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.
For Oscar Sunday, the CBS newsmagazine Sunday Morning decided to profile the famous Newman family of film composers. They interviewed composers Randy, David, Thomas, Maria and Joey, representing the second and third generations of Newman composers in Hollywood; and discussed Alfred and Lionel, from the first generation, along with visiting their old haunts on the 20th Century-Fox lot. I was delighted to help provide some historical context for the piece, which you can find — at least for the next few days — here.
For Variety‘s first Contenders issue of the year, I profiled four early scores that could be vying for “original score” honors as the 2017 awards season gets underway: Dario Marianelli’s music for Darkest Hour; Thomas Newman’s music for Victoria & Abdul; Carter Burwell’s music for Wonderstruck; and Rupert Gregson-Williams’ music for Wonder Woman. This is just the beginning, of course — there will be other stories about composers and songwriters during November and December, as the season progresses.
It was a genuine thrill to visit George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch to address the Fellows of this year’s Sundance Institute “Music and Sound Design Lab” for feature films. I talked about the possibilities of music and image with the directors and composers who were collaborating on their first films. The Marin County setting is stunning and I was one of several “creative advisors” on board (some of the others were composers Thomas Newman, George S. Clinton, Harry Gregson-Williams and Christophe Beck, director Miguel Arteta and sound designer Randy Thom). Film Music director Peter Golub, Feature Film director Michelle Satter and BMI executive Doreen Ringer Ross were immensely supportive.
The top story in this week’s special music edition of Variety deals with music for science-fiction films. Arrival — about learning to communicate with alien visitors — is already much-talked-about, and Johann Johannsson’s fascinating, voice-based score is widely considered a strong candidate for awards. Passengers, which hasn’t yet opened, is sure to be much-discussed, too, and Thomas Newman’s music combines traditional orchestra and contemporary electronics in ways that only Newman can. I talked at length to both composers for this story, one of four I’ve written examining music in 2016 movies.
Composer Thomas Newman — whose 13 Oscar nominations include scores for Pixar’s Finding Nemo and WALL-E — has returned to the Disney/Pixar fold for the sequel Finding Dory, which focuses on the sweet blue tang with short-term memory loss (again voiced by Ellen DeGeneres). This time Dory is determined to find her parents, an odyssey that takes her across the ocean to a California aquarium. For a Variety story about Newman’s music, and his third time tackling an animated film directed by Andrew Stanton, I interviewed both composer and director during the recording sessions at Sony and at later mixing sessions at The Village in West L.A.
My 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”).
I’ve moderated a number of post-screening talks with composers during awards season, most recently Monday night at The Landmark with French composer Alexandre Desplat about his exquisite music for The Danish Girl. Desplat was charming, funny and articulate as always — especially in discussing how his life didn’t change at all after winning the Oscar last year for Grand Budapest Hotel. Last month I interviewed Thomas Newman about his music for Bridge of Spies, also for SCL, on the Walt Disney lot. Both composers stand a strong chance of an Oscar nomination later this week.
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).
For 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!