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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
If you left Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 unexpectedly moved by the finale, you can thank composer Tyler Bates, whose symphonic and choral work was perhaps his most accomplished yet in films. Bates, a former rock guitarist who still goes out on the road with Marilyn Manson from time to time, has not only built an entirely new career composing for films and television, he has built a very loyal clientele. As director David Leitch (the soon-in-theaters Atomic Blonde) told me for this latest Billion Dollar Composer section in Variety: “I don’t want to do a movie without Tyler Bates.” And as Guardians director James Gunn put it in a second story: Bates is “the most undervalued part of both Guardians films. They aren’t the Guardians of the Galaxy without Tyler Bates.”
As Emmy Awards season begins, we take an overall look at the nominations in all of the music categories, including the ones for original composition (for a series, for a movie or miniseries, for theme, and original song), for music direction, and the new sixth category, for music supervision. Music supervisors are hailing this decision by the Television Academy to begin honoring their work, which for the most part involves finding the right song for the right scene. But there is a lot more in this story, including surprising nominations for documentary scores and even for Lady Gaga’s half-time performance at the Super Bowl — and a brief look at what highly touted songs weren’t nominated.
I am delighted to announce my latest project as producer: the very first authorized soundtrack from the classic 1960s series The Wild Wild West. Many of you will remember the Robert Conrad-Ross Martin series, a kind of “James Bond in the Old West” adventure that aired Friday nights on CBS. Despite its popularity, no recording (even of its memorable theme by Richard Markowitz) was ever issued of this music. La-La Land Records, in the wake of our success with Mission: Impossible, authorized a two-year project involving a search for original musical elements, a massive restoration and eventual creation of a 4-CD box consisting of the excerpts from the 26 best scores over the series’ four seasons. The set even premieres the original recordings of an unused Dimitri Tiomkin theme for the series. Among the other composers represented: Robert Drasnin, Richard Shores, Dave Grusin, Harry Geller, Jack Pleis, Fred Steiner and Walter Scharf.
Let’s face it, there is no more famous Spider-Man music than the cartoon theme everybody remembers from the 1960s. (“Is he strong? Listen, bud: he’s got radioactive blood!”) Composer Michael Giacchino, commissioned to score the new Spider-Man: Homecoming film for Marvel/Sony, knew this and decided to replace his own Marvel logo music at the start of the movie with a 38-second version that — as played by a 90-piece orchestra — is probably the biggest sound it’s ever had! I decided to look into this, and interviewed both Giacchino and Guy Webster, the son of the Oscar-winning lyricist who penned those immortal words and who cut the original, very lucrative, business deal for the song in 1967.