Tag Archives: John Williams

Challenges facing film composers

composerchallengesdv2016For 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).

John Williams, James Newton Howard interviewed

variety-music-issue-46The first of my four stories in a special edition of this week’s Variety deals with fantasy-film scores, specifically The BFG by John Williams and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by James Newton Howard. Both composers gave me time on the phone last month, Williams before he dove back into the Star Wars universe — he begins recording in a matter of weeks — and Howard prior to leaving for an extended stay in Europe. These are two of the finest orchestral scores of the year and, in this story, we delve into the details and the approaches to two very different fantasy tales (one by Roald Dahl, whom Williams knew, and one by J.K. Rowling herself).

John Williams, cultural icon

jwbowlnotessept2016John Williams conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic during three weekend concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. It was, as always, hugely entertaining, with the maestro doing considerable Star Wars music and introducing a new suite of music from The BFG. Then in just a few days, he’ll be honored on Turner Classic Movies with a night of his movies plus two terrific American Film Institute specials: a commercial-free version of the Life Achievement Award dinner from earlier this year, and his conversation with Steven Spielberg that first aired in 2011. Here is a look at both events.

John Williams on Olympic fanfares

JWOlympicsTVUpdate7-92I was lucky enough to attend composer John Williams’ 1992 re-recordings of his Olympics music, including his classic 1984 “Olympic Fanfare and Theme,” which prompted me to write this July 1992 piece for TV Update. (At the time, I was writing a nationally syndicated column about television.) I happened to stumble across the original piece this morning and thought you might like to see it. It predates, of course, his third and fourth Olympic themes (“Summon the Heroes” and “Call of the Champions”), which I’ve written about elsewhere. But it’s nice to be reminded of the composer’s original thoughts about creating these pieces, which are now an indelible part of the Olympics experience.

John Williams to receive AFI lifetime honor

JWAFIstoryDV6-16Tonight,  John Williams becomes the first composer to receive the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in the 44-year history of the honor. In connection with the event, Variety asked me to interview the five-time Oscar winner about composing such iconic themes as Star Wars, Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman and Harry Potter — as well as what’s next for him in an already distinguished 60-year career.  It was also an opportunity to inquire of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, producer Kathleen Kennedy and AFI president Bob Gazzale about their thoughts on working with a Hollywood legend — and a chance for me to outline (in a short sidebar) some key career highlights.

Oscar’s Best Score: The Contenders

Variety-MovieMaestros-smMy last Variety story during the 2015 Oscar campaign examines each of the five nominees for Best Original Score: music by John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Thomas Newman, Carter Burwell and Johann Johannsson. Here is the link to the score story; also here is a second story, about this year’s Best Song category, that draws on my original interviews with nominees Lady Gaga and Diane Warren (“Til It Happens to You”), Sam Smith (“Writing’s on the Wall”) and J. Ralph (“Manta Ray”).

Contenders for best score, part three!

My editor at Variety came up with an interesting angle, and one especially relevant in today’s world of sequels, spinoffs and reboots: what’s the role of music, and how do composers decide when and where to apply themes from previous films or TV shows? For this final story in our pre-nominations Oscar-music series, I received fascinating answers from John Williams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Thomas Newman (Spectre), Michael Giacchino (Jurassic World), Christophe Beck (The Peanuts Movie), Ludwig Goransson (Creed) and Joe Kraemer (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation).

Contenders for best score, part two!

WilliamsDV12-9-15For Variety‘s second installment in our series on potential Oscar nominees in the music categories, I interviewed five composers, seven songwriters, a music supervisor and a director. Our main story features John Williams, in his first interview offering details of his new Star Wars score, as well as Hateful Eight music supervisor Mary Ramos talking about Ennio Morricone’s music; and The 33 director Patricia Riggen discussing the late James Horner’s contributions to her film. I also wrote four of the six composer profiles (on Thomas Newman, Michael Giacchino, Carter Burwell and Brian Tyler) and half of the song story (including interviews with Spectre singer-songwriter Sam Smith and The Hunting Ground songwriters Diane Warren and Lady Gaga). And there’s still more to come!

“E.T.” at the Hollywood Bowl

ETBowlJBnotes2015Last weekend marked the first time that the paying public had ever seen Steven Spielberg’s classic E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial with live musical accompaniment. (John Williams conducted a studio orchestra before an invited audience at the Shrine Auditorium in 2002.) More than 35,000 attended over three nights as David Newman conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Williams’ iconic score at the Hollywood Bowl. I wrote the program notes for the evening, but I felt it was also important to report on the event. My overview contains details you won’t find anywhere else.

A John Williams Celebration

I wrote the program notes for last fall’s Los Angeles Philharmonic opening night concert and gala — “A John Williams Celebration,” as it was called, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting and Itzhak Perlman as violin soloist. It was a wonderful mix of John’s concert music (“Soundings,” written for the opening of Disney Hall), his film music (Schindler’s List, Catch Me If You Can, Star Wars, Jaws, Amistad, etc.) and his Olympic themes. I’m delighted that C Major, which has produced this 103-minute DVD and Blu-Ray of the evening, has chosen to include my notes, which include comments from both Williams and frequent collaborator George Lucas.