Meet the Israeli composer behind the score of ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’

Israeli-Dutch composer Nami Melumad has an impressive resume. Here are her thoughts on Thor: Love and Thunder, how she got here, and what lies ahead.

 NAMI MELUMAD credits the training she received in Israel for giving her a solid foundation for her musical career.  (photo credit: ROY ZAFRAN)
NAMI MELUMAD credits the training she received in Israel for giving her a solid foundation for her musical career.
(photo credit: ROY ZAFRAN)

With the release of Thor: Love and Thunder, Natalie Portman may have become the latest Jewish superheroine, but Nami Melumad, one of two composers who penned the score for the film, also seems to have her own superpower for creating movie music. 

The Israeli-Dutch composer, who is now based in Los Angeles, has already scored more than 140 movies and television shows, including the Seth Rogen time-travel story An American Pickle, two recent Star Trek series and the Netflix series The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window.

At age 33, the Ramat Gan native looks and sounds considerably younger and responds to questions with the enthusiasm and modesty of someone who is loving every moment of her stellar career and never expected her passion for music would take her this far. 

Asked what she would be doing if she weren’t being interviewed, Melumad said she would probably be composing: “I’m working non-stop right now because I’m currently doing season two of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and I still have to finish up Star Trek: Prodigy, which is the other show I’m working on, and I’m starting a new indie movie on Wednesday so I need to get a head start on the Star Trek stuff.”

Part of the Marvel world

 NATALIE PORTMAN in 'Thor: Love and Thunder.' (credit: MARVEL) NATALIE PORTMAN in 'Thor: Love and Thunder.' (credit: MARVEL)

But while scoring a Star Trek series may be a typical Sunday morning for Melumad, being part of the Thor phenomenon has been particularly exciting, especially because it gave her the opportunity to collaborate with Michael Giacchino, an Oscar-winning composer who has written music for more than 150 movies, including Up, Jojo Rabbit and Jurassic World. 

She has worked with him before, notably on the Jewish-themed soundtrack of An American Pickle, for which, “he wrote the theme and I wrote the rest of the score.” Giacchino, who is set to direct an upcoming Marvel movie, “wasn’t originally supposed to work on [Thor], he had to be elsewhere and he asked me to come and help.... It was a true collaboration.”

She came on the project with about two months to finish the score, with nine days of recording with a 90-piece orchestra and a choir with 36 singers. By comparison, she said, the score of a Star Trek episode has about 37 musicians.

Was conducting such a huge group of musicians intimidating? Not really, she said. 

“It was very exciting, extremely cool.... It’s a gift of confidence when they believe in you.... But it was a big responsibility. The clock is ticking from the first minute you get the job, knowing you’re the person who is trying to get all these files [of music] to these musicians.”

Matching the music to the moves

The movie is constantly changing, even while she and Giacchino were writing the score, but she enjoyed that challenge.

“It’s a little messy, but as long as everyone is doing their jobs, it gets done.... You have the best people in the world working on these movies and things get done quickly.... When I work on the film, all these effects are not there, often I see the green screen.... You have to make it exciting.”

She thrives on high-pressure projects. 

“Deadlines are your best inspiration and your friend,” she said. “You can’t take your time, there is no time. The concept is the key, figuring out what the texture will be. That’s the thing I will take time with. Once you have the concept, you can speed-write everything else.”

"Deadlines are your best inspiration and your friend. You can’t take your time, there is no time."

Nami Melumad

While she loves the process, the fact that the movie will be seen by so many millions is not the point for her. 

“When I started out, I wrote a lot of songs, I wrote a lot of instrumentals, just for the sake of music. So I really hope to come back to that at some point, but for the time being, I’m enjoying that my music is part of the bigger picture. [In a movie] all the arts are coming together. You have directing, acting, writing, cinematography... and all these come together 

“When I write for Thor or Star Trek, it’s for the movie, everything you do is derived from the story and the characters, I love that puzzle thing it presents every time, the challenges it presents.... There are so many choices you can make and you want to make the choice that will have the most impact on the viewer. So I love that aspect of it and I love that so many people enjoy it and listen on Spotify, but this is not why I signed up for this job.”

Given her important contribution to Thor, it was surprising to learn that she had not seen the movie at a theater yet. 

“I’ve seen it so many times,” she said, but in rough cuts, while she was working. As she discussed how she scored a romantic moment, when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Jane/Mighty Thor (Portman), gaze at a school of space dolphins in the sky, she wondered if it made the final cut and noted that she was planning to see the finished film soon with friends. 

“I was just too busy to go to the premiere or any screenings,” she said. 

The rock songs that are a trademark of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general and of director Taika Waititi in particular, from bands such as Guns N’ Roses were already part of the rough cuts she saw and she got to work to create “orchestral music with rock band elements” so that the score complemented the songs already there. 

While she enjoys Marvel movies and series, particularly Ms. Marvel – “It has a great score by Laura Karpman” – she isn’t “as much of a Marvel fan as I am a Trekkie. For sure, that was a big dream come true.”

What is Melumad's background?

Melumad, who moved to Los Angeles in 2014 to attend the University of Southern California, credits the training she received in Israel for giving her a solid foundation for her musical career. She studied at Blich High School, where music was part of the curriculum, then put music on the back burner for a bit when she served in the IDF.

She had heard the music troupes were more laid back than she would feel comfortable with, and, “I wanted to do something more meaningful,” so she served in a unit that helped soldiers who were having difficulties in the army. Her army service taught her “self-discipline, the ability to work on a team,” as well as to work within a hierarchy, which served her well when she began making music in Hollywood. “I was such a good soldier, I’m such a nerd,” she noted. 

After her service, she studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, where she was in the multi-disciplinary track, learning not just contemporary composition but also how to compose in styles that were Indian, Arab and jazz, as well as Israeli classics by artists such as Sasha Argov. 

A classically trained performer, she was also in an orchestra. 

“The preparation I got at the Jerusalem Academy was super helpful,” for her subsequent career in film scoring. 

Among her upcoming projects is a piece she is working on with the Cincinnati Orchestra, and arranging pieces by younger musicians and writing a new piece of her own. 

“So that will be pretty cool,” she said. 

Melumad, who was interrupted during our chat occasionally by her cat and by a phone call from her father, said she makes lists of goals she would like to achieve. While she can check off many items from her list, there are many more she would like to accomplish. 

She enjoys working on both big special-effects movies, but scoring indie cinema is also important to her and writing music for a movie about Frances McDormand one day is one of her dreams. 

“I’m relentless with chasing after my dreams,” she said.