Ludwig Goransson, the Swedish-born composer who won last year’s Oscar for his terrific music for Black Panther, resurfaces with an original score for the new Star Wars series The Mandalorian, which debuted on Disney+ on Nov. 14. Goransson invited me to his comfy, colorful studio for this Variety piece in which he discusses his fresh, unusual but effective musical approach for the series. Producer Jon Favreau chimes in with some behind-the-scenes thoughts on why Goransson was the right composer for the project.
This year’s Variety Music for Screens summit featured an entire day’s worth of panels of interest to those active in music for movies, TV, games and elsewhere. I moderated two panels, one of which spotlighted Joker composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (pictured) discussing her much talked-about score, as well as the unique sounds of her Chernobyl miniseries that recently won her an Emmy. The second panel featured composers Amie Doherty (Undone), Michael Abels (Us), Christophe Beck (Frozen II), Nicholas Britell (Succession), Alan Silvestri (Avengers: Endgame) and Siddhartha Khosla (This Is Us).
Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future) has been writing music for films for more than 40 years, and he is still at the top of his game as demonstrated by his music for the year’s highest-grossing movie, Avengers: Endgame. At a Society of Composers & Lyricists Q&A after a screening at The Grove on Thursday, Silvestri was both articulate and entertaining in explaining how he went about the final two Avengers scores (Infinity War in 2018 and Endgame in 2019), his earlier Marvel movies (Captain America and The Avengers in 2011 and 2012) and the inspiration required to write music when few if any of those all-important visual effects aren’t yet in the film. My 38-minute “For Scores” podcast with Silvestri can be found here.
Last year, the Television Academy added a music supervision category to its many Emmy craft fields. Then, the newly admitted music supervisors could vote only in that category; this year, they can vote in all seven music categories, including four composition fields, which has many composer members up in arms. Considerable resentment is simmering in the music “peer group” over how the music-supervision issue has been handled, and I tackle this sensitive subject in a new story for Variety.
Every year at this time, Variety asks me to view all of the Emmy nominees in the music categories, interview as many as possible, and write a bit about their accomplishment. It’s gotten more complicated as the years have gone by, as there are now seven categories (music composition for a series, for a miniseries or movie, and for a documentary; songwriting; music direction; main title theme; and music supervision). The chart now covers two pages of the August Music for Screens issue, and is rarely reproduced online. Click on the individual pages (and then zoom in for a closer look at each).
This year Disney and Pixar have been on a roll, revisiting classics and asking their original composers to return with new music, or refreshed versions of their award-winning music from the past. Music is so critical to our appreciation of these fantastic worlds, and in each case Variety asked me to interview the Oscar-winning musical architects. First, Alan Menken talked about revisiting the songs and score of Aladdin for the live-action remake, and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul discussed writing new lyrics for it. Then Randy Newman discussed returning to the world of Woody & Buzz for the wildly popular Toy Story 4. And finally Hans Zimmer talked at length about returning to the African setting of The Lion King, now redone in an incredibly realistic computer-imagery version, and how diversity in music-making fueled his decisions.
I couldn’t let the 100th anniversary of the birth of Earle Hagen — one of the most important and most successful composers in TV history — pass without a look back at his massive impact on the medium. For this Variety story, I revisited the interviews I did when the Andy Griffith Show and Dick Van Dyke Show composer was posthumously inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011. Van Dyke, Marlo Thomas from That Girl, and Stacy Keach from Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, all talked about Hagen’s role in setting the time, place and mood of each show. Hagen’s own words; those of fellow Emmy-winning composers Mike Post and protege Bruce Babcock; and YouTube clips of his classic themes, including I Spy and The Mod Squad, are also included.
I knew him as the composer of the themes for The Patty Duke Show and The Trials of O’Brien back in the 1960s — and as the creator of the “Come Alive!” Pepsi Generation jingle sung so memorably by Joanie Sommers in that same era. But Sid Ramin, who died July 1 at the age of 100, was much more than that: He won the Oscar, and a Grammy, for adapting Leonard Bernstein’s music for the West Side Story movie (which he and Irwin Kostal had originally orchestrated for the Broadway show in 1957). He was a triple threat composer, arranger and conductor, and one of the nicest men in music. I wrote this obituary for Variety.
One of the most interesting movie-music assignments of the year fell to composer Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), who was recruited by director Danny Boyle to supervise all of the music, on-screen and off, in the romantic comedy Yesterday. There are 25 Beatles songs, heard in part or in their entirety, many of them sung by actor Himesh Patel (who, amusingly, plays a budding singer-songwriter who, in a twist of fate, seems to be the only person in the world who remembers the Beatles and turns his memory of their songs into a smashing new career). Pemberton explains how he went about it in this Variety story.
An unexpected controversy arose over music in the new Shaft movie, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Roundtree and Jessie T. Usher as three generations of the Shaft family. Isaac Hayes III, son of the Oscar- and Grammy-winning soul-music icon, hoped to produce the new film’s soundtrack; but that didn’t happen, and the New Line film contains newly recorded versions of the classic theme but no actual tracks by the composer (who died in 2008). I interviewed both the heir, composer Christopher Lennertz (who scored the new film) and sources close to the studio for this Variety story.