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Latest Articles

New breed of Oscar-nominated composers, songwriters

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017 at 7:50 am

My final two Variety stories for this Oscar season not only recap the nominees but look at the races in historical terms. Four of the five nominees in each music category (song and score) are first-timers to the competition. And in the score category, most of the composers didn’t go the traditional route of simply… Read More

Mica Levi, “Jackie’s” Oscar-nominated composer

Thursday, February 16th, 2017 at 1:29 pm

British experimental-pop musician Mica Levi is only the fourth woman to be nominated for “original score” at the Academy Awards. Her music for Jackie, bold and even startling as applied by director Pablo Larrain, has won attention throughout this awards season. I interviewed her while she was on tour with her band in Europe, and… Read More

Will “La La Land” mean more new screen musicals?

Friday, February 10th, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Perhaps the most interesting of my post-Oscar-nomination assignments: The editors at Variety posed this question: Will the success of La La Land result in studios — which have been reluctant to green-light musicals without a built-in audience — starting to take risks again on original concepts that happen to include actors breaking into song? I… Read More

Voter guides to Oscar music categories

Thursday, February 9th, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Here, in two succinct stories with bullet points, are the basics of all 10 nominees in the Oscar “best song” and “best original score” categories for 2016. Variety annually asks me to discuss each nominee, listing their past Oscar record (and this year, it’s mostly newcomers) plus the general vibe of the music, and a… Read More

Songs by top artists for documentary films

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017 at 11:16 am

An astonishing number of major pop and rock artists are now contributing songs to documentaries. This year, nearly a fifth of all the songs entered for Oscar consideration came from non-fiction films, and some of those were written and/or performed by among the biggest names in music. For the lead story in this week’s special… Read More

“Deadpool” composer Tom Holkenborg

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017 at 10:39 am

Dutch composer Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, has been quietly toiling for the past decade in Hollywood, contributing bits and pieces to films like Catwoman, The Dark Knight Rises and Inception. But in the past three years he’s really broken out, partnering with his friend Hans Zimmer on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and… Read More

Music in six major 2016 releases

Sunday, January 8th, 2017 at 12:17 pm

It’s always fascinating to talk with composers about how they go about scoring a film, what their approach to the material is, how they work with different directors. For this story — that first appeared in last week’s Music for Screens section of Variety — I interviewed seven composers: Marcelo Zarvos (Fences), Carter Burwell (The… Read More

Justin, Lin-Manuel, Camille talk songs in animated movies

Saturday, January 7th, 2017 at 8:30 am

One of the challenges of today’s more limited space in print media is condensing sometimes lengthy, comprehensive interviews down to their very essence. Yet it’s always fun to talk with major musical artists about working in film, which generally involves more specific parameters than just writing or arranging a song for a record. So for… Read More

The music of “Hidden Figures”

Friday, January 6th, 2017 at 10:53 am

It’s a rare treat to be able to sit down with two of the towering figures of pop music and film music to talk about a collaboration for film. In this case it was songwriter-producer Pharrell Williams and top Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer — along with their friend and musical colleague Benjamin Wallfisch. The three… Read More

Burt Bacharach’s return to film scoring

Thursday, January 5th, 2017 at 11:33 am

It was a surprise to discover that 88-year-old songwriting legend Burt Bacharach had decided to score a new movie, and write a new movie song, for the first time in 16 years. It’s no shame to admit that I was thrilled to get the opportunity to sit down with the man who wrote “The Look… Read More

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In Person

  • On NPR’s “Here and Now”

    February 22, 2017 at 7:22 am Here&NowNPR

    On Tuesday, I chatted with Jeremy Hobson on NPR’s daily newsmagazine Here & Now about this year’s Oscar song nominees. We got to play all five — two from the musical  La La Land, one from Moana, the big Justin Timberlake hit from Trolls, and the Sting song from the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story — and discuss the pros and cons of 6,600 Academy voters trying to choose a “best song” from among five worthy nominees. Here is the link to that 11-minute piece.

  • Video interviews with Oscar-nominated composers

    February 17, 2017 at 7:41 am JBwithNicholasBritell2017

    Justin Hurwitz talks about composing the songs and score for La La Land; Dustin O’Halloran discusses the complexities of writing the music for Lion with another composer on the other side of the world; and Nicholas Britell explains how a hip-hop technique informed his piano-and-violin score for Moonlight. SoundWorks Collection offered a rare opportunity to go in-depth with each of these Oscar-nominated composers, talking about the unique challenges of each film and even playing their key themes at the piano. Here is the Hurwitz video, shot in a unique North Hollywood location; here is O’Halloran, in his Los Angeles studio; and here is Britell, talking and performing in L.A.’s legendary Nightbird studio. The series is called “Road to the Oscars,” and I was delighted to be its host.

  • Interviewing Michael Giacchino on “Rogue One”

    December 19, 2016 at 7:16 am jbwithgiacchinorogueone2016

    I have interviewed composer Michael Giacchino for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and, most often, for Variety. Yesterday was a rare instance of me doing so in a public forum. Giacchino (whose 2016 films already included Star Trek Beyond, Zootopia and Doctor Strange) joined me onstage at the Linwood Dunn theater in Hollywood for a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As always, he was candid and funny, talking about the rushed schedule, finding the right John Williams-style sound for the film, and his plans for next year (which include Spider Man: Homecoming and War for the Planet of the Apes).

  • Interviewing Burt Bacharach for “Po”

    December 1, 2016 at 12:51 pm L-R: JB, Burt Bacharach, director John Asher

    It was a distinct honor to be asked to interview legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach Wednesday night before a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of the new film Po, about a single father struggling to raise his autistic son. Joining me onstage was director John Asher, who himself has an autistic son — and whose accidental meeting of Bacharach on a plane a few months ago led the three-time Oscar winner (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Arthur) to decide not just to write a song for Po but to score the entire film. Bacharach told the tragic story of his own daughter Nikki, born prematurely in 1966 and who was only diagnosed late in life as autistic; she committed suicide in 2007. I’ll be writing in more depth about Bacharach and his score later this month for Variety.

  • “Jungle Book” with Debney, Sherman & Favreau

    November 22, 2016 at 10:01 am L-R: Jon Favreau, Richard Sherman, John Debney, JB

    John Debney is one of Hollywood’s finest composers and a really super guy to boot. I’ve known him for more than 20 years and his output contains many wonderful scores (as diverse as The Passion of the Christ and The Princess Diaries, not to mention Elf and Dreamer). On Monday I was pleased to moderate a discussion about the music of Disney’s The Jungle Book with Debney, original Jungle Book songwriter Richard Sherman, and director Jon Favreau. Debney and Sherman told surprising and funny stories about Debney’s youth, hanging around the Disney lot (his dad worked there) and meeting the famous Sherman Brothers in the mid-1960s. Favreau’s own comments demonstrated a genuine appreciation for Debney’s artistry. The Society of Composers & Lyricists audience was warm and welcoming.

  • “Waterfront,” “Casablanca” with the LA Phil

    November 21, 2016 at 5:30 am laurakarpmanwithjb

    The music of On the Waterfront and Casablanca were the subject of “Upbeat Live” talks I moderated on Friday and Sunday prior to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s first-ever live-to-picture concerts of both scores at Disney Hall. David Newman, who conducted both, was on hand to offer musical insights into the classic Leonard Bernstein and Max Steiner scores. On Friday we were also joined by composer Laura Karpman, and on Sunday our guest was composer Charles Bernstein. Both Karpman and Bernstein are current governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences; this past weekend’s concerts marked the first of several events in the new three-year partnership of the Phil and the Academy. I also contributed the program notes for both films (Casablanca is here; On the Waterfront is here).

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