Category Archives: Film Composer

Danny Elfman talks Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

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Danny Elfman talks Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

Oh dear…I actually had some hope for this sequel at first. When Alice Through the Looking Glass was announced, I felt excited because I’d enjoyed Alice in Wonderland and I was initially up for a return to this crazy world. And then the previews started and things got…weird (and I don’t mean weird in a good way).

The more I watched and learned, the more this felt like a re-hash of the first film (with Sasha Baron Cohen thrown into the mix). I’m not ALWAYS opposed to sequels, but if the best they can do is remix the original plot…then forget it!!

That being said, Danny Elfman DID return to score the film, so that is one positive in a film that largely disappointed. I hope you enjoy this brief interview with the composer.

If you’d like to learn more about the film scores of Danny Elfman, see here

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Danny Elfman talks Alice in Wonderland (2010)

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Danny Elfman talks Alice in Wonderland (2010)

If I’m perfectly honest, Alice in Wonderland (2010) should be included in my “Didn’t Think I’d Like it (But I did!)” series because, well, I really didn’t think I would like it when the previews arrived. But during my spring break that year I went to see the film because a friend of mine wanted to see it and I actually enjoyed it.

This film is actually something of a sequel to the first Alice in Wonderland (1951) because Alice is now grown up and has all but forgotten her childhood adventure in Wonderland (renamed here as “Underland”). Finding herself on the cusp of being forcefully pushed into a marriage she doesn’t want, Alice unexpectedly returns to Wonderland/Underland, where, as it turns out, she must slay the Jabberwocky, defeat the Red Queen and return the White Queen to power. Mayhem and insanity ensues.

One of the highlights of this film is the musical score by Danny Elfman. The composer is well known for his collaborations with Tim Burton, and this effort is one of their more memorable efforts in recent years.

In the brief interview I found, Elfman briefly talks about his work on the film’s score (I always love watching interviews like this one, I just wish they could be longer!). I hope you enjoy this interview clip.

If you’d like to learn more about the film scores of Danny Elfman, see here

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Let’s Go to the Oscars #11: John Barry wins Best Original Score for The Lion in Winter (1968)

I would understand if you told me you’d never heard of The Lion in Winter, I don’t think time has been very good to this story (despite it being the first major film role for Anthony Hopkins and the film debut of Timothy Dalton). The film is an adaptation of the 1966 Broadway play of the same name and tells the story of the personal and political troubles of Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and their three (surviving) sons: Richard, Geoffrey and John during Christmas in the year 1183.

John Barry wins Best Original Score for The Lion in Winter (1968)

I watched this film many times several years ago (I had a fascination with medieval history) and I remember the music stood out to me as being particularly good. That’s really no surprise because it was composed by John Barry, perhaps best known for composing the music to 11 James Bond films. However, while I acknowledge the beauty of this score, I don’t think it should’ve won the Oscar; that honor should have gone to Jerry Goldsmith for Planet of the Apes. We all know that film is a classic, and it still pains me that Goldsmith only received the one Oscar during his long career.

Barry’s win (I should add) is also an example of that rare occasion where the winner is not present to accept the Oscar. Most of the time (in my experience), if a nominee is not available, they usually send someone who can accept in their place. In this case, however, Gregory Peck, one of the presenters, chose to accept on Barry’s behalf. I can’t help but wonder what kept Barry away from the Oscars. I know that if *I* ever won an Academy Award and missed the chance to accept it, it would eat me alive for years to come! (But then again, I don’t see that happening to me any time soon). But I digress…here’s to The Lion in Winter and its Oscar win for Best Original Score!

For more Oscar winners, check out the page here: Let’s Go to the Oscars

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Let’s Go to the Oscars #10: Miklos Rozsa wins Best Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for Ben-Hur (1959)

For the most part, this series has been looking at Oscar wins from relatively recent films, but today I thought I would go back a bit further and check out the Oscar win of what is possibly one of the greatest films ever made: Ben-Hur (1959). I may have mentioned it before, and in any event I have no trouble saying it again: no film has EVER won more Oscars than this film. Ben-Hur took home eleven Academy Awards that night, a feat that has only been tied TWICE (by Titanic (1997) and Return of the King (2003)) and never surpassed. One of those well-earned Oscars was given for Rozsa’s indelible score.

Miklos Rozsa wins the Oscar for Ben-Hur (1959)

It’s really interesting to look back and see how much the Oscars ceremony has changed over the years (and I don’t just mean that it used to be shown in black and white either). For one, you notice how much shorter the presentations are? And not just that, the acceptance speeches are REALLY shorter. If they did the Oscars today like they did then, the show would be over well before midnight (and would that really be a bad thing?)

Truth be told, in terms of showing early Oscar clips like this one, I actually can’t go back too much farther in time. Although the Academy Awards have been held since 1929, they weren’t televised to the public until 1953 (before then, starting in 1930, you could listen on the radio). So 1953 is as far back as I can go, unless I someday get my hands on some of the radio broadcasts (I’m working on that actually). Anyways, I hope you enjoy this look back at the 1960 Oscars, and if you’ve never watched the 1959 Ben-Hur (especially if you suffered through the 2016 remake), please go give it a try, the music will stick with you for days!

For more Oscar winners, check out the page here: Let’s Go to the Oscars

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An Interview with Adam Blau, part 1

Not long before Christmas I received an email inquiring if I would like to interview Adam Blau, a composer of film and television scores who currently works on the hit FXX show You’re The Worst (2014-present). I accepted and this past Sunday evening I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam and talking about his work.

(From Adam’s official bio): Adam is a rising star in the comedy world, with many directors entrusting his musical talents to bolster their projects, often working closely with writers and performers to lend a strong and humorous musical sensibility to their projects. His music has uplifted projects by some of the world’s most popular comedians, including truTV’s Billy on the Street, starring Billy Eichner; NBC’s Mulaney, starring John Mulaney; several Funny or Die shorts; and IFC’s upcoming Brockmire starring Hank Azaria. In addition to composing score, Adam regularly collaborates with the showrunners and writers of projects to create and develop a variety of songs for special episodes – songs ranging from “serious” to intentionally over-the-top satires.

Adam has also scored music and written songs for celebrated films like Warner Bros.’ License to Wed, starring Robin Williams, Mandy Moore and John Krasinski; SXSW favorite The Overbrook Brothers; Phoebe in Wonderland, starring Elle Fanning; and Indian Pictures’ Fuzz Track City. Known for his expertise in percussion, Adam has spearheaded specialty drumline sessions for high profile projects, including Christophe Beck’s We Are Marshall and Mark Isham’s The Express, as well as arranging and producing world percussion for Joel McNeely’s scores to Disney’s popular Tinker Bell films.

The interview is broken up into several parts, with my questions in bold. I’d like to thank Adam for taking the time to talk with me and I hope you enjoy part 1 of the interview.

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What got you interested in composing for film and television?
Well, I had been a musician to some extent for most of my life…I started playing when I was very young, and I’ve always been involved with music in some capacity. And while I was living in New York I was pretty active in theater, music directing and accompanying, that kind of thing. As part of that, I had some friends who were writing comedy shows and they needed some interstitial music between scenes, or maybe they needed a song, and so I would help them out and it was really fun. And as an extension of that I wrote some songs for a friends show in Los Angeles, and while I was visiting LA I met a couple of people who needed some extra music for a film they were working on, they’d had a composer drop out of the production and so from New York I experimented with some music for this film and I ended up really enjoying it. In fact, I ended up being “bitten by the bug” and picked everything up and moved from New York to LA and it seems to have worked out pretty well so far.
Are you inspired by any particular composer?
In general sure, I have those (soundtracks) I like to listen to independent of the film, but being so involved in multiple facets of music production, it’s rare these days for me to be listening to any current film scores while I’m composing, because I do so much of that as part of my actual work. But Carter Burwell’s score for Adaptation is a big one, it really got me in tune with what a film score could be/should be…in terms of what I’m writing, so much of the scoring process is dependent on the material and who I’m working with. There is an extent to which it’s a bit of a service industry because I’m writing music for what is essentially someone else’s vision. I think a huge part of the job is finding out what the vision is for the director and seeing how the music can best manifest that idea for them. Now I’m going to put my on thumbprint on it one way or the other, but especially in writing for television comedy, it’s writing in a particular style, usually to form the “punchline.” So I do listen to works by several composers, but in terms of my current writing, they don’t really influence/inspire me in that sort of way, because it’s dependent on what the director needs.

That’s all for part 1, part 2 should be uploaded by Friday night or Saturday morning at the latest. You can follow Adam on Twitter at @adamblau and if you’re curious about You’re the Worst, seasons 1 and 2 are currently streaming on Hulu (seriously, you should check this show out if you haven’t before, it’s hilarious and at times very serious). Thanks for reading!

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James Newton Howard talks Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

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James Newton Howard talks Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

I can’t say it often enough: Atlantis: The Lost Empire is one of the most underrated films that Disney has ever made. Seriously, the animation is beautiful, the story is great, and the MUSIC is one of the best parts! (See Atlantis: The Lost Empire “The Crystal Chamber” for more of my thoughts on this score)

This film was my first exposure to James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games series, Maleficent), and I will defend this score forever. That being said, I was beyond happy when I stumbled across this interview on YouTube where Howard talks about his work on this film. And as Howard puts it, there are really two films going on in this story: there’s the action/adventure of finding Atlantis, and once our hero Milo arrives, a totally new story begins (with a new score to match). To help distinguish Atlantis musically, Howard used a variety of Balinese instruments (which favor bells and gongs) to create a very unique sound.

I hope you enjoy listening to this interview with James Newton Howard! If you also enjoy this film, let me know what you like about it 🙂

If you’d like to learn more about the film scores of James Newton Howard, see here

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Let’s Go to the Oscars #8: Tan Dun wins Best Original Score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

What film score could possibly outshine John Williams’ work with The Patriot or Hans Zimmer’s score for Gladiator? Why, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon of course!

Set in the Qing Dynasty (the equivalent of 1779 by the Western calendar), the story follows the lives of several characters as they intertwine around a fantastic sword called Green Destiny. This is a wuxia film, a genre that tells stories of martial artists in ancient China.

Tan Dun wins Best Original Score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

As Tan Dun says in his acceptance speech, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon helped to bridge the gap between East and West, as it is still considered one of the most popular (and successful) foreign films to ever be released in the United States.

The score for this film is very beautiful and features many solo passages performed by

Yo-Yo Ma, a Chinese-American cellist and former child prodigy (he’s been playing the cello since he was four). I should also mention the entire score for the two hour film was produced in two weeks flat (most scores take four to six weeks, give or take).

I admit it  has been a long time since I saw this film, but I remember it left a deep impression on me and I’m sure it is one of the first foreign films I ever saw. If you haven’t seen it, please give it a try (the music alone is worth the price of a DVD).

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For more Oscar winning composers, see also:

Let’s go to the Oscars #1: Jerry Goldsmith wins Original Score with “The Omen”

Let’s go to the Oscars #2: James Horner wins Best Original Dramatic Score and Best Original Song with “Titanic”

Let’s go to the Oscars #3: John Williams and his five Academy Awards

Let’s go to the Oscars #4: Howard Shore wins for “The Lord of the Rings”

Let’s Go to the Oscars #5: Alexandre Desplat wins Best Original Score for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Let’s Go to the Oscars #6: Michael Giacchino wins Best Original Score for Up (2009)

Let’s Go to the Oscars #7: Ennio Morricone wins Best Original Score for The Hateful Eight (2016)