The American Cinematheque sponsored a two-hour live Q&A with Steven Spielberg and John Williams, talking about their 50-year collaboration, on Jan. 12 at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event and I was honored to be the moderator. I was also effectively the co-producer, as I chose all 12 clips (from Jaws and E.T. to Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List) and prepared all of the questions — everything from how they met to their work process and their thoughts about the use of music in cinema. It was hugely successful (the cast of The Fabelmans even attended) and a thrill for me to be on stage with this extraordinary duo. Two excellent summaries of the evening: Chris Willman’s, for Variety; and Scott Feinberg’s, for The Hollywood Reporter. And an eight-minute video condensation of highlights.
Composer Lalo Schifrin on Sunday night received an honorary Academy Award “in recognition of his unique musical style, compositional integrity and influential contributions to the art of film scoring.” Actor-director Clint Eastwood, for whom Schifrin composed eight scores (including Dirty Harry and Joe Kidd), presented Schifrin with his Oscar during an entertaining and funny 20-minute segment at the Motion Picture Academy’s 10th annual Governors Awards at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.
Actress Kathy Bates (whose 2004 film The Bridge of San Luis Rey features a Schifrin score) opened the segment, noting that “when the score is in the hands of an artistic master like Lalo Schifrin, a good film can become great and a great film can be transformed into an all-time classic. “His work cannot be easily labeled,” she added. “Is what he creates jazz? Is it classical, contemporary, popular? The answer is yes, it is all of those things. He helped define the music of the ’60s, from The Cincinnati Kid to Bullitt to Cool Hand Luke. And without the cool Mission: Impossible theme, I’m betting Tom Cruise fails in his mission the first time — which means no next five sequels,” she quipped to audience laughter. “[Lalo] is a true Renaissance man: a performer at the piano, a painter with notes, a conductor and composer who has scored some of the most memorable films of the past half-century.”
Bates introduced a six-and-a-half minute film that followed his career from his native Argentina to studies in Paris, joining Dizzy Gillespie in New York, and finally movies in Hollywood (including six Oscar nominations between 1967 and 1983). Academy governors Michael Giacchino and Laura Karpman were interviewed about Schifrin’s impact over the years, and composer Terence Blanchard said “he’s more of an explorer than anything; music happens to be the language he uses.”
Eastwood ignored the teleprompter, instead asking Schifrin to come up because “I want to ask you a couple of questions.” Music director Rickey Minor struck up the composer’s famous Mission: Impossible theme while the honoree made his way to the podium. What followed was an impromptu conversation that contained some of the evening’s funniest moments, as well as a heartfelt outpouring of affection by the hundreds in the star-studded audience.
“We’re both jazz nuts,” Eastwood noted, pointing out that young Schifrin had to pirate jazz LPs into his Buenos Aires home. “Jazz was considered immoral,” Schifrin said. “Well, it is, kinda,” Eastwood responded to audience laughter. “Jazz is the American classical music,” Schifrin said to massive applause. When Eastwood apparently ran out of questions, Schifrin quipped, “It’s very nice talking to you,” to more audience laughter.
“Composing for movies has been a lifetime of joy and creativity,” Schifrin said on a more serious note. “Receiving this honorary Oscar is the culmination of a dream. It is a mission accomplished,” he said to even more cheers and applause.
Fellow honoree Frank Marshall (who, with his wife Kathleen Kennedy, received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award) stopped by Schifrin’s table before the awards ceremony began, as did director Steven Spielberg. Also receiving honorary Oscars Sunday night were actress Cicely Tyson and publicist Marvin Levy. The final moments of Schifrin’s acceptance speech are here. My appreciation of Schifrin’s music, published last week in Variety, is here.
This weekend John Williams, the most famous composer in Hollywood history, celebrated his 40th anniversary conducting at the Hollywood Bowl. His very first concert leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Bowl was on July 28, 1978, subbing for an ailing Arthur Fiedler, who had been scheduled to conduct a pair of “Pops at the Bowl” concerts that weekend. Since then, the much-honored dean of American film composers has returned to the Bowl on dozens of occasions, conducting not only his own music but that of other composers, most of whom were active in Hollywood at one time or another. The program included not only Williams compositions but also those of a friend and mentor, Leonard Bernstein (whose centennial is also being celebrated this year). Steven Spielberg served as host; David Newman conducted the first half. Here is my review for Variety.
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.
I am delighted to report that composer John Williams and director Steven Spielberg asked me to pen the notes for the third volume in their Sony Classical series of “Spielberg-Williams Collaboration” albums, released today (March 17, 2017). It’s a newly recorded collection of themes and suites from their past two decades of filmmaking, eight of which were nominated for Best Original Score at the Academy Awards (including such masterworks as Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, Munich, War Horse and Lincoln). And when Sony Classical decided to make it a 3-CD package — including the two earlier albums — they then requested a new introduction to all three discs. It was an honor to be chosen and I hope that my words will help to illuminate just how special this 43-year collaboration has been, both for film and in American music.
Tonight, 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.
During the summer and fall of 2012, Universal decided to issue new Blu-Ray editions of two Steven Spielberg classics, Jaws (1975) and E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). To help promote both, they asked me to interview composer John Williams — who won Oscars for each — about his memories of writing those now-iconic themes and scores. It was, as always with John Williams, a pleasure to interview him. We discovered photos from the period, too. The Jaws piece is here; the E.T. reminiscence is here.
BMI asked me to write a piece acknowledging the celebrated film composer’s 80th birthday. Here it is. I drew on interviews that I had done over the previous months, for Classical KUSC and Variety, for some of the quotes.
I’ve written a number of pieces about Giacchino over the years but this was one of my favorites. Another in Variety‘s series of “Billion Dollar Composer” sections, it offered a chance to place his career in a bigger context; the main story recounts his own background and sprinkles in quotes from directors J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird (and adds 10 favorite career moments as chosen by the composer). There are sidebars about scoring video games and theme-park rides, and a really fun piece in which frequent collaborators Abrams, Matt Reeves and Damon Lindelof talk about his contributions to their films and TV shows. Incidentally, here is a 2009 Variety story focused specifically on his music for Lost and my 2011 visit to the scoring stage for Giacchino’s Super 8 (when Steven Spielberg happened to show up).
It was an incredible opportunity: celebrating John Williams’ 70th birthday with a big Sunday piece that would enable me to interview almost everyone important in his life: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas (on the phone from Abbey Road, where he was recording Attack of the Clones), Seiji Ozawa, Andre Previn and others. In addition to the praise from friends, I tried to install something of a historical perspective — where he came from, where he was going — while giving a sense that he was in no way slowing down. I’m very proud of this piece.