It was a genuine thrill to visit George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch to address the Fellows of this year’s Sundance Institute “Music and Sound Design Lab” for feature films. I talked about the possibilities of music and image with the directors and composers who were collaborating on their first films. The Marin County setting is stunning and I was one of several “creative advisors” on board (some of the others were composers Thomas Newman, George S. Clinton, Harry Gregson-Williams and Christophe Beck, director Miguel Arteta and sound designer Randy Thom). Film Music director Peter Golub, Feature Film director Michelle Satter and BMI executive Doreen Ringer Ross were immensely supportive.
The top story in this week’s special music edition of Variety deals with music for science-fiction films. Arrival — about learning to communicate with alien visitors — is already much-talked-about, and Johann Johannsson’s fascinating, voice-based score is widely considered a strong candidate for awards. Passengers, which hasn’t yet opened, is sure to be much-discussed, too, and Thomas Newman’s music combines traditional orchestra and contemporary electronics in ways that only Newman can. I talked at length to both composers for this story, one of four I’ve written examining music in 2016 movies.
Composer Thomas Newman — whose 13 Oscar nominations include scores for Pixar’s Finding Nemo and WALL-E — has returned to the Disney/Pixar fold for the sequel Finding Dory, which focuses on the sweet blue tang with short-term memory loss (again voiced by Ellen DeGeneres). This time Dory is determined to find her parents, an odyssey that takes her across the ocean to a California aquarium. For a Variety story about Newman’s music, and his third time tackling an animated film directed by Andrew Stanton, I interviewed both composer and director during the recording sessions at Sony and at later mixing sessions at The Village in West L.A.
My last Variety story during the 2015 Oscar campaign examines each of the five nominees for Best Original Score: music by John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Thomas Newman, Carter Burwell and Johann Johannsson. Here is the link to the score story; also here is a second story, about this year’s Best Song category, that draws on my original interviews with nominees Lady Gaga and Diane Warren (“Til It Happens to You”), Sam Smith (“Writing’s on the Wall”) and J. Ralph (“Manta Ray”).
I’ve moderated a number of post-screening talks with composers during awards season, most recently Monday night at The Landmark with French composer Alexandre Desplat about his exquisite music for The Danish Girl. Desplat was charming, funny and articulate as always — especially in discussing how his life didn’t change at all after winning the Oscar last year for Grand Budapest Hotel. Last month I interviewed Thomas Newman about his music for Bridge of Spies, also for SCL, on the Walt Disney lot. Both composers stand a strong chance of an Oscar nomination later this week.
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!
Every year we try and assess who has the best shot at a nomination for the original-score Oscar. Eight of the 12 profiles in this year’s Variety Oscar-music section are mine: Marco Beltrami, Danny Elfman, Michael Giacchino, Jonny Greenwood, Henry Jackman, Clint Mansell, Thomas Newman and Steven Price. (Colleague Tim Greiving penned the other four: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Gary Yershon, Mark Mothersbaugh.) Tim and I also collaborated on this year’s overview of Best Song possibilities.
The Academy’s musical choices were all fine in its first staged concert of Academy Award-nominated music. The problems were the host and the interviewer, neither of whom came off well. My editors chose to leave out my recitation of the more ludicrous moments. This is what didn’t make it into the Variety story:
Film critic Elvis Mitchell, enlisted to interview the composers between segments, was hit-and-miss, getting one of the Arcade Fire composers’ names wrong (“William Phillips”? It’s William Butler) and drawing head-scratching and irrelevant parallels with his favorite Western scores (Ennio Morricone for Gravity, Williams’ obscure The Missouri Breaks for The Book Thief, which could not be farther afield from one another).
Thomas Newman, one of today’s brightest and most talented composers, has been the subject of many stories over the years. Most recently there was his score for the James Bond film Skyfall, which was Oscar-nominated and won a BAFTA. (Read more about it in my Bond book!) Before that, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Prior to that, the contrasting styles of The Help and The Iron Lady. Here’s one about Brothers, and another on Revolutionary Road and WALL-E. This one goes all the way back to American Beauty and The Green Mile.