This year’s season of podcasts was shortened due to COVID, but we did manage to do six, many of them remotely (thanks to the wonderful engineers and staff at the legendary Village recording studios in West L.A.): David Newman and Matt Sullivan for their work on West Side Story; Natalie Holt on both Loki and Obi-Wan Kenobi; Laura Karpman on Ms. Marvel; Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard on Pinocchio; and Alan Menken on Disenchanted. This is a Disney Music Group production (available wherever you get your podcasts) and you can find our updated list at https://forscores.com/.
Two of this year’s biggest, most moving musical scores were for larger-than-life spectacles. Avengers: Endgame became the year’s top-grossing film, and its massive symphonic score by Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future) matched the galaxy-spanning scope of the Marvel Universe finale. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World featured some of the finest music written for an animated feature in many years, no surprise considering its composer, John Powell (Oscar-nominated for the first Dragon film), devoted months to crafting its lavish orchestral and choral score. Special sections of Variety featured both of these articles: here is the Silvestri piece and here is the Powell story.
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.
Word is out: Disney Music Group took out this full-page ad in Variety‘s Music for Screens issue to announce its new podcast, “For Scores,” with me as host. The first four installments will drop on Friday, Aug. 23: Conversations with composers Alan Silvestri (on Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame), Pinar Toprak (Captain Marvel), Harry Gregson-Williams (on Disneynature’s Penguins and Disney’s upcoming Mulan) and Henry Jackman (on the Wreck-It-Ralph movies and Big Hero 6). We’re nearly finished with the next four installments — but Disney will make that announcement in time. I agreed to do this in part because the Disney empire now encompasses Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm and 20th Century-Fox, and the possibilities for fascinating conversations with top composers seem endless. More details are here, in Variety‘s news story; Billboard talked to Disney execs about it. Go here to listen!
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.
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.
For one of its awards-related special end-of-year issues, Variety asked me to inquire of this year’s crop of potential score honorees about the challenges they face in a changing environment for composers in film. It was an interesting assignment, and I asked Johann Johannsson (Arrival), James Newton Howard (Fantastic Beasts), John Debney (The Jungle Book), Nicholas Britell (Moonlight), Alan Silvestri (Allied) and John Williams (The BFG) about time to compose, budgets, temp tracks, synth mockups and the controversial new practice of “striping” (recording different sections of the orchestra separately from one another).
The third of my four stories in this week’s special issue of Variety deals with the music for this year’s big war movies, Hacksaw Ridge and Allied. I interviewed Rupert Gregson-Williams about working with Mel Gibson on the music of Hacksaw Ridge, and Alan Silvestri about Allied, his 16th feature film with director Robert Zemeckis. Both were illuminating, as the composers talked about going beyond the old war-movie cliches and finding new ways to illustrate, or deepen, the stories with music.
One of the most fun things I get to do involves presenting film-music events for the American Youth Symphony, one of the country’s finest ensembles of young musicians. Saturday night, at UCLA’s Royce Hall, they performed — under the baton of the brilliant music director David Newman — the entire score for Back to the Future, live to picture. It was a pleasure to conduct the pre-concert Q&A with writer-producer Bob Gale and composer Alan Silvestri, both of whom were informative and funny in discussing their work on the 1985 classic starring Michael J. Fox. The feeling in the sold-out hall was positively electric, and those involved with the event said that they had never seen such an enthusiastic response to Back to the Future – Live in Concert.
Talk about a fun assignment: Last night, the Los Angeles Philharmonic played Alan Silvestri’s music for the 1985 film Back to the Future “live to picture,” with the estimable David Newman conducting. It was a near-sellout with more than 16,000 people attending, and the crowd cheered every iconic moment in the time-travel romp starring Michael J. Fox. I interviewed the composer about his memories of scoring Back to the Future — which was only his second opportunity to write for orchestra — and why he wrote another 20 minutes of music specifically for these live presentations.