Category Archives: Interviews

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.

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.

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.

Jeff Russo talks about “Star Trek: Discovery”

In his first interview about scoring the new Star Trek: Discovery series, composer Jeff Russo talks about how he came up with the theme, the use of full orchestras (now a rarity in weekly TV scoring), and about the idea of a more nuanced approach to scoring the Klingon Empire. Variety published this today, just a few days before the Sept. 24 debut of the new sci-fi series on CBS All Access. Discovery producer Alex Kurtzman also chimed in on the importance of music in his new series. Russo recently won his first Emmy for Fargo.

Big orchestras for “The Orville”

Writer-director-actor-singer Seth MacFarlane loves the orchestra — not just as backing for his albums and live musical appearances, but for his movies and TV shows too. He is a fan of classic movie scores and understands the value of real musicians helping to support the emotional needs of both drama and comedy. So for his new sci-fi series The Orville, debuting Sunday on Fox, he enlisted the services of three of the finest orchestral composers in Hollywood: Bruce Broughton, who scored the pilot and wrote the theme; Joel McNeely and John Debney, who are scoring the individual episodes. They are using orchestras of 60 to 70, which is much larger than the average TV ensemble these days. In this story for Variety, MacFarlane, Broughton and McNeely talk about the challenge and the fun involved.

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.

Alf Clausen Fired from “The Simpsons”

Composer Alf Clausen (L) speaks with host Jon Burlingame at “SCORE! A Concert Celebrating Music Composed for Television” presented by the Television Academy at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Wednesday, May 21, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Invision for the Television AcademyAP Images)

Strange as it may sound, this story may have had the widest global repercussions of any story I’ve ever written for Variety. I learned that composer Alf Clausen, after scoring more than 550 episodes and winning two Emmys for his music, had been fired from The Simpsons after 27 years on the job. It was shocking, but after talking with Alf about it, we decided to go public on Aug. 30. I filed the story at 11:50 a.m., Variety posted it at 12:15, and within hours virtually every outlet in the world was repeating the news. It even made the front page of the BBC. Fox declined comment at the time, and was clearly unprepared for the worldwide outrage that would follow. Clausen is not only highly respected within the musical community, he earned nearly two dozen Emmy nominations for his work on that show alone — and is believed to hold the record for scoring the most episodes of a prime-time network series in television history.

Music in the Marvel TV Universe

There is tremendous excitement among Marvel Comics fans about the upcoming Inhumans series on ABC, which has a a big orchestral score by Sean Callery (24, Jessica Jones). But, in fact, the Marvel TV universe encompasses a wide variety of musical sounds and styles, which I explore in a piece in this week’s Variety. In addition to Callery, I interviewed Bear McCreary (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Ali Shaheed Muhammad (Luke Cage), Jeff Russo (Legion), Trevor Morris (Iron Fist), Tyler Bates (The Punisher), John Paesano (Daredevil, The Defenders), Siddhartha Khosla (Runaways) and ABC music exec Dawn Soler.