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.
Yes, those final moments of Sunday’s Oscarcast were bizarre and won’t soon be forgotten. But, that aside, there were a lot of great musical moments in the broadcast and we recount them all here — the wins by the La La Land team for score and song, the performances of all five nominated songs, the beautiful “In Memoriam” performance, and more. Plus a rundown of Saturday’s always-entertaining Society of Composers & Lyricists champagne reception for Oscar music nominees.
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).
It was a distinct honor to be asked to interview legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach Wednesday night before a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of the new film Po, about a single father struggling to raise his autistic son. Joining me onstage was director John Asher, who himself has an autistic son — and whose accidental meeting of Bacharach on a plane a few months ago led the three-time Oscar winner (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Arthur) to decide not just to write a song for Po but to score the entire film. Bacharach told the tragic story of his own daughter Nikki, born prematurely in 1966 and who was only diagnosed late in life as autistic; she committed suicide in 2007. I’ll be writing in more depth about Bacharach and his score later this month for Variety.
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.
Last night I moderated a Q&A with top film composer Hans Zimmer, top songwriter-producer Pharrell Williams and their talented collaborator Benjamin Wallfisch, whose combined talents resulted in the score for an upcoming film, Hidden Figures. It’s the amazing untold story of three African-American women whose math and engineering skills helped catapult the United States into the space race in the early 1960s. I think it will stun a lot of people when it opens at Christmas. The Society of Composers & Lyricists sponsored the screening, and the lively discussion that followed featured Williams discussing his original songs, and Zimmer and Wallfisch talking about how they were further inspired by both the story and Williams’ ’60s-style sounds.
It was a joy to host the Sunday Q&A with the braintrust behind the music of Disney’s new animated Moana, which I believe will be a big hit for the studio. After the Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of the film at Pacific Design Center, I quizzed Tony-winning Hamilton genius Lin-Manuel Miranda, Samoan-born singer-songwriter Opetaia Foa’i, score composer Mark Mancina, and Disney music producer Tom MacDougall, about how the songs and score came about; about their commitment to authenticity in conveying the music of South Pacific cultures; and just how Miranda managed to juggle Hamilton and Moana at the same time. These guys were informative, candid and funny. Here, incidentally, is the story I wrote for Variety about the songs and score.
Fascinating day on Saturday, interviewing Justin Timberlake, who is not only a voice in the new DreamWorks animated movie Trolls but also served as its executive music producer. Timberlake oversaw production on all of the songs, both original and covers. He was joined by two of his collaborators, top pop producers Max Martin and Shellback. The occasion was a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of the movie at Raleigh Studios; the room was packed and all three guys were thoughtful and funny. Even Timberlake seemed wowed by the notion that his video for “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” a strong contender for Best Song honors during awards season, has now been viewed by 275 million people.
Thursday night at the Directors Guild of America, four collaborators on the Jesse Stone television movies joined me on stage after a screening of the latest Hallmark Channel movie, Jesse Stone: Lost in Paradise. The occasion was composer Jeff Beal’s Emmy nomination for Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie or Special, and it was a treat to hear star Tom Selleck, director Robert Harmon and writer-producer Michael Brandman extol Beal’s music as a key component of the storytelling in all nine Jesse Stone movies. I was delighted to act as moderator and to find out, first-hand, that actor-writer-producer Selleck was as interested in the contribution of music as everyone else on that stage.
The winners are in, and they’re Ennio Morricone (for his Hateful Eight score) and Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes (for their Spectre song, “Writing’s on the Wall”). It’s only the second time in Oscar history that a 007 song has won Oscar gold (the last, of course, was “Skyfall,” from the previous Bond film) and their victory must be deemed a surprise. I chronicle the entire weekend’s music events here — including the musical ups and downs of the broadcast, Saturday’s SCL Oscar music reception, and Friday’s Hollywood Walk of Fame honors. Anticipating Morricone’s Oscar win, I wrote a second story for Variety about the Italian maestro that enabled me to use more of our February interview.