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 Variety‘s final roundup of potential award nominees in the music categories, I covered nine scores and broke them down into three categories: Suspense (Michael Abels’ Get Out, Patrick Doyle’s Murder on the Orient Express, Carter Burwell’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); films that centered on families (Jon Brion’s Lady Bird, Randy Newman’s The Meyerowitz Stories, Marcelo Zarvos’ Wonder); and music for animation (John Powell’s Ferdinand, Mychael and Jeff Danna’s The Breadwinner, Michael Giacchino’s Coco). It certainly was a diverse and fascinating year for original music in films.
I interviewed Mychael Danna, the Oscar-winning composer of Life of Pi, on Friday at the Production Music Association conference in Hollywood. It was a delightful hour, as Danna regaled the crowd of approximately 500 composers with stories of his 30-year career in media music. Perhaps the foremost proponent of the use of world music and musical multiculturalism in films, he discussed his drive to record authentic, often exotic instruments with top musicians in their home countries. He also gave the room an early preview of his music for an upcoming animated film, The Breadwinner, and talked about remotely recording Afghan singers and musicians for the score.
It must be awards season, because the screenings are now nonstop and I’m being asked to conduct composer Q&As almost every week. This week it was the new Disney/Pixar film The Good Dinosaur, which has a unique score by composers Mychael and Jeff Danna; the Society of Composers & Lyricists sponsored the well-attended screening. The Montana-like landscapes helped inspire them to create a folk-style score that includes fiddles, guitars, hymn-like piano and other “Western” sounds (along with the usual 85-piece orchestra for the bigger, grander moments in the score). The Dannas were, as always, thoughtful and gracious. Here, too, is my on-camera interview with them for SoundWorks Collection.
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.
I’m not generally given to hyperbole — too many years as a reporter, one sees almost everything — but I must admit that last night’s BMI ceremony in Beverly Hills was one of the greatest nights of my life. I was incredibly honored that the performing-rights organization chose to honor me as “a luminary in the field of film music journalism.”
Dear friend Doreen Ringer Ross, senior VP of BMI, presented me with this framed citation: “In grateful appreciation for your years of friendship, wit and wisdom, and for being a sincere and respected champion to so many in the film and television music community. Your distinctive and unique voice has forever enriched our lives.”
This was after a three-minute video — a complete surprise to me — that featured composers Christopher Lennertz, Mike Post, Charles Fox, Richard Sherman, Lalo Schifrin, David Newman and John Williams, thanking and congratulating me. It was truly moving. I will never forget the standing ovation that followed. (Or Williams saying, “May your pen continue to flourish and may your inkwell never dry up.”) And I can never thank Doreen and her fellow executives at BMI enough for this huge honor.
I got to stand with the rest of the BMI honorees including the wonderful Mychael Danna, who received the evening’s highest honor, the Richard Kirk Award. A couple of hours earlier I did a long video interview with Danna; here he talks about his journey from small independent films to big studio features; here he talks about Ang Lee and his Oscar-winning work on Life of Pi; and here he discusses his creative process.
And for the first time, Variety actually wrote about me rather than just publishing my own work!
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.