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.
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).
John Debney is one of Hollywood’s finest composers and a really super guy to boot. I’ve known him for more than 20 years and his output contains many wonderful scores (as diverse as The Passion of the Christ and The Princess Diaries, not to mention Elf and Dreamer). On Monday I was pleased to moderate a discussion about the music of Disney’s The Jungle Book with Debney, original Jungle Book songwriter Richard Sherman, and director Jon Favreau. Debney and Sherman told surprising and funny stories about Debney’s youth, hanging around the Disney lot (his dad worked there) and meeting the famous Sherman Brothers in the mid-1960s. Favreau’s own comments demonstrated a genuine appreciation for Debney’s artistry. The Society of Composers & Lyricists audience was warm and welcoming.
John Debney, the Oscar-nominated composer of The Passion of the Christ and many other scores from Elf to The Princess Diaries, had a dream-come-true assignment recently: scoring Disney’s remake of The Jungle Book. He practically grew up on the Disney lot, was best friends with the boy who voiced Mowgli in the ’67 animated version, and even knew the legendary Sherman Brothers (who wrote most of the songs). His symphonic score for the well-reviewed new film is masterful, and I got to talk with him — as well as director Jon Favreau — in this piece for Variety.
Today’s event was among the most enjoyable in ages. Disney asked if I would moderate a panel of its composers for comic-book and mythical-universe films and TV shows, and I was delighted — especially when I heard who the panelists would be: Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy), John Debney (Iron Man 2), Kevin Kiner (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Brian Tyler (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron). This was at WonderCon in downtown L.A., and the fun stories included George Lucas’ involvement with the animated series, Marvel vs. DC Comics adaptations, Marvel’s penchant for secrecy, the role of orchestra and strong themes, and much more. Wish we’d recorded it for posterity!
The past week has seen the unofficial launch of “awards season” with the presentation of five Emmys in the music categories (topped by composer Jeff Beal receiving the statue for his third season of House of Cards) and the American Society of Arrangers and Composers (ASMAC) presenting its Golden Score awards to deserving recipients John Debney (The Passion of the Christ) and Conrad Pope (Tim’s Vermeer). My story about the Emmys is here, and about the surprise-filled, music-filled ASMAC bash here.
One of the most contentious, and complex, issues facing Hollywood studio musicians is the role that the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) plays in their lives. If a movie production company or studio isn’t legally bound to score in Hollywood (only major studios and networks are), then they often choose to go overseas to record their music. A growing number of musicians are unhappy about this, and many are urging the AFM to agree to concessions in order to keep more recording work in L.A. This story reports what many had to say at a meeting in Santa Monica in late 2012. (The headline, incidentally, is misleading; it’s not so much about the composers but rather about the musicians who play the music.) And here’s a followup story from January 2013 on the issue.
Here’s an interesting story about how technology has changed the entire film-music business. I talked to Thomas Newman, John Debney, Michael Giacchino, Mychael Danna, Alexandre Desplat and John Powell — none of whom use paper and pencil anymore.