Category Archives: Film Music

Making Mexican Music for Pixar’s “Coco”

This piece, the lead Artisans story in this week’s Variety, was both complicated and a joy to write. Disney/Pixar always goes to great lengths to find the right score (and often songs) for each of its films, but on Coco they went to extremes. Coco, which opens next week, is set during Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” celebration, and is about a boy who desperately wants to be a musician — something his family is dead-set against. The filmmakers hired the ever-reliable Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille, Up) to compose the score, but added Mexican-American composer Germaine Franco to orchestrate and co-write several of the songs. And they arranged for many of Mexico’s top musicians to perform much of the background music you hear. Oh, and not incidentally, they asked Frozen songwriters Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez to pen a key song heard several times in the movie.

Film Music in Concert: More Popular than Ever

Movie music in the concert hall seems to be, as they say, “trending” — it’s more popular than ever, and in many different forms. For the lead story in this week’s Variety “Music for Screens” section, I interviewed three composers (David Newman, who recently conducted the New York Philharmonic in sold-out Star Wars shows ; Ramin Djawadi, whose Game of Thrones tour was so successful he’s planning another; and Hans Zimmer, whose European and American tours transformed the traditional “film music” show into more of a rock concert); and three producers, including Steve Linder and Jamie Richardson from Film Concerts Live! and Richard Kraft, who has produced a number of concerts of Danny Elfman and Disney films.

Thunder Road

One of the all-time great “B” movies is Robert Mitchum’s 1958 Thunder Road, the story of bootleg whiskey makers in Tennessee and their efforts to outrun the federal agents who pursue them and outwit the crime syndicate that wants to take them over. And when I say “Mitchum’s” movie, it’s not just an acting performance — he came up with the story, produced it, and even co-wrote and sang the theme song that became as famous as the movie itself. This first-ever release of the Thunder Road score features Jack Marshall’s guitar-dominated, country-flavored music for the film, plus two other Marshall scores from that era (Take a Giant Step and The Rabbit Trap). The composer would go on to greater fame with the 1960s theme for the TV comedy The Munsters. I penned the notes for this album, alongside tributes by composer John Williams (a longtime friend and colleague of Marshall) and producer Frank Marshall (the composer’s son).

Awards season begins; early score contenders

For Variety‘s first Contenders issue of the year, I profiled four early scores that could be vying for “original score” honors as the 2017 awards season gets underway: Dario Marianelli’s music for Darkest Hour; Thomas Newman’s music for Victoria & Abdul; Carter Burwell’s music for Wonderstruck; and Rupert Gregson-Williams’ music for Wonder Woman. This is just the beginning, of course — there will be other stories about composers and songwriters during November and December, as the season progresses.

Lalo Schifrin 85th Birthday Concert

Renowned film and TV composer Lalo Schifrin turned 85 this year, and the occasion was commemorated Saturday night with a concert featuring many of his memorable themes — everything from Mission: Impossible and Mannix to Bullitt and Dirty Harry. It was a co-production of Musicians at Play Foundation and Varese Live, with proceeds benefiting the Music Fund of Los Angeles. The show consisted of nearly three hours of great big-band performances, beautifully rendered songs and rare video clips of the maestro at work; veteran Varese producer Robert Townson hosted. My review of the evening is here.

Wallfisch on the music of “Blade Runner,” “It”

With Blade Runner 2049 opening this weekend, and the colossal box-office success of It, I thought it was the perfect moment to talk at length with composer Benjamin Wallfisch about both scores — which, incidentally, couldn’t be farther apart in terms of style and execution. Wallfisch collaborated with Hans Zimmer on the all-electronic score for Blade Runner, and in this interview for Variety he discusses their intent to remind us of the sound of the original (composed in 1982 by Vangelis) while also making it fresh for a new story set 30 years later. Wallfisch also discusses his complex and frightening symphonic score for the Stephen King thriller It, which must rank among the finest orchestral scores of the year.

Pasek & Paul’s new songs for Hugh Jackman & Co.

It was a genuine thrill to be the first journalist allowed to hear the songs that Oscar- and Tony-winning tunesmiths Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have penned for the upcoming Hugh Jackman film The Greatest Showman (debuting at Christmas), a musical biopic of the legendary P.T. Barnum. It’s the lead music story in this week’s Variety, and includes a brief look at four of the songs, plus interviews with the songwriters, Jackman and director Michael Gracey. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Pasek & Paul are today’s hottest musical-theater writers, only a few months after winning Oscars for La La Land and Tonys for Dear Evan Hansen. Plus they are really terrific guys who have an amazing sense of musical-theater history.

John Williams, Kobe Bryant at the Bowl

Animator Glen Keane’s sketch of John Williams conducting his Dear Basketball score at the March 2017 recording session.

The annual John Williams concerts at the Hollywood Bowl are always cause for celebration, and they remain as popular as ever, generally selling out three consecutive nights on a late-summer weekend. But this year offered a surprise: Williams conducted, live-to-picture, his score for the animated short Dear Basketball, based on Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant’s farewell poem to his beloved sport, narrated in person by Bryant himself. I contributed the program notes, as I often do for this concert (co-conducted by David Newman), but this year I also had the opportunity to preview the Dear Basketball premiere (including a new interview with director-animator Glen Keane), and I wrote about the concerts afterward.

Tax credits for recording film music in L.A.?

The American Federation of Musicians, particularly its Local 47 and its Recording Musicians Association conference, has been struggling for years to lure recording work back to L.A.; much of it is now done off-shore, especially in London and other European cities, primarily because of the union’s insistence on residuals for studio musicians. Its latest tactic is now before the California legislature in the form of tax credits offered to films made overseas and low-budget independent productions. I explore this plan in a story for Variety; and followed it up a few days later with a report about a music-filled rally the union staged downtown in front of City Hall.

“Women Who Score” Film Spotlights Composers

A year ago, in August 2016, a unique and important concert happened in downtown Los Angeles: A 55-piece orchestra and 30-voice choir performed the music of 20 leading film, TV and game composers — all of whom happened to be female. Sponsored by the Alliance for Women Film Composers to call attention to their underrated but wildly talented membership, it was filmed by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Sara Nesson, who has turned the experience into a 12-minute short. For this piece in Variety, I interviewed Nesson and two of the composers showcased on that concert, Lolita Ritmanis (Young Justice) and Germaine Franco (Coco).