I love the headline on the print version of my Variety story about French composer Alexandre Desplat — the 2014 Oscar winner for The Grand Budapest Hotel — and his four alternately dramatic and delightful scores for major films this year: “The Hardest-Working Man in Score Business.” Desplat created a fun jazz backdrop for The Secret Life of Pets; a powerful, evocative dramatic score (including a piano piece actually played by Alicia Vikander) for The Light Between Oceans; a dark and moody Americana ambiance for American Pastoral; and a clever ’40s-jazz flavor for Florence Foster Jenkins. He even convinced Meryl Streep to sing (on key, unlike the real Ms. Jenkins) on that last one!
I’ve moderated a number of post-screening talks with composers during awards season, most recently Monday night at The Landmark with French composer Alexandre Desplat about his exquisite music for The Danish Girl. Desplat was charming, funny and articulate as always — especially in discussing how his life didn’t change at all after winning the Oscar last year for Grand Budapest Hotel. Last month I interviewed Thomas Newman about his music for Bridge of Spies, also for SCL, on the Walt Disney lot. Both composers stand a strong chance of an Oscar nomination later this week.
Alexandre Desplat and Chris Montan (the Oscar-winning composer of The Grand Budapest Hotel and president of music for the Walt Disney Company, respectively) took top honors at this year’s BMI Film and TV Music Awards dinner. Here is my overview of the evening’s speeches and additional awards. Part of the fun, though, was doing the on-camera interviews on the red carpet — some of which are now showing up online. This link will take you to my brief chats with Desplat, Montan, Brian Tyler (talking about doing Marvel movies), Fil Eisler (Revenge) and Gwendolyn Sanford (Orange Is the New Black).
On May 13, I interviewed Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat for BMI, just hours before the performing-rights society presented him with its Icon Award for career achievement. I have interviewed Desplat many times over the years, but he was especially forthcoming and (as always) charming in this setting. Here he talks about how he got into the business, how he approaches each new film, working with Wes Anderson (for whose film The Grand Budapest Hotel he won the Oscar) and advice for young composers. While you’re at that page, click on the other videos; I did all of BMI’s red-carpet interviews and there is some really fun stuff there.
Now that the 87th Academy Awards are in the record books, a rundown and a little historical perspective. The hot ticket for music mavens on Oscar weekend is always the Society of Composers & Lyricists’ champagne reception for song and score nominees, and we were delighted to attend again this year. Then, last night’s ceremonies, which included plenty of music including performances of all five nominated songs. “Glory” was especially moving for those in the audience, and won the gold statue moments later. Composer Alexandre Desplat beat the odds by winning (for The Grand Budapest Hotel) despite having two nominations this year. I talk about that, and other musical details of the show, in this weekend wrapup.
This week, Variety publishes my rundown of nominees in the original-score and original-song categories. I interviewed all four score nominees (Alexandre Desplat has two) and at least one of the songwriters for each of the five song nominees, along with providing their Oscar track records. For the first time in Academy history, none of the five score nominees is American, a fascinating statistic that underscores the increasingly international nature of music-making for movies.
The intro to the song story was truncated. One of the points I had hoped to make was about whether music-branch voters actually watched the song DVD. I suspect not, since Begin Again was no. 15, Selma no. 59, Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me no. 67, The Lego Movie no. 72, and Beyond the Lights last at no. 79. They skipped lively, fun songs from animated and kids’ films like Rio 2, The Book of Life and Muppets Most Wanted. Voting results suggest that the nominees continue, for the most part, to be those with substantial publicity budgets — and that campaigning matters.
Hollywood has always turned to composers from Europe, and elsewhere, in its search for great music for films. But increasingly, it seemed to my editors, the most acclaimed, and award-winning, scores for major studio films are being written by composers from outside our shores. So I interviewed five of this year’s crop of potential music nominees about the subject: Gustavo Santaolalla (The Book of Life), Antonio Sanchez (Birdman), Alberto Iglesias (Exodus: Gods and Kings), Johann Johannsson (The Theory of Everything) and Alexandre Desplat (The Imitation Game), along with Australian-born SCL president Ashley Irwin. This is the lead story in this week’s Global section of Variety.
This was immense fun to put together. I was initially charmed by Alexandre’s score for Girl With a Pearl Earring and wowed by at least a dozen more since then. I have interviewed him many times, including a memorable piece for The New York Times (you’ll find that in “From the Files”) and done several live Q&As with him. Variety asked me to profile him as part of its “Billion Dollar Composer” series, just as awards season is getting underway — so the sidebar story looks at his music for two potential Oscar nominees, The Imitation Game and Unbroken. (And George Clooney thought highly enough of his favorite composer that he interrupted his honeymoon to give me a great quote.)
The Academy’s musical choices were all fine in its first staged concert of Academy Award-nominated music. The problems were the host and the interviewer, neither of whom came off well. My editors chose to leave out my recitation of the more ludicrous moments. This is what didn’t make it into the Variety story:
Film critic Elvis Mitchell, enlisted to interview the composers between segments, was hit-and-miss, getting one of the Arcade Fire composers’ names wrong (“William Phillips”? It’s William Butler) and drawing head-scratching and irrelevant parallels with his favorite Western scores (Ennio Morricone for Gravity, Williams’ obscure The Missouri Breaks for The Book Thief, which could not be farther afield from one another).
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).