Justin Hurwitz talks about composing the songs and score for La La Land; Dustin O’Halloran discusses the complexities of writing the music for Lion with another composer on the other side of the world; and Nicholas Britell explains how a hip-hop technique informed his piano-and-violin score for Moonlight. SoundWorks Collection offered a rare opportunity to go in-depth with each of these Oscar-nominated composers, talking about the unique challenges of each film and even playing their key themes at the piano. Here is the Hurwitz video, shot in a unique North Hollywood location; here is O’Halloran, in his Los Angeles studio; and here is Britell, talking and performing in L.A.’s legendary Nightbird studio. The series is called “Road to the Oscars,” and I was delighted to be its host.
John Ottman, who is as skilled an editor as he is a composer, has filled both jobs again (as well as being a co-producer) on the action-packed, visual-effects-filled X-Men: Apocalypse, which opens this weekend. In this fascinating interview for SoundWorks Collection, Ottman talks about his triple-threat role, how complex the job was, whether he thinks about music while he’s cutting the film, and much, much more. This was his third X-Men film (after X2 and Days of Future Past) and his 10th project with director Bryan Singer.
The first of my online video interviews for SoundWorks Collection this year is with composer Henry Jackman, whose massive, muscular score is helping to drive Captain America: Civil War to the top of the summer box office. Jackman is a smart, funny, classically educated Englishman whose additional experience in pop music has helped to make him a bankable composer for such A-list movies as Wreck-It-Ralph and Big Hero 6. His earlier Marvel movies included X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Our lengthy conversation took place in his Santa Monica studio and is punctuated with the composer playing his themes at the piano as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes footage.
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.
New York-based composer Carter Burwell flew out to L.A. to talk about his score for director Todd Haynes’ new film Carol. We did an on-camera interview that is now on SoundWorks Collection, but Friday night we also did an audience Q&A after a screening sponsored by the Society of Composers & Lyricists. Burwell — who is well-known for his scores for many Coen Bros. films including Fargo, as well as two in the Twilight series — was, as always, thoughtful and articulate. The Carol score, written for a small ensemble including strings, piano, harp and a few woodwinds, may well be a contender in this year’s awards season.
Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian is not only getting great reviews, it’s his biggest commercial success in years. Last week I sat down with English composer Harry Gregson-Williams (Scott’s collaborator on such past films as Kingdom of Heaven) to discuss his music for The Martian. It’s for my partners at SoundWorks Collection and is our best video to date, incorporating scenes from the film, musical excerpts, and footage of Harry conducting a large ensemble in London’s Abbey Road. Harry talks about the hybrid nature of the score (partially electronic, partially orchestral, some choral work), how his musical approach changed during the scoring process, and why he likes to conduct his own work.
My latest SoundWorks Collection interview is with Dutch composer Tom Holkenborg (formerly known as producer-performer Junkie XL). His latest film is Black Mass, which stars Johnny Depp as Boston crime lord James “Whitey” Bulger. It’s very different from his Mad Max: Fury Road score in that it prominently features solo cello (played by Steve Erdody), a large string orchestra, piano and even pipe organ. Up next for him: a collaboration with Hans Zimmer on Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice for next year.
In this first video interview for SoundWorks Collection, I talk at length with composer Joseph Trapanese about scoring the summer hit Straight Outta Compton. Trapanese, who has previously collaborated with Daft Punk on Tron: Legacy and with M83 on Oblivion — as well as creating his own scores for films like Earth to Echo and Insurgent — talked about the dramatic needs of this film and what it was like to have Dr. Dre in his studio during the scoring process.