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Latest Articles

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

Michael Giacchino and “Rogue One”

Thursday, January 5th, 2017 at 8:45 am

One of my favorite stories of the past year concerns Michael Giacchino — the composer of Ratatouille, Up and the Star Trek films — who, exhausted from scoring four major films in 2016, was all set to go on vacation when the phone rang, asking him if he might squeeze in a Star Wars film… Read More

The year’s best classic film music recordings

Thursday, December 29th, 2016 at 2:56 pm

Each year at this time I rummage through 12 months of CDs to chronicle the best of the year in “classic film music” — that is, the expanded reissues, the newly recorded scores, and in some special cases the first releases of great old scores that always deserved an album but never got one. There… Read More

Academy disqualification of “Arrival” score

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016 at 1:52 pm

I thought that Johann Johannsson’s music for Arrival was one of this year’s most interesting and creative film scores — yet the use of Max Richter’s 12-year-old classical piece “On the Nature of Daylight” (which bookends the film) was startling in terms of its stylistic differences. So it came as no surprise that the Academy… Read More

Johannsson-Villeneuve interview for DGA

Friday, December 16th, 2016 at 7:07 am

One of the year’s most interesting musical scores, for the sci-fi film Arrival, was the result of a close collaboration between Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson and Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, whose previous films Prisoners and Sicario were also notable for their music. DGA Quarterly editor Steve Chagollan asked me to get both on the phone… Read More

Challenges facing film composers

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016 at 12:00 pm

For one of its awards-related special end-of-year issues, Variety asked me to inquire of this year’s crop of potential score honorees about the challenges they face in a changing environment for composers in film. It was an interesting assignment, and I asked Johann Johannsson (Arrival), James Newton Howard (Fantastic Beasts), John Debney (The Jungle Book),… Read More

Barber, Levi, Dudley: women composers vie for awards

Thursday, December 8th, 2016 at 6:53 am

One of the most significant developments in the music community this year has been the advancement of women composers active in the visual media. For the lead story in this week’s special Contenders edition of Variety, I interviewed four composers with films opening in the last quarter — Anne Dudley (Elle), Lesley Barber (Manchester by… Read More

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In Person

  • 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).

  • “Hidden Figures” with Zimmer, Pharrell & Wallfisch

    November 20, 2016 at 9:05 am L-R: Benjamin Wallfisch, Pharrell Williams, Hans Zimmer, JB

    Last night I moderated a Q&A with top film composer Hans Zimmer, top songwriter-producer Pharrell Williams and their talented collaborator Benjamin Wallfisch, whose combined talents resulted in the score for an upcoming film, Hidden Figures. It’s the amazing untold story of three African-American women whose math and engineering skills helped catapult the United States into the space race in the early 1960s. I think it will stun a lot of people when it opens at Christmas. The Society of Composers & Lyricists sponsored the screening, and the lively discussion that followed featured Williams discussing his original songs, and Zimmer and Wallfisch talking about how they were further inspired by both the story and Williams’ ’60s-style sounds.

  • “Rebel Without a Cause” by the LA Phil

    November 18, 2016 at 3:05 pm L-R: JB, Charles Fox, Scott Dunn

    The Los Angeles Philharmonic, in partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, is doing a weekend of live-to-picture concerts of classic films. I’ve been asked to do the pre-concert talks, but instead of a lecture, I’m interviewing the conductors and current/former Academy music-branch governors. We began Thursday night with Leonard Rosenman’s score for the 1955 James Dean classic Rebel Without a Cause. Joining me in Disney Concert Hall were Scott Dunn, who not only restored the score for live performance (this was its debut) but also knew the composer quite well; and Charles Fox, the Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer and songwriter who is also a former Academy governor. We all talked about Rosenman’s life and career, and more specifically about his unique approach to Rebel — which combined his groundbreaking modernist style with a lively urban-jazz touch. Philharmonic performances of On the Waterfront and Casablanca will follow.

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