So far this awards season, a good deal of attention has been paid to If Beale Street Could Talk, the adaptation of James Baldwin’s Harlem love story that is even more relevant today than when it was written in 1974. Composer Nicholas Britell reunited with his Moonlight director Barry Jenkins on that one. But I find Britell’s music for Vice, writer-director Adam McKay’s seriocomic look at former Vice President Dick Cheney’s life, even more interesting and compelling. It required a full London symphony orchestra, and the mix of classically styled, big-band, dissonant and emotional music throughout was the topic of our Q&A after a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening Tuesday night in Westwood.
German-born, London-based post-minimalist composer Max Richter was in town this week to promote his score for the new Mary Queen of Scots starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. Richter, who divides his time equally between concert music (The Blue Notebooks, Sleep) and media music (Miss Sloane, The Leftovers), is thoughtful and articulate, as he demonstrated during a Q&A I did with him after a screening of the film Tuesday night at Universal Studios. The Society of Composers & Lyricists sponsored the sold-out event.
Thursday night, I had the pleasure of interviewing Oscar-nominated composer Carter Burwell (Carol, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) after a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of the newest film by Joel and Ethan Cohen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Burwell has been scoring the Coen brothers’ films for more than 30 years, dating back to Blood Simple in 1984. This often amusing, sometimes harrowing Western is in six parts, which was like “scoring six movies,” Burwell said.
The new film First Man, which chronicles the 1960s experiences of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong (first to land on the moon in 1969), reunited composer Justin Hurwitz and director Damien Chazelle — both of whom earned Oscars for their musical La La Land in 2016. On Oct. 14, Hurwitz and Chazelle joined me for a lively discussion of their collaboration on the film; why they felt that a theremin and vintage Moog synthesizer sounds were appropriate musical choices; and the advantages of a composer having his studio literally next door to where the film was being edited. The occasion was a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening at the Linwood Dunn Theater.
It’s always a joy to interview Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the mega-hot songwriters who have already won the Oscar (for La La Land), a Tony and a Grammy (for Dear Evan Hansen). They were back in Hollywood this week to tout their Emmy-nominated work in Fox’s A Christmas Story Live! and I was honored to conduct the Q&A for the Society for Composers & Lyricists. We talked about their new song (“In the Market for a Miracle”) as well as their next major assignments, collaborating with Alan Menken on the live-action Aladdin and starting another Disney project, the live-action Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A week after this event, Variety published my interview with the two, which you can read here.
For those of us who grew up with comic books in the ’60s and ’70s, the current batch of super-hero series on the CW have proven to be great fun. They’re constantly referencing classic storylines that we remember so well. Case in point: the four-part Crisis on Earth-X crossover series that linked Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow and aired over two nights last fall. I was honored to moderate a clip-filled Q&A that featured composers Blake Neely, Nathaniel Blume, Daniel James Chan and Sherri Chung, examining in depth how they went about scoring this grand-scale TV epic. The Society of Composers & Lyricists sponsored the event.
Composer Kurt Farquhar has worked steadily in television for almost 30 years. His credits range from Sister, Sister and Moesha to South Central and The King of Queens. He led the way for hip-hop in TV scoring and now, with what he calls a “neo-urban” style for Black Lightning, has mashed up every imaginable approach for the the CW super-hero show. It was a distinct honor to moderate a Society of Composers & Lyricists Q&A with the composer, his music editor Joshua Winget, and theme composer GodHolly, at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn theater.
Composer Jeff Russo (Fargo, Star Trek: Discovery) has scored the intriguing new sci-fi thriller Counterpart for the STARZ network. I moderated an hour-long Society of Composers & Lyricists discussion about the show and its music with Russo and executive producer Jordan Horowitz. Russo’s main-title theme and score are surprisingly intimate, with a chamber-music sound owing to his use of a string quartet for much of the series.
Another awards season is finally in the books, with Sunday night’s Oscar telecast that saw Alexandre Desplat win for his Shape of Water score, and songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez for their song “Remember Me” from Coco. Variety kept me busy all weekend, writing the winner stories (score story here, including Desplat’s beating the statistical odds for a second time; song story here) and adding a Monday-morning story about Lopez becoming the first-ever double EGOT winner. A complete summary of Saturday and Sunday events — including the annual SCL Oscar reception, always a highlight of the weekend, is here.
One of the most intriguing and provocative films of last year got almost no attention at all. It was Robin Swicord’s Wakefield, based on an E.L. Doctorow short story about an angry New York lawyer who ditches his wife, daughters and career in one night and hides out in his garage for months on end. It also happens to have one of the year’s most haunting and effective scores, by composer Aaron Zigman (The Notebook, For Colored Girls). I was privileged to moderate a discussion of the film and its score with writer-director Swicord and composer Zigman after a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening on Monday, Jan. 22. Swicord is one of the best-known writers in Hollywood, having penned Little Women, Memoirs of a Geisha and other scripts and also directed The Jane Austen Book Club (also with Zigman as composer).