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.”
The latest in Variety‘s series of Billion Dollar Composers (so-called because the aggregate box-office of all their movies exceeds $1 billion) is Englishman Henry Jackman, whose music you may know from the last two Captain America movies — but who may be an awards contender for his music for the upcoming The Birth of a Nation. Jackman is a unique blend of highly trained classical composer and former pop/rock producer, and his thoughts on film music in the 21st century are fascinating. During preparation of the main story and this sidebar on eight of his most interesting scores, I also interviewed Captain America directors Anthony and Joe Russo, Birth of a Nation director Nate Parker, Jack Reacher director Ed Zwick and The Interview co-director Seth Rogen (who, predictably, offered the funniest line in either story).
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.)
Variety started a series several years ago — most of which I’ve written — called “Billion Dollar Composer,” a way of acknowledging how successful some of today’s top film scorers have been. For our Hans Zimmer section, out today, the editors were so bowled over by the numbers they retitled it “20 Billion Dollar Composer.” Can’t say as I blame them.
The section consists of a main story, that looks at his recent work and includes interviews with Hans and such filmmaking luminaries as Jerry Bruckheimer and Christopher Nolan, as well as former proteges Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell; his newly revealed plans to return to live performing; his own thoughts (accompanied by colorful images) on six classic scores; and a look at his Remote Control studios, home not only to Zimmer but to more than a dozen composing colleagues.
This was another in our ongoing series (dubbed “Billion Dollar Composers,” a reference to how much money their movies have made). Interviewing Harry was a fascinating experience. He had a fabulous studio in Venice, Calif., at the time, and shared something of his work process while I bugged him about his life, his music and a few of his favorite scores. The main story is mostly about his creative side. The sidebars include one about his animated projects; an on-the-scene report about scoring The Wolverine at Fox; and a look at five career highlights.