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).
If you left Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 unexpectedly moved by the finale, you can thank composer Tyler Bates, whose symphonic and choral work was perhaps his most accomplished yet in films. Bates, a former rock guitarist who still goes out on the road with Marilyn Manson from time to time, has not only built an entirely new career composing for films and television, he has built a very loyal clientele. As director David Leitch (the soon-in-theaters Atomic Blonde) told me for this latest Billion Dollar Composer section in Variety: “I don’t want to do a movie without Tyler Bates.” And as Guardians director James Gunn put it in a second story: Bates is “the most undervalued part of both Guardians films. They aren’t the Guardians of the Galaxy without Tyler Bates.”
As Emmy Awards season begins, we take an overall look at the nominations in all of the music categories, including the ones for original composition (for a series, for a movie or miniseries, for theme, and original song), for music direction, and the new sixth category, for music supervision. Music supervisors are hailing this decision by the Television Academy to begin honoring their work, which for the most part involves finding the right song for the right scene. But there is a lot more in this story, including surprising nominations for documentary scores and even for Lady Gaga’s half-time performance at the Super Bowl — and a brief look at what highly touted songs weren’t nominated.
Let’s face it, there is no more famous Spider-Man music than the cartoon theme everybody remembers from the 1960s. (“Is he strong? Listen, bud: he’s got radioactive blood!”) Composer Michael Giacchino, commissioned to score the new Spider-Man: Homecoming film for Marvel/Sony, knew this and decided to replace his own Marvel logo music at the start of the movie with a 38-second version that — as played by a 90-piece orchestra — is probably the biggest sound it’s ever had! I decided to look into this, and interviewed both Giacchino and Guy Webster, the son of the Oscar-winning lyricist who penned those immortal words and who cut the original, very lucrative, business deal for the song in 1967.
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.
As you know, I tend to wax nostalgic about classic TV music of the ’60s and ’70s. But there’s a lot of really exciting work being done now in television, too, and much of it was showcased in a Television Academy concert called “Words & Music” Thursday night, June 29, at the Academy’s Saban Media Center in North Hollywood. Music from Homeland, Luke Cage, Empire, Underground, Feud, Narcos, This Is Us, The Americans, The Good Fight and many others was played live by a 27-piece orchestra with a number of vocal soloists. I reviewed the evening here in a piece for Variety.