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.
John Powell’s music for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the first genuinely great score of 2019. I found it a stunning, unexpectedly emotional experience, and so asked for time with both Powell and director Dean DeBlois to explore their process and learn about the creation of the music. This, of course, is the finale of the Dragon trilogy; Powell was Oscar-nominated for the first film in 2010 and then penned an equally fine score for the second film in 2014. As you will see in this Variety story, the third film demanded a 98-piece orchestra and 60-voice choir.
Composers John Powell and Germaine Franco took top honors at this week’s ASCAP Screen Music Awards. Powell won the Henry Mancini award for lifetime achievement as a film composer (for such scores as How to Train Your Dragon, The Bourne Identity and Solo: A Star Wars Story), while Franco (songwriter for Coco, currently scoring TV’s Vida) received the Shirley Walker award for contributing to “the diversity of film and television music.” Other honorees included Gordy Haab and Dave Porter; a full rundown of the evening is in my Variety story here.
Composer John Powell, the much-respected Oscar nominee for How to Train Your Dragon (and such other delightful animated scores as Happy Feet, Rio and Ferdinand), reviewed the entire Solo: A Star Wars Story experience with me for this Variety story, which ran the day before the film opened. It’s a fascinating odyssey that involves collaboration with John Williams (who penned “The Adventures of Han” theme used throughout Powell’s score), the creation of several new themes, and an unusual trip to Bulgaria to record a women’s choir for the score.
For Variety‘s final roundup of potential award nominees in the music categories, I covered nine scores and broke them down into three categories: Suspense (Michael Abels’ Get Out, Patrick Doyle’s Murder on the Orient Express, Carter Burwell’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); films that centered on families (Jon Brion’s Lady Bird, Randy Newman’s The Meyerowitz Stories, Marcelo Zarvos’ Wonder); and music for animation (John Powell’s Ferdinand, Mychael and Jeff Danna’s The Breadwinner, Michael Giacchino’s Coco). It certainly was a diverse and fascinating year for original music in films.
I interviewed composer John Williams recently and happened to ask him about the stand-alone Star Wars movie titled Solo (about the adventures of a pre-Episode IV Han Solo). He confirmed that he would be writing the theme for the film and that John Powell (who had already been announced as the film’s composer) would probably be incorporating it into his overall score for the film. Variety editors thought this scoop was too important to wait for our feature story, still several days away, so we broke the news early Saturday morning. It was repeated and linked-to so often, in so many other contexts around the world, that I’ve begun to wonder if it’s my most-read news story ever. Update: Williams recorded his Solo theme with a Los Angeles orchestra on Wednesday, Jan. 3, according to a musician’s social-media post that included photos from the Sony scoring stage.
John Powell is one of the wittiest composers on the planet. You can’t spend 10 minutes with the composer of Happy Feet, Rio and How to Train Your Dragon without appreciating both his accomplishments and his dry sense of humor. Last night I was privileged to participate in SAG-AFTRA’s fourth “Meet the Composer” event at the Writers Guild Theater, interviewing Powell about writing for voices and choral groups. It was a one-of-a-kind evening that incorporated video clips, Powell demonstrating how he works with singers, and a moving vocal tribute by some of L.A.’s finest. An estimated 500 performers, composers, students and other film professionals attended.
Variety started a series several years ago — most of which I’ve written — called “Billion Dollar Composer,” a way of acknowledging how successful some of today’s top film scorers have been. For our Hans Zimmer section, out today, the editors were so bowled over by the numbers they retitled it “20 Billion Dollar Composer.” Can’t say as I blame them.
The section consists of a main story, that looks at his recent work and includes interviews with Hans and such filmmaking luminaries as Jerry Bruckheimer and Christopher Nolan, as well as former proteges Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell; his newly revealed plans to return to live performing; his own thoughts (accompanied by colorful images) on six classic scores; and a look at his Remote Control studios, home not only to Zimmer but to more than a dozen composing colleagues.
John Powell is one of today’s very finest composers for film. If you’ve seen the Bourne thrillers, How to Train Your Dragon, Happy Feet or the Rio movies, you’ve heard his music. He’s an absolute delight in person, and I was happy to interview him today at ASCAP’s “I Create Music” Expo in Hollywood.
Coincidentally, Variety this week published my series of stories about John and his career. Here is the main story, something of an overview with some high praise from his collaborators. A second story deals with his decision to leave film music (temporarily, we hope). And finally, a few choice remarks by the composer himself on five of his notable scores.
John Powell, one of today’s most talented film composers, is the subject of a special section in Variety this week (Rio 2 is now in release and How to Train Your Dragon 2 is upcoming). In my main story, I discuss his status as today’s leading animation composer but also talk to directors Doug Liman, Carlos Saldanha, Paul Greengrass and Dean DeBlois as well as composers Hans Zimmer and Gavin Greenaway about what makes Powell so special.