Motherless Brooklyn was one of my favorite films of the year, so when the Society of Composers & Lyricists asked me to moderate a Q&A involving both the writer-director-star Edward Norton and his composer Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs, Into the Spider-Verse), I couldn’t say no. Norton was thoughtful and articulate in discussing the entire music process — which also involved jazz great Wynton Marsalis and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke — and Pemberton talked about his musical experiments in London that ultimately gave Norton what he needed, dramatically speaking. (L-R: Pemberton, Norton, JB)
A Los Angeles Times assignment to interview all of the principals associated with the music of Motherless Brooklyn turned out to be irresistible. Director Edward Norton’s detective drama takes place in late 1950s New York, so he enlisted jazz legend Wynton Marsalis as consultant and arranger of the Harlem club standards seen and heard on screen; Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, whose sad song “Daily Battles” plays a key role in the storytelling; and film composer Daniel Pemberton, whose experiments with saxophone riffs, lyrical themes and modern-music sensibility tied it all together in the end.
One of the most interesting movie-music assignments of the year fell to composer Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), who was recruited by director Danny Boyle to supervise all of the music, on-screen and off, in the romantic comedy Yesterday. There are 25 Beatles songs, heard in part or in their entirety, many of them sung by actor Himesh Patel (who, amusingly, plays a budding singer-songwriter who, in a twist of fate, seems to be the only person in the world who remembers the Beatles and turns his memory of their songs into a smashing new career). Pemberton explains how he went about it in this Variety story.
As part of Variety‘s series of examinations of awards-worthy work in this year’s film music, we looked at four films that depict either historical events (Dunkirk, Battle of the Sexes, All The Money in the World) or were rooted in historical fact (Mudbound). Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk score would seem to have the best chance at an Oscar nomination this year, although Nicholas Britell did a great job with Battle of the Sexes and Daniel Pemberton’s faux-Italian-opera for All the Money in the World is fascinating. And don’t count out Tamar-kali’s chamber-music approach to Mudbound — at a time when diversity matters more than ever, she could easily make the final five.
It’s always fascinating to talk with composers about how they go about scoring a film, what their approach to the material is, how they work with different directors. For this story — that first appeared in last week’s Music for Screens section of Variety — I interviewed seven composers: Marcelo Zarvos (Fences), Carter Burwell (The Founder), Daniel Pemberton (Gold), Max Richter (Miss Sloane), Harry Gregson-Williams (Live by Night), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Patriots Day). Many took their cues from the characters at the center of the story and developed themes and sounds specific to them, their goals and desires. And in a second story, I discuss the Academy’s surprising decision to include scores from musicals in its “original score” category for the first time in many years.
For Variety’s first awards-season section on potential Oscar contenders in music, I interviewed Harry Gregson-Williams (The Martian), Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs) and Johann Johannsson (Sicario) about their use of technology in music-making: The Martian combines electronics with traditional orchestra and choir, Steve Jobs a unique three-part approach including 1980s synthesizers, Sicario extensive processing of acoustic sounds. A second story concerns composers Mychael and Jeff Danna creating a surprising and unusual soundscape for Pixar’s upcoming The Good Dinosaur.
Great fun last night interviewing English composer Daniel Pemberton after a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of the new Steve Jobs movie at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn theater in Hollywood. Pemberton was a delight, explaining (with lots of amusing asides) how each of the film’s three distinct acts demanded its own musical approach. He used vintage synthesizers for the 1984 segment, a classical/operatic style for the 1988 “revenge” segment set in the San Francisco Opera House, and a modern synth approach created with Apple technology in his studio for the final act, set in 1998. Pemberton, who is already well-known in the U.K., also wrote a fun score for this year’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.
Variety posed an interesting question: If you’re remaking a classic TV series, what role — if any — does the musical theme of that series play? Should you remind the audience of the series’ origins via its music? Is it key to a marketing plan? If the theme is not iconic, should it be jettisoned altogether in favor of a new musical approach? With The Man From U.N.C.L.E. having just opened, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation still playing strongly, and The Peanuts Movie on the horizon, I talked to the composers of all three films (Daniel Pemberton, Joe Kraemer, Christophe Beck, respectively) about the importance of music from the small-screen originals.
As many of you know, I have often written about music for spy films and TV. This story combines both. English composer Daniel Pemberton has scored Guy Ritchie’s new feature-film adaptation of the classic 1960s series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which opens on Aug. 14. Pemberton finds a new musical signature for the movie by incorporating all kinds of classic ’60s spy sounds from harpsichord to cimbalom and mandolin. It’s great fun, so I interviewed Pemberton about his musical choices and the unusual recording techniques he employed. (There’s also a hint about precisely where fans will discover the original Jerry Goldsmith TV theme. But just a hint.)
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).