Why Renée Zellweger Drinking a Slurpee Was Integral to ‘The Thing About Pam’s’ Score

Pam Hupp, the real-life murderer played by Renee Zellweger in NBC’s “The Thing About Pam,” apparently had a habit of slurping her flavored soft drink from the local convenience store. It’s a recurring gag in the six-part series, and it even became part of its musical score.

Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli, the composing team whose music for “The Witcher” became a viral hit in early 2020, have spent the last five months coming up with unique sounds for “Pam,” which dramatizes a small-town Missouri murder in 2011 and the botched police investigation that followed.

“This is a true-crime, network show,” Ostinelli notes, “and there is a certain sound that goes with this. We needed to do something completely different.” Especially when showrunner Jenny Klein asked the composers for a theme that said “minimalistic, playful ‘Jaws,’” a reference to John Williams’ classic shark theme from 1975.

“Pam tromps through town like she’s larger than life,” explains Belousova. “She’s on a mission, marching to the beat of her own drum, and nothing will get in her way. Her theme is a very short, a few-note motif combined with a predatory march.” And a rhythmic element in the piece is a slurping sound that adds an unexpectedly humorous touch.

“Giona is a master slurper,” Belousova says with a laugh. “It’s not only in the score but they’re also using it in the sound design.” It’s one of many offbeat sounds that the pair came up before shooting even began.

“Pam is not who she seems to be,” says Belousova. “She seems to be a good friend, a loving daughter, a star witness, all these nice things, when in fact she’s not. We thought, how do we take very simple instruments and twist them in a way that they become something they are not?”

They took an English horn and manipulated its gorgeous sound downward into “a very low, uncomfortable, menacing sonority,” she says, almost like a bassoon. They used a prepared piano, placing coins between the strings (“because Pam is all about the money”); and transposed the sound of a harmonica into something “brooding, terrifying,” Ostinelli says.

Then they added an occasional “ka-ching” sound by sampling a cash register; and commissioned an Italian instrument maker to create a combination waterphone and daxophone for even weirder percussive noises.

Yet, Belousova reminds of the ultimate gravity of the tale. “It is at the core an emotional story, a real tragedy about real people. So we opted for a string quartet, this raw and fragile sound, sometimes unrefined, sometimes a bit out of tune or edgy, but the perfect backdrop.”

“The whole score revolves around Pam,” she explains. “You hear this theme in a gazillion modifications and variations, whether menacing and driving or slow and foreboding, absurd and even funky.” Zellweger, upon hearing the proposed theme before shooting, asked to hear more. “It was helping her to prepare for the role,” Ostinelli says.

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