Every year at Oscar time, Variety asks me (and other writers) to talk to score composers who are in the running for awards. This season, it was Alexandre Desplat (for Philomena), Mark Orton (Nebraska) and John Williams (The Book Thief). Earlier in the season I interviewed Henry Jackman (Captain Phillips), Nicholas Britell (the period source music in 12 Years a Slave), Daniel Pemberton (The Counselor) and, of course, Hans Zimmer (Rush and 12 Years a Slave).
I walked into a scoring session for Frozen, not really knowing what to expect (except that I knew Chris Beck’s score would be great, and it was). What I found was a surprising group of musicians, songwriters, Disney animators and executives who hoped that, somehow, this long-in-gestation version of “The Snow Queen” would somehow resonate with moviegoers. (Boy, did it.) We were proud to introduce the musical ideas first, in the pages of Variety.
The 40-year odyssey to make a Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie was the subject of this Variety story, for which I interviewed producer John Davis, original star Robert Vaughn, and Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. consultant Robert Short. The print version (pictured here) featured lots of fun, colorful sidebar information that somehow didn’t translate well to the Variety website.
My friends at Emmy magazine asked me to profile three composers, all potential Emmy nominees for their scores for TV series in the 2012-13 season. Here’s the piece about John Lunn, who scores PBS’s Downton Abbey. I also wrote about Christopher Lennertz of NBC’s Revolution and Ramin Djawadi for HBO’s Game of Thrones. Will try to post those shortly.
… a headline I liked, for a change. This was a really interesting topic thrown me by a Variety editor: How has the music of comic-book movies changed over the years? Can you still do what John Williams did in Superman in 1978? Or does the music need to reflect the darker tone of many contemporary superheroes? Hans Zimmer, Brian Tyler and Marco Beltrami were some of those I interviewed on the subject.
As part of an 80th-birthday tribute, Variety asked me to assemble a list of 10 key moments from Quincy Jones’ career writing music for films and TV. It was a fascinating challenge, and while I had to omit a few personal favorites just because they’re now so obscure (John and Mary, $, The Hot Rock), I came up with 10 that I thought fit the bill. Started out with The Pawnbroker (of course) and ended with The Color Purple, sneaking in such TV classics as Ironside and The Bill Cosby Show along the way. Variety built it into a slideshow for the web. Incidentally, here is my two-and-a-half-hour interview with Quincy, done in 2002 for the Archive of American Television; and here is my 2001 review of his autobiography.
Thomas Newman, one of today’s brightest and most talented composers, has been the subject of many stories over the years. Most recently there was his score for the James Bond film Skyfall, which was Oscar-nominated and won a BAFTA. (Read more about it in my Bond book!) Before that, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Prior to that, the contrasting styles of The Help and The Iron Lady. Here’s one about Brothers, and another on Revolutionary Road and WALL-E. This one goes all the way back to American Beauty and The Green Mile.
One of the most contentious, and complex, issues facing Hollywood studio musicians is the role that the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) plays in their lives. If a movie production company or studio isn’t legally bound to score in Hollywood (only major studios and networks are), then they often choose to go overseas to record their music. A growing number of musicians are unhappy about this, and many are urging the AFM to agree to concessions in order to keep more recording work in L.A. This story reports what many had to say at a meeting in Santa Monica in late 2012. (The headline, incidentally, is misleading; it’s not so much about the composers but rather about the musicians who play the music.) And here’s a followup story from January 2013 on the issue.
Here is a group of stories I wrote for Variety about Marco Beltrami, one of today’s most innovative and sought-after composers for film. Just getting to his Malibu studio was something of an adventure. The main story includes quotes from collaborators ranging from James Mangold and Wes Craven to Tommy Lee Jones, and something of Beltrami himself talking about his journey. I also wrote about his unique studio and his recent, more intimate, scores.
During the summer and fall of 2012, Universal decided to issue new Blu-Ray editions of two Steven Spielberg classics, Jaws (1975) and E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). To help promote both, they asked me to interview composer John Williams — who won Oscars for each — about his memories of writing those now-iconic themes and scores. It was, as always with John Williams, a pleasure to interview him. We discovered photos from the period, too. The Jaws piece is here; the E.T. reminiscence is here.