If you left Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 unexpectedly moved by the finale, you can thank composer Tyler Bates, whose symphonic and choral work was perhaps his most accomplished yet in films. Bates, a former rock guitarist who still goes out on the road with Marilyn Manson from time to time, has not only built an entirely new career composing for films and television, he has built a very loyal clientele. As director David Leitch (the soon-in-theaters Atomic Blonde) told me for this latest Billion Dollar Composer section in Variety: “I don’t want to do a movie without Tyler Bates.” And as Guardians director James Gunn put it in a second story: Bates is “the most undervalued part of both Guardians films. They aren’t the Guardians of the Galaxy without Tyler Bates.”
It isn’t often that I go after a “scoop” — what we print journalists used to call getting to a hot story first. But when I heard that John Williams would not be scoring both of the Steven Spielberg films currently in production (The Papers and Ready Player One), I thought it was worth the effort. So we at Variety were the first to report that Williams will score The Papers, the Pentagon Papers story, and that Alan Silvestri (perhaps best known for such classics as Back to the Future and Forrest Gump) will be doing the sci-fi film Ready Player One. Silvestri is well known to Spielberg, who has produced a number of Robert Zemeckis films that he has scored over the years.
As you know, I tend to wax nostalgic about classic TV music of the ’60s and ’70s. But there’s a lot of really exciting work being done now in television, too, and much of it was showcased in a Television Academy concert called “Words & Music” Thursday night, June 29, at the Academy’s Saban Media Center in North Hollywood. Music from Homeland, Luke Cage, Empire, Underground, Feud, Narcos, This Is Us, The Americans, The Good Fight and many others was played live by a 27-piece orchestra with a number of vocal soloists. I reviewed the evening here in a piece for Variety.
For my first Variety Artisans video, I interviewed veteran musical-theater songwriter Stephen Schwartz, the recent recipient of ASCAP’s Founders Award, at the renowned Nightbird Studios in Hollywood. He talked about the ASCAP honor, discussed the status of the Wicked movie (due, we hope, in 2019), and previews a new song that he has written for the stage version of Prince of Egypt, which will debut in Palo Alto, Calif., later this fall.
It’s always a pleasure to interview composer Randy Newman, and even more fun to attend a recording session for one of his movie scores. Newman loves the orchestra — and they love him, as you’ll read in a story for this week’s Variety — and for Cars 3, he used no fewer than 107 musicians. That’s more than most Star Wars movies. At 73, Newman is still at the top of his game, crafting a fine, expressive, even classically styled score for the latest Pixar film (his eighth; he’s won two Oscars and been nominated six more times for his songs and scores for such previous hits as Toy Story 1, 2 and 3, A Bug’s Life and Monsters Inc.) Pixar czar John Lasseter even showed up while we were at the session, and he raves about Newman yet again.
Composer Brian Tyler (The Fate of the Furious, Avengers: Age of Ultron) penned more than two hours of music for Universal’s remake of The Mummy, including a massive orchestra and choir recorded earlier this year at London’s Abbey Road. I interviewed Brian for Variety, which asked me to place the new Mummy score in the context of previous musical efforts along these lines — which gave me a chance to link to excerpts from past scores by James Dietrich, Hans J. Salter, Franz Reizenstein and Jerry Goldsmith. And not only did Back Lot Music gave us an exclusive four-minute track, but Tyler clued us in to an “Easter egg” of a hat-tip to Goldsmith that he quietly inserted into his own score.
To launch this season’s Variety coverage of the Emmy race in the music categories, I talked with a TV Academy governor and five music supervisors who may be possible nominees (for such diverse series as Halt & Catch Fire, Outsiders, Empire, Star, 13 Reasons Why and Ray Donovan) in the new category of Outstanding Music Supervision. Voters will judge these shows on the best use of songs (both original and licensed) in their dramatic contexts. For a second story about this year’s scores and songs, I interviewed the composers and songwriters of four of the season’s most talked-about TV shows: The Crown, Feud and Stranger Things and, for songs, that musical episode of The Flash.
Stephen Schwartz was honored last week with the Founders Award of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). In addition to covering the annual ASCAP Screen Music Awards for Variety — which featured not only the Schwartz honor but a number of other awards doled out to film, TV and video game composers — I had the pleasure of interviewing him at length about his career. He talked about working on the upcoming (2019?) Wicked movie, both screenplay and new songs, as well as the enduring popularity of such Broadway shows as Pippin and Godspell. His Prince of Egypt score (from the 1998 animated film) has been expanded for a stage version to debut this fall.
Oscar-nominated, Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer Alan Silvestri received BMI’s Icon Award Wednesday night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. His was the top honor among dozens distributed by the performing-rights society. The evening was a who’s-who of composers, songwriters and music supervisors active in films and TV. Variety asked me to cover the event, so I managed to sneak in a little time with the composer of Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Cast Away, TV’s Cosmos and so much more. Among others in attendance: Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy), Brian Tyler (Fate of the Furious), the legendary Mike Post (Law & Order), W.G. Snuffy Walden (The West Wing) and many others. Excerpts from my red-carpet interviews are included in this video.
Oscar-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith finally received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today, May 9, 2017. For a section in this week’s Variety, I asked composers who knew him and directors who worked with him for a little perspective on the man and his career. Goldsmith, whose filmography included The Sand Pebbles, Patton, Chinatown, Planet of the Apes, five Star Trek films and more than 100 others, was among the most respected composers in the history of Hollywood. Directors Joe Dante, Paul Verhoeven and Fred Schepisi contributed thoughts, as did composers David Newman, Christophe Beck and Charles Fox. Goldsmith died way too early, in 2004, and the star is not only overdue but well deserved. Here is the main story and here is a sidebar discussing 10 of his greatest scores. Finally, here is a complete rundown of the ceremony, who attended and what was said.