vibrant soundtrack, and painting in all those hues takes a long time. However, I believe it contributes to the narrative and helps viewers fall in love with the characters.
Do you have a favorite piece of music from this series that you’d like to share?
I believe “We Have the Power” came out beautifully. It’s the track where our MOTU characters get their first taste of power. It’s also the first time you’ll hear the MOTU theme in its entirety. It’s unusual to have such a large canvas on which to compose a large tune, and the images in that sequence are just breathtaking. That one turned out fantastically.
I’d want to express my gratitude to Michael Kramer for taking the time to talk to me about his work on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe on Netflix! I hope you liked the interview and that you have a wonderful day!
Interviews with Composers
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