It seems like the whole world is gearing up for the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, the fantasy series that returns to HBO on April 14. In anticipation of this, I interviewed Ramin Djawadi — who won his first Emmy last year for his music for the final episode of the seventh season — about his history with the show. For this Variety story, he talks briefly (without spoilers) about working on the final season, about what the journey has been like (including a world tour with live orchestras playing the music) and what his top five musical moments in the series have been. Game of Thrones, you’ll not be surprised to learn, has changed his life.
Composer Benjamin Wallfisch — recently Grammy-nominated for his contributions to the Hidden Figures and Blade Runner 2049 soundtracks — has no fewer than three major projects being released in April: feature film scores for Shazam! (a big symphonic approach for the comic-book adaptation), Hellboy (a punk-infused score for the reboot) and Hostile Planet (a six-hour nature documentary for National Geographic). London-born, thoroughly trained in the classical world but relatively new on the Hollywood scene, he talks about his life and recent career in this story for Variety. And Hans Zimmer talks about their collaborations in this second story from the same issue.
I was amused to see my name atop the list of authors of this new book about the Marvel Universe of comic-book heroes (there are 20 of us, including the late Stan Lee) — it was, of course, an alphabetical listing on Amazon. But I was delighted to be asked to write an essay about music in the Marvel movies, which provided an opportunity to talk with such celebrated composers as Alan Silvestri (Captain America, The Avengers), Patrick Doyle (Thor), Brian Tyler (Iron Man 2 and 3), Michael Giacchino (Doctor Strange), Christophe Beck (Ant-Man) and, just prior to his Oscar win, Ludwig Goransson (Black Panther). And as a longtime Marvel fan dating back to the mid-1960s, it was a thrill to join the ranks of Roy Thomas, Danny Fingeroth, Joe Quesada and other contributors to this colorful volume.
More than three decades later, composer Danny Elfman is still putting music to the films of Tim Burton. They’ve done everything from Batman to Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas to Alice in Wonderland. And now they’ve returned again to the Disney fold with a live-action remake of the 1941 classic Dumbo. Elfman’s musical journey took surprising turns, involving excerpts from the Oscar-nominated score for the animated original and writing all the circus music for the background of Danny De Vito’s small-town carnival. Here is my story for Variety.
A trend in journalism is generally defined by three or more happenings in the same field. So when I discovered that James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games) had written a cello concerto, Danny Elfman (Alice in Wonderland) a violin concerto and George S. Clinton (the Austin Powers movies) another violin concerto, I thought “here’s a trend” and decided to write a story. In fact, I discovered at least half a dozen concert works by composers generally known for their film music are getting premieres in the next six months — and that more than a half-dozen others had debuted in the past year, with still more on the way. It’s not just John Williams, it’s Michael Giacchino and John Powell and Bruce Broughton and Jeff Beal and many others. Here is that story for Variety.
Wow, two great Variety assignments in a row! First, writing about the year’s first stunning score, John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. And now, the chance to preview Pinar Toprak’s memorable music for Captain Marvel, which opens Friday. It’s a landmark moment not only because Toprak is the first woman to score a Marvel film, but its likely box-office success will shine new light on the unfortunate statistics about gender bias in film scoring. And the film’s huge opening weekend instantly made her the most successful female composer, box-office-wise, in American movie history. I used that statistic as a jumping-off point for a discussion of what this may mean for other women in film music.
John Powell’s music for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the first genuinely great score of 2019. I found it a stunning, unexpectedly emotional experience, and so asked for time with both Powell and director Dean DeBlois to explore their process and learn about the creation of the music. This, of course, is the finale of the Dragon trilogy; Powell was Oscar-nominated for the first film in 2010 and then penned an equally fine score for the second film in 2014. As you will see in this Variety story, the third film demanded a 98-piece orchestra and 60-voice choir.
On January 24th, we at Variety received word that the Oscar producers had decided to perform only two of the five Best Song nominees on the show (Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” and Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars,” by the two most popular recording artists). Within an hour, I had three other solid sources confirming this, so that afternoon we broke the story. (It was the lead story on Variety‘s front page for nearly a day.) The Academy denied it, of course, but the backlash was immediate and the Twitterverse blew up over it. Producers were forced to retrench, and one week later, artists from the other three songs were invited to perform. And in our most recent exclusive, we broke the news that Bette Midler would perform the nominated song from Mary Poppins Returns on the show.
One of my favorite annual Variety assignments involves analyzing the competition in the Best Song and Original Score categories as the Academy Awards campaign winds down and the voting begins. While Oscar pundits debate whether “Shallow” from A Star Is Born will win the song honors or be upset by one of the others, and whether If Beale Street Could Talk is really the favorite among the scores, we look closely at all 10 nominees and provide some historical and statistical perspective. Here is our “Contenders: Best Song” story and our “Contenders: Best Score” story, both of which ran in the Feb. 12 issue of Variety.
Although it wasn’t eligible for an original-score nomination — Kris Bowers’ 20 minutes of score was insufficient by comparison with all the other music in the film — Green Book still managed to be one of the year’s toughest assignments for a composer. That’s because Bowers came aboard early, trained actor Mahershala Ali in how to play convincing-looking piano, then transcribed and performed all of the Don Shirley music that was heard throughout the film. Oh, and then he wrote the original score, too. I discuss all this in a story that ran in the Feb. 12 issue of Variety. The film later won the Best Picture Oscar.