The process of choosing “best song” and “best score” for this year’s Academy Awards will be a little more complicated for voters. Revised Oscar rules mandate that the music branch choose 15 pre-nominees in each category, requiring them to see and evaluate all of the eligible works an entire month earlier than usual. This may alter the results and eliminate late-December releases from the race. I discuss this in an analysis story for this week’s Variety. Also this week: individual looks at 13 potential score nominees, including Mary Queen of Scots, A Quiet Place, Green Book, On the Basis of Sex, Widows, Red Sparrow and Fantastic Beasts 2, BlacKkKlansman, Stan & Ollie, Boy Erased, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, If Beale Street Could Talk and Vice.
For one of its awards-related special end-of-year issues, Variety asked me to inquire of this year’s crop of potential score honorees about the challenges they face in a changing environment for composers in film. It was an interesting assignment, and I asked Johann Johannsson (Arrival), James Newton Howard (Fantastic Beasts), John Debney (The Jungle Book), Nicholas Britell (Moonlight), Alan Silvestri (Allied) and John Williams (The BFG) about time to compose, budgets, temp tracks, synth mockups and the controversial new practice of “striping” (recording different sections of the orchestra separately from one another).
The first of my four stories in a special edition of this week’s Variety deals with fantasy-film scores, specifically The BFG by John Williams and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by James Newton Howard. Both composers gave me time on the phone last month, Williams before he dove back into the Star Wars universe — he begins recording in a matter of weeks — and Howard prior to leaving for an extended stay in Europe. These are two of the finest orchestral scores of the year and, in this story, we delve into the details and the approaches to two very different fantasy tales (one by Roald Dahl, whom Williams knew, and one by J.K. Rowling herself).
I love putting together Variety‘s annual chart examining all the nominees in Emmy’s various music categories, because it gives me a chance to talk with the composers about the musical and dramatic challenges they face. I assembled some of the best quotes from the six nominees in Emmy’s “music composition for a limited series, movie or special” category into a story for this week’s edition. Interviewed: James Newton Howard (All the Way), Martin Phipps (War & Peace), Victor Reyes (The Night Manager), Jeff Beal (Jesse Stone: Lost in Paradise), David Lawrence (Descendants) and Jeff Russo (Fargo) — all super-talented composers who deserve their nominations. And here is a story chronicling all of the Emmy winners (announced Sept. 10).
Composer James Newton Howard (The Sixth Sense, The Hunger Games, pictured here) was honored with the BMI Icon award at Wednesday night’s annual film/TV honors of Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), while David Newman received its Classic Contribution Award for his work conducting classic film music in concert halls around the world. I was on the red carpet again this year, conducting no fewer than 25 on-camera interviews with composers for film and TV. BMI is posting them on YouTube; here is Howard, here is Newman. And here is my story about the evening.
It was a thrill to be asked to talk with Oscar-nominated, Grammy-winning composer James Newton Howard on the occasion of his being named a BMI Icon. He’ll receive his award on May 11, but BMI has already posted our video interview: Fourteen fascinating minutes with one of today’s greatest movie composers. (His credits, in case you don’t know, include The Hunger Games films, The Sixth Sense, The Fugitive, The Prince of Tides, King Kong, My Best Friend’s Wedding and many others.) Both parts of the interview are here.
In 2009, I had the opportunity to interview James Newton Howard, the hugely talented film composer, about his first work for the concert hall, debuted by conductor Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony as part of its annual (and wonderfully progressive) American Composers Festival.
I was thrilled to be able to put Elmer Bernstein on the front page of the Los Angeles Times‘ Calendar section. He was being honored by the Motion Picture Academy for his half-century of composing for movies. It was a great year for Elmer; he was celebrated around the world. This was a big feature I wrote that chronicled his career (at least, as much as you can do in 2,400 words). Interviews were conducted with Elmer, Gregory Peck, John Landis, Martin Scorsese, James Newton Howard and Leonard Maltin.
I interviewed James Newton Howard during one of his busiest periods, doing Unbreakable for Shyamalan (this was post-Sixth Sense but pre-Signs and The Village) and Vertical Limit for Martin Campbell. We’ve remained friends over the years, and he gave me exclusive access to the King Kong scoring sessions, but I’m still trying to find that story online.
This was one of the longest, most complicated, and yet important, stories I ever wrote for the L.A. Times: A 3,300-word examination of why studio musicians were losing work to non-union sites in the U.S. and abroad. Although written 17 years ago, it’s uncannily relevant today, as film-scoring work is leaving L.A. in droves and panic is setting in about how to stop it.