With Blade Runner 2049 opening this weekend, and the colossal box-office success of It, I thought it was the perfect moment to talk at length with composer Benjamin Wallfisch about both scores — which, incidentally, couldn’t be farther apart in terms of style and execution. Wallfisch collaborated with Hans Zimmer on the all-electronic score for Blade Runner, and in this interview for Variety he discusses their intent to remind us of the sound of the original (composed in 1982 by Vangelis) while also making it fresh for a new story set 30 years later. Wallfisch also discusses his complex and frightening symphonic score for the Stephen King thriller It, which must rank among the finest orchestral scores of the year.
It was a genuine thrill to be the first journalist allowed to hear the songs that Oscar- and Tony-winning tunesmiths Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have penned for the upcoming Hugh Jackman film The Greatest Showman (debuting at Christmas), a musical biopic of the legendary P.T. Barnum. It’s the lead music story in this week’s Variety, and includes a brief look at four of the songs, plus interviews with the songwriters, Jackman and director Michael Gracey. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Pasek & Paul are today’s hottest musical-theater writers, only a few months after winning Oscars for La La Land and Tonys for Dear Evan Hansen. Plus they are really terrific guys who have an amazing sense of musical-theater history.
In his first interview about scoring the new Star Trek: Discovery series, composer Jeff Russo talks about how he came up with the theme, the use of full orchestras (now a rarity in weekly TV scoring), and about the idea of a more nuanced approach to scoring the Klingon Empire. Variety published this today, just a few days before the Sept. 24 debut of the new sci-fi series on CBS All Access. Discovery producer Alex Kurtzman also chimed in on the importance of music in his new series. Russo recently won his first Emmy for Fargo.
Writer-director-actor-singer Seth MacFarlane loves the orchestra — not just as backing for his albums and live musical appearances, but for his movies and TV shows too. He is a fan of classic movie scores and understands the value of real musicians helping to support the emotional needs of both drama and comedy. So for his new sci-fi series The Orville, debuting Sunday on Fox, he enlisted the services of three of the finest orchestral composers in Hollywood: Bruce Broughton, who scored the pilot and wrote the theme; Joel McNeely and John Debney, who are scoring the individual episodes. They are using orchestras of 60 to 70, which is much larger than the average TV ensemble these days. In this story for Variety, MacFarlane, Broughton and McNeely talk about the challenge and the fun involved.
Strange as it may sound, this story may have had the widest global repercussions of any story I’ve ever written for Variety. I learned that composer Alf Clausen, after scoring more than 550 episodes and winning two Emmys for his music, had been fired from The Simpsons after 27 years on the job. It was shocking, but after talking with Alf about it, we decided to go public on Aug. 30. I filed the story at 11:50 a.m., Variety posted it at 12:15, and within hours virtually every outlet in the world was repeating the news. It even made the front page of the BBC. Fox declined comment at the time, and was clearly unprepared for the worldwide outrage that would follow. Clausen is not only highly respected within the musical community, he earned nearly two dozen Emmy nominations for his work on that show alone — and is believed to hold the record for scoring the most episodes of a prime-time network series in television history.
Every year for Variety‘s late-summer music issue I prepare a chart examining every nominee in the Emmy music categories. This year the number expanded from five to six, with the new music-supervision category, so the “chart” now encompasses two pages instead of just one. We looked at the nominees’ past Emmy record, and created a line or two that gives a sense of the music, the song, the music direction and whatever else seems to be relevant. This content is rarely posted online, so here’s what they looked like in this week’s issue.
There is tremendous excitement among Marvel Comics fans about the upcoming Inhumans series on ABC, which has a a big orchestral score by Sean Callery (24, Jessica Jones). But, in fact, the Marvel TV universe encompasses a wide variety of musical sounds and styles, which I explore in a piece in this week’s Variety. In addition to Callery, I interviewed Bear McCreary (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Ali Shaheed Muhammad (Luke Cage), Jeff Russo (Legion), Trevor Morris (Iron Fist), Tyler Bates (The Punisher), John Paesano (Daredevil, The Defenders), Siddhartha Khosla (Runaways) and ABC music exec Dawn Soler.
The American Federation of Musicians, particularly its Local 47 and its Recording Musicians Association conference, has been struggling for years to lure recording work back to L.A.; much of it is now done off-shore, especially in London and other European cities, primarily because of the union’s insistence on residuals for studio musicians. Its latest tactic is now before the California legislature in the form of tax credits offered to films made overseas and low-budget independent productions. I explore this plan in a story for Variety; and followed it up a few days later with a report about a music-filled rally the union staged downtown in front of City Hall.
Nearing the end of his world tour, composer Hans Zimmer brought his live concert show to L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium, where 6,000 fans screamed and cheered to his iconic themes from The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception and many others. I attended the Friday-evening concert and filed this report for Variety the next day. The photo at left, incidentally, is the cover of the $10 “souvenir program” — which turned out to be worth the price for its set list, Zimmer interview and thoughts by several of the musicians performing with him.
A year ago, in August 2016, a unique and important concert happened in downtown Los Angeles: A 55-piece orchestra and 30-voice choir performed the music of 20 leading film, TV and game composers — all of whom happened to be female. Sponsored by the Alliance for Women Film Composers to call attention to their underrated but wildly talented membership, it was filmed by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Sara Nesson, who has turned the experience into a 12-minute short. For this piece in Variety, I interviewed Nesson and two of the composers showcased on that concert, Lolita Ritmanis (Young Justice) and Germaine Franco (Coco).