Variety editors asked me to take an early look at the original-score race at the Oscars, even though it was only November and there are still a number of films yet to be screened. Realistically, at this point there are about 25 legitimate contenders for the five available nomination slots, but at this early stage I think it’s best to present them without making predictions (which is always dicey anyway). Along the way I found room to talk about diversity and gender issues, which are likely to be a factor in the race; and what composers are talking about in terms of time and freedom to write the music that will best enhance their films. Composers quoted include Michael Giacchino (Coco), Dario Marianelli (Darkest Hour) and Tamar-kali (Mudbound).
This piece, the lead Artisans story in this week’s Variety, was both complicated and a joy to write. Disney/Pixar always goes to great lengths to find the right score (and often songs) for each of its films, but on Coco they went to extremes. Coco, which opens next week, is set during Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” celebration, and is about a boy who desperately wants to be a musician — something his family is dead-set against. The filmmakers hired the ever-reliable Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille, Up) to compose the score, but added Mexican-American composer Germaine Franco to orchestrate and co-write several of the songs. And they arranged for many of Mexico’s top musicians to perform much of the background music you hear. Oh, and not incidentally, they asked Frozen songwriters Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez to pen a key song heard several times in the movie.
The Disney-Pixar film Coco is going to be a big hit during the post-Thanksgiving period, and critics are already calling it one of the best animated films of the year. It was an honor to be asked to interview the entire Coco music team Thursday night after a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening at the Pacific Design Center. L to R in the photo: co-director, co-songwriter and writer Adrian Molina; songwriter and orchestrator Germaine Franco, whose Mexican-American heritage became a big factor in achieving an authentic sound for this “Day of the Dead”-themed story; composer Michael Giacchino, whose previous five Pixar films include Ratatouille (an Oscar nominee) and Up (an Oscar winner); songwriters Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, whose “Remember Me” is certain to be short-listed for awards this season; and yours truly. A memorable evening.
On Monday night, it was my pleasure to lead a Q&A with composer Michael Giacchino after a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of his latest film, War for the Planet of the Apes, on the 20th Century-Fox lot. It is Giacchino’s second film in the Apes series (after Dawn, in 2014) and his fourth film with director Matt Reeves (the Apes movies, Let Me In and Cloverfield). The composer reported that 90% of the score — played by a massive orchestra and choir on the Fox scoring stage — was original, and he even came with props: the mixing bowl used by percussionist Emil Richards on Jerry Goldsmith’s original 1968 Planet of the Apes, and a ram’s horn that he played himself on both of his Apes scores.
Let’s face it, there is no more famous Spider-Man music than the cartoon theme everybody remembers from the 1960s. (“Is he strong? Listen, bud: he’s got radioactive blood!”) Composer Michael Giacchino, commissioned to score the new Spider-Man: Homecoming film for Marvel/Sony, knew this and decided to replace his own Marvel logo music at the start of the movie with a 38-second version that — as played by a 90-piece orchestra — is probably the biggest sound it’s ever had! I decided to look into this, and interviewed both Giacchino and Guy Webster, the son of the Oscar-winning lyricist who penned those immortal words and who cut the original, very lucrative, business deal for the song in 1967.
One of my favorite stories of the past year concerns Michael Giacchino — the composer of Ratatouille, Up and the Star Trek films — who, exhausted from scoring four major films in 2016, was all set to go on vacation when the phone rang, asking him if he might squeeze in a Star Wars film before the end of the year. How he got to do Rogue One, and how he went about it, is the subject of a story I wrote for this week’s Music section of Variety. Along the way I also mention two of my other favorites of his this year: Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Disney’s Zootopia.
I have interviewed composer Michael Giacchino for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and, most often, for Variety. Yesterday was a rare instance of me doing so in a public forum. Giacchino (whose 2016 films already included Star Trek Beyond, Zootopia and Doctor Strange) joined me onstage at the Linwood Dunn theater in Hollywood for a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As always, he was candid and funny, talking about the rushed schedule, finding the right John Williams-style sound for the film, and his plans for next year (which include Spider Man: Homecoming and War for the Planet of the Apes).
Oscar- and Emmy-winning composer Michael Giacchino conducted selections from his music for the TV series Lost over two nights last week at the Ford Theatre in Los Angeles. “Tonight is for you guys,” he told the crowd of Lost fans — who had flown from all over the world to attend (Friday night’s concert sold out so quickly that the producers added a second concert, Thursday night). Series producer Carlton Cuse co-hosted the event, which also featured a fun Q&A with composer and producer before the three-hour concert (whose musicians, Giacchino noted, consisted mostly of the same performers who played on the 121 episodes of the ABC series). The crowd was wildly enthusiastic and gave Giacchino and the musicians standing ovations both nights. Here is a review of Thursday’s concert.
My editor at Variety came up with an interesting angle, and one especially relevant in today’s world of sequels, spinoffs and reboots: what’s the role of music, and how do composers decide when and where to apply themes from previous films or TV shows? For this final story in our pre-nominations Oscar-music series, I received fascinating answers from John Williams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Thomas Newman (Spectre), Michael Giacchino (Jurassic World), Christophe Beck (The Peanuts Movie), Ludwig Goransson (Creed) and Joe Kraemer (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation).
For Variety‘s second installment in our series on potential Oscar nominees in the music categories, I interviewed five composers, seven songwriters, a music supervisor and a director. Our main story features John Williams, in his first interview offering details of his new Star Wars score, as well as Hateful Eight music supervisor Mary Ramos talking about Ennio Morricone’s music; and The 33 director Patricia Riggen discussing the late James Horner’s contributions to her film. I also wrote four of the six composer profiles (on Thomas Newman, Michael Giacchino, Carter Burwell and Brian Tyler) and half of the song story (including interviews with Spectre singer-songwriter Sam Smith and The Hunting Ground songwriters Diane Warren and Lady Gaga). And there’s still more to come!