Each year, for its summertime Music for Screens section, Variety asks me to prepare a chart listing every nominee in all six music categories including a brief description of the music itself, or something relevant to the nomination. It means a lot of TV watching in July and August! And often interviewing the composers, songwriters and music directors about what their jobs were and how they went about the task of writing or supervising the scores of each show. Editors always call it the Emmy “cheat sheet,” although I don’t know if that’s for the voters or the viewers…
The Television Academy announced its nominees for the 70th annual Emmy Awards on July 12. There are now six music categories in the prime-time race. My overview of the music nominees ran that morning in Variety, highlighting the possibility that an Emmy win for songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul could make them EGOTs (having won all four major show-biz awards). For an Aug. 13 story, I interviewed the nominees for Music Composition for a Series (including Game of Thrones, Jessica Jones, Once Upon a Time, SEAL Team, Star Wars Rebels and Westworld). And for an Aug. 14 story, I interviewed the nominees for Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie or Special (including Alias Grace, Black Mirror, Godless, March of the Penguins 2 and two different episodes of Electric Dreams).
The Hollywood community was stunned last week by the death of Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer Patrick Williams. Not only among the most talented composer-arrangers of his generation, “Pat” Williams was one of the nicest guys in the business, one of the all-time great big-band leaders and a strong supporter of music education — a rare combination. I was lucky to get to know him over the past 30 years and it’s been hard to say goodbye. I wrote a fact-filled obituary for Variety and a slightly different version for the AFM’s Overture, but I also wrote an appreciation of the man and his music that I think conveys a bit more of who he was and why we all loved him.
If you’ve seen the latest Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible adventure, Fallout, there are two things you can’t miss: Cruise’s amazing stunts and Lorne Balfe’s musical score. Balfe utilizes Lalo Schifrin’s classic Mission themes in practically every scene. He wrote approximately four hours of music for the film and it took an entire month to record in London, as the composer told me for this Variety story about his nine-month odyssey to create the music with director Christopher McQuarrie (and a little help from Cruise). The Variety piece also includes a wonderful three-minute video shot during the London recordings.
Adam Taylor has just finished scoring the second season of the acclaimed, Emmy-winning Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale. I got to attend the final recording session for the season and was sworn to secrecy about the details of those last two episodes — but it was worth it to watch a 27-member string ensemble enhance the drama with their exquisite playing on the Warner Bros. recording stage. What was even more fascinating was interviewing both Taylor and, via email, star-producer Elisabeth Moss about the importance of music in the series. The story ran July 11 in Variety.
One of Hollywood’s greatest studios has launched a long-range program to find, preserve and release some of its previously unreleased film scores. It’s called the “Universal Pictures Film Music Heritage Collection” and launches this week with the first-ever release of the music from Colossus: The Forbin Project. Scores by Henry Mancini, Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin and other top composers will follow. It’s an exciting proposition for us film music fans, and I was pleased to break this story in the pages of Variety.
Think of these songs: “Chim Chim Cheree,” “It’s a Small World,” “Winnie the Pooh.” The likelihood is you know them, and once reminded, you can’t get them out of your head. That’s the mark of a great song and, more to the point, a great songwriter — in this case two great songwriters, Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, who were Walt Disney’s go-to tunesmiths in the 1960s (but whose catalog ranges far beyond just Disney songs). Richard, now 90, was guest of honor at the Academy’s salute to these songs, their movies, and his late brother Bob. I reviewed this warm and memorable evening for Variety.
I am proud to say that I have been writing about female film composers for decades (from Shirley Walker to Rachel Portman to Anne Dudley to Lolita Ritmanis and many others along the way). I have waited for many years for a woman to score a big-budget franchise film, and now it’s finally happened. Pinar Toprak, the Istanbul-born, super-talented composer of TV’s Krypton, has been signed to compose the music for Captain Marvel, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was delighted to announce it in this Variety story.
Prolific, award-winning composer Michael Giacchino went in two directions at once this spring — boisterous fun for The Incredibles 2, dark and scary for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, films that are currently dominating the American box office. I visited the recording sessions for Incredibles and then talked to the composer about writing two big scores back-to-back for major film franchises. It was also an opportunity to discuss his latest concert work, celebrating the 60th anniversary of NASA, June 1 with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.
This was maybe my favorite story so far this year. Composer Nathan Barr (The Americans) loves mechanical musical instruments from the early 20th century. So he went after the biggest one imaginable: a Wurlitzer organ from the silent-movie era. And not just any Wurlitzer: the one that, from 1928 to 1997, resided on the scoring stage at 20th Century-Fox (for which such legendary composers as Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith wrote). Barr found it, brought it back to L.A., spent a fortune restoring it, and even built a new recording studio to house it. It’s an extraordinary story, published here in Variety, and I was thrilled to be the first to pass along the details. (Photos by Dan Goldwasser.)