Tag Archives: Thomas Newman

Music, Basketball, and One Amazing Coach: Talking with Composer Grant Fonda about The House That Rob Built (2020)

Just recently I spoke with composer Grant Fonda about his work on The House That Rob Built, a documentary film that looks at the life and career of Rob Selvig, the iconic coach of the University of Montana’s Lady Griz basketball team. Underfunded and sidelined by men’s athletics, the Lady Griz bloomed under the fresh Title IX regulations that brought equal funding, scholarships and facilities to women’s collegiate sports. Selvig’s hard-driving style took the team from humble roots, playing before empty stands, and built them into the preeminent women’s basketball program west of the Rockies.

Los Angeles based composer Grant Fonda has collaborated with numerous creatives on a wide array of notable projects, including the acclaimed The Dating Project (dir. Jonathan Cipiti, 2018), the award-winning Down The Fence (Netflix, dir. MJ Isakson, 2017), and the multi-award winning Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton. Grant has been a collaborator in music departments for award-winning composers Thomas Newman and Heitor Pereira on Spectre, Finding Dory, Bridge of Spies, and Minions. He also has worked with with the late James Horner on Titanic Live! and John Debney on a live show for Disneyland’s California Adventure.

Please enjoy my conversation with Grant Fonda about The House That Rob Built.

How did you get started as a composer?

I’ve been around music for as long as I can remember. My grandfather was a classically trained pianist and always encouraged me to make music, even before I started taking lessons. He and my parents fostered creativity by letting me pursue my passions, and I always gravitated back to music, always dabbling in creating my own tunes. One teacher after another said “Hey, Grant, you’re really good at this. You should think about composing for a career.” In a way, I guess you can say that I finally fell out of pursuing a career as a music educator and fell into composing. 

What was your starting point in composing for The House That Rob Built?

As is often the case in this business, it started with a relationship. I had been the composer for Jonathan Cipiti’s The Dating Project and Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton, both produced by Family Theater Productions under the guidance of producer Megan Harrington. Jon and Megan really wanted to get the “team” back together again for The House That Rob Built, so I got the first call! Naturally, I was delighted. 

This might come out wrong, but when you were writing this music, did you think of this primarily as music about basketball first and the man second, or about the man first and the basketball second? Or was it an equal focus between the two?

Without question, Rob as a person, the team as a unit, and the individuals of the team always came to the narrative forefront over the game of basketball itself. I was always thinking about the intensity of basketball, but directors Jon Cipiti and Megan Harrington were quick to remind me that the story was firstly about the heart of the players rather than the game. That heart, legacy, and connection had to translate to viewers without getting lost. 

For the instruments, what did you decide to include in the orchestral mix? I hear a lot of strings, but I know there’s more than that.

You’re right, a string quartet forms the foundation of the score. The only other truly-orchestral instrument in the palette was a felted piano, but the soundscape also features the Nyckelharpa (a Swedish keyed fiddle) and the voice of the amazing Hannah Rose Lewis. I suppose that you could also say that there’s an “orchestra” of synths –– I wanted the synthetic part of the sonic universe to feel simultaneously organic and forward-thinking while embracing a bit of a retro vibe at times.

What prompted your decision to go out and mix in the actual sounds of basketballs into the music? That strikes me as the kind of decision that will either work really well or not at all (I thought it worked great).

Thanks! That’s awesome. One of the things that kept coming up in our spotting session was the need to capture the intensity of women’s collegiate basketball, but there wasn’t going to be a lot of sound design to help us because reenactments were usually working in tandem with voice-overs, and the sound quality of archival footage was noisy. I had the idea that it’d be interesting to try and blur the lines between sound design and score by incorporating sounds of the court, but I knew it’d be a tough sell unless it was executed perfectly. It had to feel organic without being campy. Jon and Megan loved the pitch in one cue, so as I wrote, those source sounds started to become the backbone of the percussive side of the score. 

Are there other atypical sounds mixed into the score that we should be keeping an ear open for? 

The Nyckelharpa is a fun treat for the ears in this score! We had so much fun recording this at the session, and there’s part of me that wishes I had used it more often. The way that Malachai Bandy (our Nyckelharpa player) emotes in his performances is stunning and really exaggerates the sense of longing and feeling of nostalgic folk music. 

How long did you have to work on this score? Was it a close collaboration with the directors?

I worked very closely with Jon and Megan while writing, partially because I only had 21 days to write the entire score, and then about a week to record and mix it. I think I spent as much time on the phone as I did writing! Like a great coach, Jon and Megan checked in daily to see how they could help inspire me, give thoughtful feedback, and push me to elevate the story in every cue. Sometimes, solitude is a composer’s saving grace while they’re in creative-mode, but in this case, working against the clock with the team amplified the film’s narrative in a sublime way.

Was the scoring/recording process impacted by the pandemic in any way?

It wasn’t, thankfully (we recorded in fall 2019), but we almost did have to reschedule the recording session because my wife started having pre-labor for our daughter the day before the session! I’ll never forget calling Jon Cipiti and saying, “I know this is not the call that you want to get the day of a recording session, but I think that we might be having a baby instead of recording strings tomorrow.” Thankfully, our gorgeous daughter arrived about two weeks later, and the session went as planned.

Do you have a favorite part of the soundtrack/score?

I love the cue Title IX because of the unusual textures and Hannah’s masterful vocal performances, but my favorite cue in the film has to be Strong, which is featured within the last scenes of the film. This was some of the first footage that I saw, but some of the last notes that I penned. To write it well, I knew that I’d have to draw from other parts of the score and also be emotionally up for the task because the different parts of the narrative come together to pack a wallop. The resulting almost nine-minute-long cue are some of the highest highs and lowest lows that I’ve ever composed, and I still feel a lump in my throat when I watch/hear it, a year and a half later. 

Anything in particular you hope audiences take away with them when they watch the documentary and hear this music?

I hope that people are reminded that inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places and through unexpected circumstances. I hope that they’ll remember that unity can be found and thrive in diversity. And, I hope that viewing and listening audiences will be inspired to invest in the next generation to build things that are greater than their wildest imaginations. 

I’d like to give a big thank you to Grant Fonda for taking the time to talk with me about The House That Rob Built.

See also:

Composer Interviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂


Thomas Newman talks Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

Thomas Newman talks “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (2004)

In 2004, Paramount Pictures released Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, a film adaptation of the first three books in the popular series (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window). The film follows the three Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, as they flee their wicked uncle Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), who seeks to claim their fortune for himself.

The music for this film was composed by Thomas Newman (Finding Nemo, Skyfall, Spectre) and the extended video above is half-interview, half scoring session, where we get to see a side by side view of the film scene and the recording session. Newman talks about the process of creating the themes, creating music to fit Jim Carrey’s character, and also creating music for the “pit band” in the play scene late in the movie.

Newman has some interesting thoughts on how a film score should come together (his thoughts on themes and characters startled me) and I enjoyed listening to his explanations because Newman is one of the most respected composers in Hollywood.

Whether you’ve seen A Series of Unfortunate Events, or not, I believe you will enjoy this video a great deal: there’s a lot of music and extended looks at recording sessions and truthfully this is one of the best Thomas Newman interviews that I’ve found thus far. Enjoy!

You can become a patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

See also:

Thomas Newman talks Wall-E (2008)

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

*poster image is the property of Paramount Pictures

Thomas Newman talks Wall-E (2008)


In 2008 Pixar made the leap into outer space and released a film named WALL-E, a touching tale about a waste-cleaning robot named WALL-E who works all alone on a garbage covered Earth in 2805. Having spent so many years alone (the other robots having long since broken down), WALL-E has developed an individual consciousness and identity of his own: he salvages items he deems “special” and keeps them in his “home” (such items include an ancient tape copy of Hello, Dolly). The monotony of WALL-E’s life changes dramatically when he discovers a plant seedling; not long afterward, a strange ship arrives bearing a feminine robot named EVE. WALL-E (being very lonely) falls in love and embarks on a huge adventure that, ultimately, will save the long absent human race once and for all.


Composer Thomas Newman had worked very well with director Andrew Stanton on Finding Nemo (2003) and began working on the score as early as 2005 (EVE’s theme was first arranged in 2007). Newman found the score to be a good challenge, as the first portion of the film is largely silent (with no dialogue in the traditional sense). Stanton had originally envisioned a purely orchestral score, but Newman eventually included electronic elements as well. Several scenes also include selections from previously composed works, most notably Hello Dolly! and La vie en rose (as performed by Louis Armstrong) during a sequence between EVE and WALL-E on Earth. Newman’s score was nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, but it lost to Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

Interestingly, with the film making several references to Hello Dolly!, it’s cool to note that Thomas Newman’s uncle Lionel Newman (1916-1989) worked on that production.

WALL-E is such an adorable film, and it’s commentary on society (most notably how it deals with consumerism) makes it a must-see for all ages. Please enjoy this behind the scenes look at the score of this film.

You can become a patron of the blog at: patreon.com/musicgamer460

See also:

Thomas Newman talks Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

*poster image is the property of Walt Disney/Pixar

Introducing James Bond: Spectre (2015)

It goes without saying that after the runaway success of Skyfall (2012), anticipation for Spectre was at a near fever pitch, especially since it was assumed (correctly) that the SPECTRE organization would finally be making it’s long awaited return to the franchise for the first time in 44 years. Which automatically led to another question: would Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the villainous leader of SPECTRE (and played by numerous actors in the past) also be making his return? The answer, thankfully, was yes. While Donald Pleasance remains my personal favorite actor to play the part (in You Only Live Twice), Christoph Waltz absolutely nailed the role here in Spectre.

The fourth Daniel Craig film sees Bond in trouble with M, yet again. It would seem in the opening adventure in Mexico City that Bond has gone off on a “mission” of his own choosing (i.e. MI6 didn’t authorize it), to assassinate a terrorist before they can execute a plan to blow up a packed stadium (this takes place during the height of Day of the Dead festivities). M demands an explanation, but Bond refuses to give one, so Bond is officially put on leave until further notice and is banned from leaving the country.


Times are changing rapidly for MI6: now as in Skyfall, the organization is being viewed as more obsolete than ever, and Max Denbigh (nicknamed “C” by a not-impressed Bond) seeks to have the agency replaced by the “Nine Eyes” global surveillance network. But there is much more at stake here than anyone realizes (even Bond). Since Casino Royale, a single entity has been manipulating world events, bringing everything to a head at the climax of this story. And if Bond should fail in his mission, there might be no stopping the enemy this time, because SPECTRE has returned.

I’m going to come right out and say it: Spectre is not as good as Skyfall. Now having said that, Spectre is still an awesome film. It has a little bit of everything: car chases, romance, high stakes, and a number of witty one-liners that could only come from a James Bond film. And yet, it doesn’t quite meet the bar that Skyfall set, but that’s no crime, since Skyfall may be the perfect Bond film.


One of my favorite characters has to be Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista). Hinx is a villain in the mold of the classic Bond henchmen (think of Oddjob and ESPECIALLY Jaws (you know, the tall guy with titanium teeth in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker). I enjoyed watching him so much that I secretly hope they find some way of “resurrecting” the character for the next Bond film. Another element that I loved? The classic “gun-barrel opening” FINALLY returns to its proper place at the beginning of the film.

Thomas Newman talks Spectre (2015)

For the musical score, Thomas Newman returned once again to compose the music for this film. According to director Sam Mendes, the final film contains over 100  minutes of music (and believe me, that is a LOT of music for any film). I really enjoyed the music for this film, it contains an appropriate mix of the classic James Bond theme, while at the same time using new motifs to emphasize the swiftly changing events of the story (the music for the car chase in Rome in particularly good, especially when the cars pass through St. Peter’s Square).

Spectre Title Sequence (2015)

The theme for the title sequence was titled “Writing’s On the Wall” and performed by Sam Smith. The song immediately received mixed reviews, with many comparisons being made with Adele’s “Skyfall” (with the latter being described as a much better Bond song). I don’t think it’s very fair to compare “Writing’s On the Wall” with “Skyfall” because, let’s be honest, “Skyfall” is an excellent piece of music. Certainly this latest Bond song has some flaws, the most noticeable being those moments when Smith goes into falsetto. If this were anything BUT a Bond film, I wouldn’t have an issue with it, but this IS a James Bond film and that makes the falsetto feel out of place. The strongest part of the song (for me) is the brief refrain “If I risk it all/Could you break my fall?” If he kept that quality of voice that he used in that moment throughout the song, I think it would have been better received.


Now on a final note, let’s talk about the ending of the film. Was I the only one who expected Madeleine Swann to be killed out of nowhere as James walked over to her? The tension was so thick, that I kept expecting something to happen. I also can’t forget the fact that Bond let Blofeld live (remember how Blofeld kept his eyes locked on Swann and Bond as they walked away together?) I’d be shocked if the next Bond film didn’t feature Blofeld out for revenge in one way or another (because in four Craig films, this is the first time Bond has let an adversary live). It was rather symbolic actually, that moment when Bond stood over Blofeld on the bridge.

Spectre in London 575

On the one side stood M, representing Bond’s duty as a Double-0 agent. But on the other side stood Madeleine, representing the side of life that Bond had kept locked away ever since Vesper died: the possibility of a life away from murder and death, the possibility of a life filled with love. And in that moment, Bond chooses love, by letting Blofeld live, by throwing his gun in the river, and by steadfastly walking AWAY from M and choosing to go with Madeleine. It will definitely be interesting to see where the story goes from here. Hopefully we don’t have a repeat of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but only time will tell.


Of course we know James Bond will return, but the big question is, will it be Daniel Craig, or someone new? As much as people (including myself) would like to see him return for a 5th outing as 007, the truth is that Craig is now 48 years old, and assuming it takes at least two years for the next film to begin filming, that would make him 50. Given how physically demanding the role of James Bond has become, I would not be surprised if we see someone new when the 25th Bond film rolls out. And if that was indeed the finale of Craig’s Bond, I can’t think of a better exit than driving off with his lady love in that gorgeous Aston Martin.

And for the time being, that concludes Introducing James Bond.

See also: Film/TV Reviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

*poster and images are the property of Eon Productions

Introducing James Bond: Skyfall (2012)

Thus far in the Daniel Craig era of James Bond, we’ve had one good and one not-quite-as-good film. Skyfall, the penultimate film thus far, is for me, the moment where the Daniel Craig Bond finally hit his stride. No more awkwardness, no immaturity, THIS is the Bond we’ve come to know and love over the decades.


Skyfall begins with another mission in progress: Bond is in Istanbul accompanied by a female agent (and there’s a good reason we don’t know her name yet). The end of this scene (being the pre-credits) features Bond accidentally shot and presumed dead in the aftermath.


In reality, Bond is alive and well, he decided to use his presumed death as a way to take some much needed time away, but it doesn’t last. Back in London, M (Judi Dench) is facing considerable pressure from Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) over the continued existence of MI6 in the 21st century and she is being pushed to retire. Out of nowhere, the MI6 servers are hacked and the building is bombed, prompting Bond to return to the city.Bond is up against his most dangerous opponent yet, and not everyone is going to make it out alive.

Unlike the previous two Bond films, I was unable to catch Skyfall in the theater (something I deeply regretted once I did see the movie). If Goldfinger is the perfect classic Bond film, then Skyfall is the perfect Bond film of the new era, I can’t think of any flaws.

Ben Whishaw is PERFECT as the new Q by the way, I didn’t think anyone could ever replace Desmond Llewelyn in that role, but he is perfect (and Bond’s line during their introduction “You’ve still got spots!” always makes me laugh)

*warning: spoilers for the ending of Skyfall follow*

I did not see (or I didn’t want to see) the death of Judi Dench’s M coming, but I also understood her reasons for leaving (she had been playing the role since 1995 after all). Without a doubt, the series won’t be the same without her, but Ralph Fiennes makes a pretty great M too. And speaking of the new M, this is the first time in the cinematic Bond universe that we actually know M’s real name (Gareth Mallory). M’s real name IS mentioned in the books, but that’s a separate thing from the movies.


And before I get to the music, I have to talk about that final scene, where Bond properly gets introduced to Eve Moneypenny (aka that female agent from the pre-title sequence): that was perfect!! I had this overwhelming feeling of: finally, everything is right with the Bond universe again (it just didn’t feel right without Q and Moneypenny, and both were reintroduced in this film). And the last scene where Bond faces the new M in his office, just that moment alone was an homage to classic Bond with the design of the office, Bond’s suit, M’s suit, the painting behind M’s head (go back to the Connery films and check out M’s office, you’ll see what I mean). And for the first time in a long time, when the screen went black, I instantly wanted more!


Now on to the music! For the first time in quite a while, David Arnold did NOT return to compose the score to Skyfall; instead the score was written by Thomas Newman (a great film composer in his own right and a frequent collaborator with director Sam Mendes). (It should be noted that Arnold was also busy composing the music for the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.) Newman’s score won the BAFTA for Best Film Music. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score (only the second Bond film score to be so honored).

Thomas Newman talks Skyfall (2012)

 Thomas Newman’s score contributed more than a little to the success of this film. In this short making-of segment, Newman talks about how the score was put together, along with a little behind-the-scenes action.

Skyfall Title Sequence (2012)

While the score for Skyfall was well-received, the title song turned the world upside down. “Skyfall” was performed by Adele and received instant critical acclaim from everyone, and is now considered one of the greatest Bond songs ever created. The song was nominated for and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song (the first Bond song to win an Oscar) and it also won a Brit Award for Best British Single (as well as a Critic’s Choice Award and a Golden Globe AND a Grammy Award.)


Credit to Art of the Title

I seriously doubt that any film will top Skyfall for quite some time, but Spectre certainly tried to (but more on that next time).

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

See also: Film/TV Reviews

Up next: Spectre (2015)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

*poster and images are the property of Eon Productions