A new film on the craft of creating music for movies, Score: A Film Music Documentary, opens this weekend in New York (and next weekend in Los Angeles). It features new interviews with composers including Hans Zimmer, John Powell, Quincy Jones, Brian Tyler, John Debney, David Arnold, Rachel Portman and others; footage from earlier films featuring John Williams and Thomas Newman; and commentary from critic Leonard Maltin, agent Richard Kraft, Disney executive Mitchell Leib, record producer Robert Townson, director James Cameron, and many more. I am on camera from time to time to offer historical perspective. Filmmaker Matt Schrader filmed numerous scoring sessions in Los Angeles and London, and the result is a fast-moving, illuminating look at the art and business of movie music. You’ll see me in the trailer, which is here along with the New York Times‘ rave review.
Ron Howard, who produced (and directed the first episode of) the new National Geographic series Genius, about the life of Albert Einstein, has often turned to composer Hans Zimmer for his movie scores (including Frost / Nixon, Rush and the Da Vinci Code films). So it was a natural for him to ask Zimmer to write the theme for his new dramatic series (which, after Zimmer scores for such time-and-space-bending films as Inception and Interstellar, seems appropriate). Lorne Balfe, who has worked on most of the Zimmer/Howard projects as orchestrator or arranger, composed the scores for all 10 episodes, now airing. I interviewed all three of them for a story about the music — and coaching the actors in playing the violin, Einstein’s instrument of choice — in this week’s Variety.
One of the most startling developments in the burgeoning field of film-music instruction is the “Hans Zimmer Teaches Film Scoring” online primer now available from San Francisco-based MasterClass (which has recently offered videos of Aaron Sorkin teaching screenwriting, Steve Martin teaching comedy, Kevin Spacey teaching acting, etc.). It’s a series of 31 lessons, totaling over four hours, in which Zimmer discusses how he does his work and offers examples from his most famous scores. The Oscar- and Grammy winner launched it at an event on Wednesday in West Hollywood; he talked about his reasons for doing this and a bit about his own mentor, British composer Stanley Myers, in this new interview.
It’s a rare treat to be able to sit down with two of the towering figures of pop music and film music to talk about a collaboration for film. In this case it was songwriter-producer Pharrell Williams and top Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer — along with their friend and musical colleague Benjamin Wallfisch. The three of them produced the score and songs for the new film Hidden Figures, the remarkable untold story of three African-American women were part of the American space program in the early 1960s. Williams served as one of the film’s producers and wrote the songs, which in turn inspired the score penned by Zimmer and Wallfisch. It has an undeniable ’60s vibe infused with gospel sounds, and this story for Variety‘s Music for Screens issue discusses their collaboration.
Last night I moderated a Q&A with top film composer Hans Zimmer, top songwriter-producer Pharrell Williams and their talented collaborator Benjamin Wallfisch, whose combined talents resulted in the score for an upcoming film, Hidden Figures. It’s the amazing untold story of three African-American women whose math and engineering skills helped catapult the United States into the space race in the early 1960s. I think it will stun a lot of people when it opens at Christmas. The Society of Composers & Lyricists sponsored the screening, and the lively discussion that followed featured Williams discussing his original songs, and Zimmer and Wallfisch talking about how they were further inspired by both the story and Williams’ ’60s-style sounds.
This week’s “Music for Screens” issue of Variety features two stories by me. The main story concerns Vienna’s new Synchron scoring stage, where Hans Zimmer has already recorded Inferno and Rupert Gregson-Williams has recorded music for the Netflix series The Crown. The backstory of the building is fascinating: Built in 1939-40 as a recording facility for films, it was home to many great classical artists in the 1950s and ’60s but eventually fell into disuse. An $11-million upgrade later, it’s now a “world-class” stage, according to composers and engineers who’ve worked there. Its operators hope it will get some of the spillover film-recording business that an overbooked London can’t currently accommodate. (A second story in the issue deals with Umlaut Audio, which creates custom sounds for busy composers in L.A.)
My latest SoundWorks Collection interview is with Dutch composer Tom Holkenborg (formerly known as producer-performer Junkie XL). His latest film is Black Mass, which stars Johnny Depp as Boston crime lord James “Whitey” Bulger. It’s very different from his Mad Max: Fury Road score in that it prominently features solo cello (played by Steve Erdody), a large string orchestra, piano and even pipe organ. Up next for him: a collaboration with Hans Zimmer on Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice for next year.
Pharrell Williams is getting a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame this week, so Variety asked me to consider the singer-songwriter’s already wildly successful career in film music. Hans Zimmer, who has been something of a mentor to the “Happy” tunesmith, offers some fascinating insights into their collaborations in this story — and Williams responds with some thoughtful and gracious comments about his film-composer friend. Along the way they talk about films like Despicable Me, Man of Steel and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Producer Reginald Hudlin also chimes in.
I was so struck by the use of a pipe organ in Hans Zimmer’s huge score for Interstellar that I decided to investigate further — so I got in touch with the fellow who actually played the instrument, London Temple Church music director Roger Sayer. In this piece, he talks about working with the composer, with director Christopher Nolan, the recording process, and how he feels about the final product.
My latest interview with one of film’s most sought-after composers: Hans Zimmer talks at length about his score for Christopher Nolan’s universe-spanning sci-fi epic, and why a London church pipe organ is its central voice.