The Princess Switch: Switched Again is a sequel to the hit holiday film on Netflix starring Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical, Rent: Live) as both a baker from Chicago and a duchess from a fictional European city in a Parent Trap-Esque romantic comedy. To tug at your heartstrings with musical notes is composer Alan Lazar.
The Princess Switch: Switched Again finds us back in the life of Stacy DeNovo, the baker from Chicago. Stacy’s BFF, Kevin, played by Nick Sagar (Supergirl), and his precocious daughter Olivia (now played by Alex Adeosun) return as well. As would happen, the plot brings Stacy and Lady Margaret Delacourt, the duchess, and Stacy’s doppelgänger, back together. But, as sequels will do, the hijinks of the first film are taken to new, exciting heights, with Vanessa Hudgens playing yet another character.
PopAxiom spoke with Alan Lazar about his road to making music for film and television, including taking the composing reigns for The Princess Switch: Switched Again.
Speak The Language
Alan grew up in South Africa, where he studied “computer science and political studies.” So, how did making music change the course of his studies? “I’d always played music. I was classically trained as a kid, so it was always a part of my life. But I never seriously considered it as a career.”
“In college,” he continues, “I played in a band — Mango Groove — on weekends to earn some extra cash. Unexpectedly, we got a record deal, which ended up being one of the biggest selling pop albums in South Africa. We were one of the first multi-racial bands in South Africa in the early 90s. It was a real symbol of the changes happening in the country. We tapped into a lot of positive feelings back then.”
Now a hit musician in his country, Alan says, “That gave me the confidence to get on this creative path. I’d always loved movies, and I applied to a bunch of film schools in the US, thinking I could study directing and screenwriting.” Alan won a Fullbright scholarship to USC Film School in LA where he was on track for a Master’s Degree in directing and screenwriting. “What happened along the way is I started writing music for student films. I discovered that’s what I love doing more than anything. I found directing and writing quite stressful, but writing music for a film I loved from the moment I started doing it.”
Few composers studied directing and screenwriting. “In a weird way,” Alan says, “it helped. I know the language of film well, and so much of film is collaborating and communicating. I can speak the language of a director.”
Film Vs. TV
Alan’s worked on TV series like The Real Housewives of Orange County and the film Holiday in the Wild. What’s different about the two mediums, and what’s the same? “At the end of the day, it’s all about the emotions you want to put in those images. The whole process between something like Housewives and scoring a film is so fundamentally different.”
Alan shares his view on the differences. “With Housewives, they like to edit to music. So, I give them music at the beginning of a season. We have this shorthand now; we have categories for the types of tracks I create for them. So, it’ll be like ‘light tension,’ ‘medium tension’’ or ‘heavy tension.’ There will be one for ‘sweeping glamour’ or the comedy ones will have labels like ‘quirky-cool’ or ‘quirky whimsical’ and ‘quirky awesome.’”
“They’ll order things from me at the start of the season,” he says, “so it’s kind of like the score is coming before the picture. It’s generally very energetic score; very beat-oriented and groove-oriented.”
“Scoring a movie is so different,” Alan continues, “Generally, I only start writing music when there’s a cut of the movie, often a very advanced cut of the movie. I’m crafting every single piece of music directly to those pictures. So, it’s the pictures that inspire me. Also, when you score a project like a film, you have to make sure every note hits in the right spot. You’re generally writing music that doesn’t function by itself. It’s meant to support the story.”
“Another big difference,” Alan says, “is the point of contact. Generally, on TV, I’m dealing with the producers, and the director is more of a hired hand, but in movies, directors are the driving creative force.”
About The Princess Switch: Switched Again
The Princess Switch was a huge hit for Netflix, and Switched Again followed suit, becoming the number one global movie on the streaming giant in the first week of its premiere. Alan’s work on The Princess Switch: Switched Again came about due to word of mouth, and it proved to be a great counter to this stressful year. “I loved working on The Princess Switch: Switched Again. Given everything with COVID, I was in my studio writing music for this joyful, upbeat, Christmas romantic comedy. It was a nice tonic for reality.”
“It’s so feel-good and upbeat,” Alan says of the sequel, “It’s got great production design. Vanessa Hudgens is amazing. She plays three roles.”
Alan watched the first film to “get a sense of the tone. Director Mike Rohl gave me a lot of detail and helpful information about what sort of feeling and tone they wanted to keep from the first, but also where they wanted to go with the new movie.”
“The biggest note to me,” he says, “was that they wanted to make it bigger all around than the first. We upped a notch on the score. It’s a full orchestral score which we recorded in Budapest, all remotely.”
The Princess Switch: Switched Again adds a new layer to the underscore’s equation. “At the same time, there’s a new character that Vanessa plays who gets specific scoring in a style that’s quite different than the first one.”
“It’s a big score,” he asserts, “about 65 minutes of music. The director loved music, and he wanted to have a lot of music.”
The Princess Switch: Switched Again takes everything you love about the first but to a whole new level of excitement. “There are a couple of scenes in the movie where there’s wall-to-wall action. Those kinds of cues are a bit more difficult to write.”
“There was also a scene towards the end,” Alan reminisces, “which was a combination of an action scene, but with a strong emotional component. I worked hard on that scene; it’s a three-and-a-half-minute cue. My initial draft of that took me about nine hours. That’s a long time for me, particularly for a first draft. I wanted to fuse the emotion with what the scene needed pace-wise.”
Alan shares a story of how deep his connection to his job — and this cue — go. “As a composer, sometimes you have to go to an emotional place. You’ve got to get yourself to that place and live in it. This particular cue was like that. It’s a romantic cue, but it’s also got hope and fear. A lot is going on in it. I came out of my studio with some tears in my eyes, and my kids were making fun of me, ‘You made yourself cry, daddy!’”
A lot of the score to Princess Switch: Switched Again happened through remote work. How does that affect making music? “There’s nothing like being with the musicians together. There’s a lot of communication that goes on that gets lost in these remote connections. At the same time, I have to say that I was nervous before working on the initial remote sessions. But they all went so well. I didn’t feel like I didn’t get something that I wanted.”
“Netflix allowed a couple of orchestras around the world to start doing recordings for them,” Alan shares, adding that Netflix allowed these orchestras “on the basis of having strict COVID protocols in place; string players wearing masks; woodwind and brass sections were put behind plexiglass.”
The process formed a connection between the Budapest Art Orchestra and Alan’s studio. “I could see video of them. I also had a direct text chat with the conductor. It was pretty incredible. He was quick on stuff. I could send him a note via text while he was conducting, and I could hear it straight away. We did between three to eight takes of every single cue. It was a lot to get through. We recorded over two days. Also, a separate grand piano part.”
“The nice thing about it,” Alan says, “a lot of people who wouldn’t normally come to a session were able to tune in remotely. The producers, the director, writers, some people from Netflix were all able to sit in. Weirdly, it made it all like a communal experience.”
Alan’s influences come from a familiar place to many movie fans. “I grew up on many of the typical American entertainment like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I loved all of them.”
“When I went to college in South Africa,” Alan continues, “I started getting more into local music like Mbaqanga, Marabi, and Kwela. It had a lot of influence on me musically. I had a classical music background and was well-acquainted with film music. But this unique South African scene fed my musical vocabulary.”
Alan shares four recent scores that blew him away. “The Chernobyl score by Hildur Guðnadóttir was interesting and groundbreaking. I love the Succession theme music and underscore by Nicholas Britell. A Spanish series on Netflix called Someone Has To Die from composer Luis Moreno. It was this dramatic, feisty, orchestral score with a bit of an old-school vibe. Nathan Barr’s score for Hollywood, I loved that.”
“One of those 60s or 70s TV shows,” Alan answers when asked about dream projects. “The Avengers, The Saint, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., anything from that era that’s sci-fi or detective. The scores for a lot of those shows are so good. They’re using live orchestras like most TV shows did back then, and they often used instruments in such fascinating ways. Doing a modern revamp of those scores and introducing contemporary elements would be fun.”
The Princess Switch: Switched Again is available on Netflix. So, what’s coming next from Alan? “I have several things floating. Nothing I can mention right now because I don’t want to jinx anything.”
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Thanks to Alan Lazar and Rhapsody PR
for making this interview possible.
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