It’s been a wild couple of months doing almost constant live Q&As with composers and songwriters for the current crop of Oscar hopefuls. For the Society of Composers & Lyricists alone there have been nearly a dozen. Some of the more memorable ones have been Tar with composer Hildur Guonadottir and director Todd Field; White Noise with Danny Elfman; Pinocchio with composer Alexandre Desplat and director Guillermo del Toro; The Banshees of Inisherin with Carter Burwell; Glass Onion with Nathan Johnson; A Man Called Otto with composer Thomas Newman and producer-songwriter Rita Wilson; and Spirited with songwriters Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Khiyon Hursey.
As the Golden Globe awards were nearing and Academy voters were deciding who to nominate in the music categories, Variety commissioned a final few stories related to songs and scores from calendar year 2019. Chris Willman and I shared a byline as we examined how period films handled music (my portions involved 1917, Ford v Ferrari and Little Women). Then, because Globe voters nominated Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber for their new song in Cats, but Oscar voters failed to place it on the shortlist for nomination, I went back through recent Globe history to try and determine the odds of them actually rewarding Swift for a tune in one of the year’s most lambasted films. And finally, the Society of Composers & Lyricists held its inaugural awards, handing out most of its film awards to women, including the now ubiquitous (at award ceremonies, anyway) Icelandic composer Hildur Guonadottir for her Joker score.
It is always a pleasure to converse with composer Howard Shore, whose now legendary three-year odyssey with the Tolkien-inspired Lord of the Rings trilogy earned him three Oscars and a heightened visibility that has led to numerous classical commissions. He combined both with this year’s The Song of Names, which required him to write a Hebraic-influenced cantor’s song prior to shooting and then embrace the several decades of dramatic storytelling with a compatible orchestral score. I interviewed Howard in North Hollywood at a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening.
Focus Features’ Downton Abbey movie, the big-screen sequel to the Emmy-winning, hugely popular PBS series, surprised everyone by making nearly $100 million and virtually ensuring a sequel. Composer John Lunn, who scored all 52 episodes from 2010 to 2015, returned with a score he called “bigger, better and grander,” and the music lived up to the hype. I wrote about this for Variety on Sept. 20 and then did a Society of Composers & Lyricists Q&A with the composer on Nov. 14 at Universal Studios. Lunn, as always, was a delight.
Motherless Brooklyn was one of my favorite films of the year, so when the Society of Composers & Lyricists asked me to moderate a Q&A involving both the writer-director-star Edward Norton and his composer Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs, Into the Spider-Verse), I couldn’t say no. Norton was thoughtful and articulate in discussing the entire music process — which also involved jazz great Wynton Marsalis and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke — and Pemberton talked about his musical experiments in London that ultimately gave Norton what he needed, dramatically speaking. (L-R: Pemberton, Norton, JB)
Composer Nicholas Britell — whose scores for Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk were Oscar-nominated, and whose theme for HBO’s Succession recently won an Emmy — visited Los Angeles for a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of his latest film, The King, which stars Timothee Chalamet as England’s reluctant King Henry V. Britell discussed his collaboration with director David Michod and how it eventually led him to a string orchestra and boys choir to evoke the 15th-century setting and the melancholy mood of the film.
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.
The last of the Emmy-worthy music panels I moderated during the run-up to the Emmy nominations was on the music of A Million Little Things, the ABC series about seven close friends who try and come to terms with the mysterious suicide of another of their friends. Composer and songwriter Gabriel Mann (who also scores ABC’s Modern Family) was the focus of the evening, although editor Lauren Connelly, music supervisor Billy Gottlieb and singer-songwriter Kyler England also contributed valuable insights into the scoring process. This was just a few days after my Variety story about Mann, which you can find here.
One of the most remarkable TV-movie scores of the past season was in Lifetime’s remake of the classic The Bad Seed. The composer was Leanna Primiani, who has many concert-hall credits but is a relatively new voice on the film-music scene. I was so impressed with her music — and, in fact, with actor-director Rob Lowe’s work on the film, which matched the original in scares and suspense — that I agreed to do the Q&A after a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of the film during Emmy season. It was great fun, and I look forward to more work by this talented composer.
Dave Grusin is one of America’s great musical treasures. And when I found out, a couple of years ago, that a pair of New Mexico filmmakers was making a documentary about this amazing composer-arranger-producer-pianist (needless to say, a favorite of mine since the 1960s) I asked to see an early cut — and to break the news about it in Variety. Director Barbara Bentree was kind enough to allow me an early viewing, so when it was finally finished and ready for its first Hollywood screening, I jumped at the chance to do the Q&A with her and longtime Grusin friends Marcus Miller and Joel Sill. The Society of Composers & Lyricists hosted the Santa Monica screening, attended by two other veteran Grusin collaborators, Quincy Jones and Alan Bergman. Variety colleague Chris Willman chronicled the evening here.