Billie Eilish and Hans Zimmer take on James Bond! Those were the headlines for weeks in early 2020 as production on No Time to Die, the 25th 007 film, was winding down. A year later, Eilish and her brother, co-writer Finneas O’Connell, won the Grammy for her title song even though the film had not yet been released. When we finally saw No Time to Die in October, we discovered that Zimmer had incorporated “We Have All the Time in the World” as part of the dramatic score, and I wrote a Variety story explaining the references to John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service score (including that song). In December I had the pleasure of interviewing Billie & Finneas about their title song, and in January it was a special honor to interview the entire Bond team — producer Barbara Broccoli, director Cary Fukunaga, composer Zimmer, songwriters Billie & Finneas, and associate producer Greg Wilson — for a 40-minute Zoom conversation on music in No Time to Die. And of course Billie & Finneas won the Oscar in March.
This writer — the author of The Music of James Bond — was proud to supply Variety with the world exclusive that composer Hans Zimmer is scoring the new 007 film, No Time to Die. I placed a lot of calls to sources on both sides of the Atlantic to lock down as many details as possible. The sad part was having to report, also for the first time, that Dan Romer, director Cary Fukunaga’s original choice as composer (they collaborated on Beasts of No Nation and Maniac), had been fired after months of working on the film. Zimmer joined the Bond team in early December; the Oscar winner is, of course, a veteran of action franchises from Pirates of the Caribbean to the Dark Knight films.
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.
The process of choosing “best song” and “best score” for this year’s Academy Awards will be a little more complicated for voters. Revised Oscar rules mandate that the music branch choose 15 pre-nominees in each category, requiring them to see and evaluate all of the eligible works an entire month earlier than usual. This may alter the results and eliminate late-December releases from the race. I discuss this in an analysis story for this week’s Variety. Also this week: individual looks at 13 potential score nominees, including Mary Queen of Scots, A Quiet Place, Green Book, On the Basis of Sex, Widows, Red Sparrow and Fantastic Beasts 2, BlacKkKlansman, Stan & Ollie, Boy Erased, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, If Beale Street Could Talk and Vice.
Those of you in Europe this summer may be lucky enough to experience “The World of Hans Zimmer,” a concert of Zimmer’s classic film themes performed by a large orchestra and choir conducted by his longtime associate Gavin Greenaway. The producers commissioned me to write a lengthy essay that, over 1,700 words, examines the composer’s career and impact on contemporary film music (from Gladiator and Inception to The Dark Knight and The DaVinci Code). It was an honor to share space in the program with Zimmer himself, whose opening piece explores his own experiences listening to, and ultimately writing for, a symphony orchestra. Information on the tour is available here.
This year, many cities in Europe will be treated to “The World of Hans Zimmer,” a concert featuring orchestra, choir and soloists performing some of the famous composer’s greatest works for film (everything from Gladiator and Inception to The Lion King and The Dark Knight). For the program, was pleased to be asked to write an essay putting the German-born, London-trained and now L.A.-based composer’s career into perspective. It wasn’t easy — but it was fun. Around the same time, I managed to break the story about Zimmer receiving the Max Steiner Award this fall at Hollywood in Vienna; that Variety piece is here.
Every year Variety asks me to analyze the music races for the Academy Awards — not really handicapping them, as that entails choosing favorites, which I don’t like to do. But examining the five nominees, quoting the composers, hinting at what’s important about each, and subtly suggesting what Academy voters might be thinking. Alexandre Desplat’s The Shape of Water is the current favorite, but I think you cannot count out Jonny Greenwood’s Phantom Thread or Carter Burwell’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk and John Williams’ Star Wars: The Last Jedi are admittedly outsiders at this point… but the Oscars love to surprise us. This story appeared only in print, so please click on the images to read it here.
For another in Variety‘s series of looks at this year’s Oscar-worthy film music, I singled out four films that might be characterized as either fantasy or science-fiction: Alexandre Desplat’s The Shape of Water, Rolfe Kent’s Downsizing, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s Blade Runner 2049, and Michael Giacchino’s War for the Planet of the Apes. All four are terrific, and while Desplat’s Shape of Water seems to have the best chance at nomination, I wouldn’t count out any of them!
As part of Variety‘s series of examinations of awards-worthy work in this year’s film music, we looked at four films that depict either historical events (Dunkirk, Battle of the Sexes, All The Money in the World) or were rooted in historical fact (Mudbound). Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk score would seem to have the best chance at an Oscar nomination this year, although Nicholas Britell did a great job with Battle of the Sexes and Daniel Pemberton’s faux-Italian-opera for All the Money in the World is fascinating. And don’t count out Tamar-kali’s chamber-music approach to Mudbound — at a time when diversity matters more than ever, she could easily make the final five.
Movie music in the concert hall seems to be, as they say, “trending” — it’s more popular than ever, and in many different forms. For the lead story in this week’s Variety “Music for Screens” section, I interviewed three composers (David Newman, who recently conducted the New York Philharmonic in sold-out Star Wars shows ; Ramin Djawadi, whose Game of Thrones tour was so successful he’s planning another; and Hans Zimmer, whose European and American tours transformed the traditional “film music” show into more of a rock concert); and three producers, including Steve Linder and Jamie Richardson from Film Concerts Live! and Richard Kraft, who has produced a number of concerts of Danny Elfman and Disney films.