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.
Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian is not only getting great reviews, it’s his biggest commercial success in years. Last week I sat down with English composer Harry Gregson-Williams (Scott’s collaborator on such past films as Kingdom of Heaven) to discuss his music for The Martian. It’s for my partners at SoundWorks Collection and is our best video to date, incorporating scenes from the film, musical excerpts, and footage of Harry conducting a large ensemble in London’s Abbey Road. Harry talks about the hybrid nature of the score (partially electronic, partially orchestral, some choral work), how his musical approach changed during the scoring process, and why he likes to conduct his own work.
That’s the headline in the print version of this Variety story about composer Harry Gregson-Williams and the firestorm he ignited when he posted about how little was left of his score for Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller Blackhat, which opened last weekend. It was unusual for a composer to air this kind of complaint, although for those in the film-music biz it was no surprise to hear that the mercurial director sought out multiple composers to get the final “score” he wanted. My story goes into more detail, and offers more historical perspective, than any other.
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.
In the summer of 2010, Harry Gregson-Williams had two new films coming out: Prince of Persia, which was a better score than a movie, and Shrek Forever After, the last of the big-screen Shrek films (and Harry’s sixth Shrek project for DreamWorks). It was a great excuse to revisit his entire career for the Los Angeles Times, including new interviews with several producer and director collaborators including Jerry Bruckheimer, Mike Newell, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Tony Scott.
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.
Harry Gregson-Williams received BMI’s top honor in 2006, giving me a chance to review his career and include some salient quotes from directors whose films he has immeasurably enhanced. Harry’s Venice, Calif., studio was a marvel, and it was great fun to interview him there. Harry came up through the Zimmer ranks at Media Ventures and takes his job seriously — although not too seriously. He’s always fun to talk with. Here’s a review of the ceremony itself, which also saw a major award to TV composer Earle Hagen.