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Interview: Creative Team Behind The Buccaneers

A poster for The Buccaneer with black an white pictures of Laura Bellingham and AVAWAVES on top of it

We interview cinematographer Laura Bellingham and musical duo AVAWAVES, the creative team behind the Apple TV+ show The Buccaneers.

The Buccaneers is a historical drama series that premiered in 2023 on Apple TV+. Created by Katherine Jakeways, the show features a team of predominantly female creatives both in front of the screen and behind it. After the success of the first season, both critically and commercially, the series was renewed for a second season in December 2023.

Loosely based on an Edith Wharton novel of the same name, The Buccaneers is set in the 1890s and follows five wealthy but untitled young American women as they travel to England to participate in the London marriage season. As the series goes on, we see the five women experience cultural clashes in London’s high society as they have to face a new approach to tradition and love: in all of this, their friendship remains the most important thing of all. A lot of the show focuses on Annabel “Nan” St. George (Kristine Froseth) as she uncovers the family mystery that surrounds her birth and finds herself in a love triangle.

The unique atmosphere that mixes the period drama aesthetic with a modern one is definitely one of the most impressive elements of The Buccaneers. None of it would have been possible without the creative team behind the AppleTV show. In this interview, we sit down with Laura Bellingham, the cinematographer for the second half of the show, and AVAWAVES, a musical duo made up of Anna Phoebe and Aisling Brouwer who composed the music for the series.

Laura Bellingham, Anna Phoebe, and Aisling Brower on how they started working The Buccaneers

How did you become involved with this project? And what drew you to The Buccaneers in the first place?

Laura Bellingham: I was initially excited about the idea of looking at Edith Warthon again but with a youthful and dynamic outlook. The way The Buccaneers was sold to me was as a show that would be guided by the youthful movement of a young cast and how the characters would be moving against traditional society. There was always this tension between the two worlds and that was interesting to me because it was clearly going to be represented in the visual language too.

Aisling Brower:  We were first approached to pitch on this project because one of the people on the music team was a fan of our band, AVAWAVES. We have been working together for several years now as AVAWAVES, and she had listened to our music through that. So, we got approached as a duo to write the music for the show. After that, we pitched on it through multiple rounds: this is how we got to know the team and instantly felt a connection to all of them. It was amazing to see this group of women working on it and we were very much on the same page. We were really inspired by everyone who worked on the show.

Interview: Creative Team Behind The Buccaneers – AVAWAVES’ music for the show (AVAWAVES)

How did you approach composing for the show?

Anna Phoebe: As Aisling said, it really started with a conversation with the team. We talked about the different themes of the characters: at the very heart of The Buccaneers, there are these amazing and strong women stories – both the younger women and the older generations. We wanted to show everything through the lenses of the female characters. We developed the music as the series went on and the stories became much more involved with internal feelings.

At first, it is all about beautiful women and glamorous dresses, but as the series goes on, it gets darker and grittier. We wanted to show that in the music: we started with more floral tones, with strings and piano. But as the series got darker and the stories became more intense, we stripped out some of the high ends of the strings in our orchestral sessions and had lots of grittier sounds in the cellos and electronics. We wanted to bring in those darker and more urgent elements to the story through the soundtrack.

Were you familiar with Edith Wharton’s novel or with the previous screen adaptations of The Buccaneers?

L.B.: I was. I started to listen to it as an audiobook to give me a sense of the story. But I also felt like the show wanted to do something new and different. The novel was useful for me to understand the relationship between the characters and the origin of the story, but what we were doing with the show was quite different, tonally the series wants to create a mash-up of different energies and influences.

[One of the adaptations] is interesting: it is on YouTube and I watched some clips. I think it is useful to see the placement of our project in a timeline, but it is very different and what we were doing had to be its own thing. In our show, that they were intentionally putting it in the hands of a very young cast. Even if they are the same story, it goes in different directions. I think it is also about keeping the audience in mind and what is going to thrill and excite people: the female self-actualization feels relevant now, and even possible in a way that maybe would not have been 20 years ago.

The creative team behind The Buccaneers on the themes, period drama atmosphere, and the main characters of the show

Was the main theme of friendship something that you kept in mind as the filming of the show went on?

Laura Bellingham: Definitely. What I really liked about the show, and about the way Katherine wrote it, was that you can have all these love affairs – you can even get married and have children – but ultimately, the female friendships are where the growth is. Sisterhood is really the linchpin of everything, the love between sisters is what will hold them together. I think that was what was exciting about it because that’s a new kind of storytelling where the men are instrumental and secondary.

Aesthetically, the series combines different words – the United States and England, younger and older generations – how did you work on portraying that visually?

L.B.: When we get to my episodes, a lot of that has already happened: they already had the moment of meeting and clashing with the English society and the girls are already starting to transition and change it. The relationships become more embedded one with the other, especially the boys and the girls because the love stories are developed enough that it is more about how Nan is navigating them. By episode three, they are already mixing up to the point that England looks different once Nan is there. There is the scene where she meets the Duchess that is very still: there is a kind of shortness in the framing and it is very central. When we are with the girls, [the framing] is much more fluid, it loosens up and everything is dirtied up. It is not single shots anymore and the way the camera films the characters is a lot more loose.

Kristine Frøseth in episode 3 of The Buccaneers, which the creative team behind the show talks about in this interview
Interview: Creative Team Behind The Buccaneers – Kristine Frøseth in episode 3 of the show (Apple TV+)

Nan’s Theme is very unique and one of my favourite pieces from The Buccaneers: did you work on having a theme for every main character and how did you approach combining the classical atmosphere with a modern soundtrack?

Aisling Brower: Yes, I think we definitely wanted to focus on giving everyone a strong sense of self and a voice in the show. As The Buccaneers progresses, the women tend to build their confidence, find their voice, and have their own opinions of what they actually want in life. And we had this idea of the voice that you hear in the music that starts almost as an echo and, as the show goes on, becomes a lot more pronounced and stronger. It came from a place where we responded to it quite instinctively because we wanted to make sure that we were giving all these layers and complexities and not just representing a nice and pretty period drama. We wanted to show a diverse range of emotions coming from within them and all the contention within that.

Anna Phoebe: I think that is why consciously chose not to use lyrics in our score. There is only one cue when the girls are on the bed together where we wrote some lyrics. The rest of the time it is about the vocalist’s voice being this intentional reflection of the internal workings of these girls but without distracting too much from the narrative or storytelling. Our job was also to provide a link between the original music and the licensed music which is all by these very strong women who have a lot to say with their lyrics and attitude. We were kind of a bridge between the classical world and the modern soundtrack. Using the vocals – in Nan’s Theme especially, which is more rhythmic – is just another instrument that helps to underpin the narrative and not tell another story. The music tells a story that you are already seeing from the girls on the screen.

Laura Bellingham on shooting on location for The Buccaneers and female representation behind the camera

A lot of The Buccaneers is shot on location: how did you work on that? Did it present any challenges for you?

Laura Bellingham: That was the best and worst thing about The Buccaneers. They were so adamant on [shooting on location] because they wanted it to feel real. Everything had to have the feeling of an expanding world: as the audience, you are growing with Nan, as her world is expanding, so is the audience’s. With each location, we are getting bigger and bigger, everything is just growing in scale and size.

That was constantly challenging, but also very exciting because it was all in real locations, real places, some were National Trust and protected places too, so I had to work with that. It is a blessing because there are so many natural wonders in those spaces, but most stately homes are built to be facing south. That is great if you are sitting down and drinking tea in a parlour, but if you are shooting in the same room all day, it’s a nightmare. The question was: how can we make these wonderful natural spaces work for us?

Do you have a favourite location to shoot in at all?

L.B.: Episode four was almost shot entirely in one location: Manderston House. And we really shot it as a real space, there wasn’t really any cheating. We have a two-and-a-half-minute scene which takes Nan’s mother all the way through the house from one end to the other during a ball. That was really fun because we just let the location be what it was and explored it through the different characters. We rehearsed that for about a day and we shot it three times, I think we shot it four or five times, but got it on the third take. That was very exciting because we had sort of 150 extras, in one shot down the staircase. We had built in a cut point just to cover ourselves but our operator got it in one, so we were very excited about that. I think Manderston House was the most thrilling location.

A man and a woman dance in episode 4 of The Buccaneers, which the creative team behind the show talks about in this interview
Interview: Creative Team Behind The Buccaneers – A still from the ball scene in episode 4 (Apple TV+)

I know you are a part of Illuminatrix, a collective promoting UK-based female DoPs. How important is it to have such a community and have this kind of support group?

L.B.: Illuminatrix was a game changer for me, because it felt like only a few women were working in the industry. Illuminatrix found strength in numbers, in sharing information and having support, which became quite powerful. Over the years, I have noticed how key visibility is for younger women coming up. Visibility really is key for any sort of minority in the camera department or underrepresented department in our industry: it just feels like if you see it, you can be it. And what I find is that people come up to me and tell me how great it is to see me at work, Illuminatrix really just raised my profile in that sense, so it has been very important.

AVAWAVES on working as a duo and the future of The Buccaneers

I find it really fascinating that you work as a duo: is it ever challenging? Does it bring any challenges and rewards in how you work?

Anna Phoebe: There are huge rewards to working as a duo, especially for something like this. There is so much music and so much to do: when deadlines are tight and you have a lot of music to deliver, it is good to have someone else to bounce those ideas back with. We always write all themes together and then work independently and then come back together for the orchestral sessions and final mixes. It is like the best of both worlds! The challenge is that we are working in two different places at the same time, but we want to be next to each other. But we can work hopefully faster and more efficiently when there are two of us.

Aisling Brouwer: I think, inspiration-wise, it is also such a luxury to not only have your own voice in your head the whole time. If you are stuck on something, you can send it over and there is another voice to bounce back off and re-inspire a theme or an idea. We work really well in both adding a layer to a theme or bringing something different to the table, that is when it becomes AVAWAVES.

A. P.: I agree with that. When you talk about having another voice, that is the AVAWAVES voice: what makes it an AVAWAVES score is that extra filter, it represents the music we make together. It is about getting that balance of the AVAWAVES sound, but we ultimately have to serve the picture. It’s getting to that sweet spot where we put our individual ideas on the table, but we are ultimately serving the narrative.

Will you be involved in season two, now that it’s been confirmed? And if so, what are you most excited to work on in the next season?

A. P.: We are very excited that we have been confirmed to do season two! In the next few weeks, we’re going to have meetings about the season. I [am looking forward to] just getting back into that room, chatting with the team and finding out what the ideas are for season two. I think, like everyone who has watched season one, we want to know what happens! We are excited to develop the themes we have touched on and develop what we wrote for the first series with a whole new fresh outlook for the next series.

A. B.: I think everybody on the team will be really excited because we have built such a bond. It is such a journey doing a whole season like that all together: by the time we got to episode eight it felt like everyone knew exactly where we were going with everything. It feels like season two will start from such a high level of peak already, so I am super excited for us to take everything forward.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Watch on Apple TV

Season 1 of Apple TV+’s The Buccaneers is now available to watch on digital and on demand. Season 2 of The Buccaneers is likely to be released in 2025: here’s what to expect from Season 2 of The Buccaneers!

The Buccaneers Season 2: What to Expect – Loud And Clear Reviews
The Buccaneers was renewed for Season 2, but what can we expect from the upcoming series of the AppleTV+ show?
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