It used to be a given that if you wanted to have a successful career scoring movies, you had to live in L.A.
New York is home to three of the most sought-after composers in the biz:
Elliot Goldenthal, whose career balances music for film, theater and the concert hall; Howard Shore, whose eclectic style ranges from the magical (“Mrs. Doubtfire”) to the grim (“The Silence of the Lambs”); and Carter Burwell, best-known for his music for the Coen brothers’ movies.
“I didn’t think it was about geography,” says the Toronto-born Shore, who first moved to the city in 1975 to handle musical chores for “Saturday Night Live.” “I thought it was more about the work you were doing.” Shore has done four films this year including Kevin Smith’s controversial “Dogma.”
Shore uses New York as a central base, recording as much in Los Angeles and London as in the Big Apple. He recorded “After Hours,” “She-Devil,” parts of “Ed Wood” and “Before and After” in Manhattan but misses the great old recording studios that are now gone. Canadian-based David Cronenberg’s regular composer (lately “Crash” and “eXistenZ”), Shore finds it a quick hop up to Toronto for conferences while remaining in “this great, amazing cultural center. I love the opera and the theater and all of that.” After “Dogma,” Shore says, he’s recording an album (“a personal project,” he reports, declining to elaborate) in nearby Philadelphia.
Goldenthal, whose collaboration with director (and significant other) Julie Taymor on the Shakespearean “Titus” is highly anticipated (and who has “The Green Bird” due on Broadway in April), was born in Brooklyn within walking distance of the birthplaces of his two most influential teachers: Aaron Copland and John Corigliano.
“It just felt very natural” to stay, Goldenthal says from his Manhattan studio. “There’s a lot of alternative music available within a 10-minute taxi ride, always something out there that will challenge you, always a multicultural celebration of music at all times, in the streets, on the subways…”
Goldenthal says the musicians in LA are “second to none,” although he prefers the recording halls in New York (Manhattan Center), London (Abbey Road) and San Francisco (Skywalker Ranch).
Among his New York-recorded scores were the Oscar-nominated “Interview With the Vampire” and “Michael Collins” as well as “A Time to Kill” and parts of “The Butcher Boy.”
“In L.A.,” Goldenthal adds diplomatically, “you just have to work a little harder to uncover all sorts of alternative styles of music.”
Burwell, another native New Yorker, moved back to the city after college and has called it home for two decades. “I’ve never been inclined to let the business dictate where I live,” he says. “I live in New York because it’s a creative and interesting environment.
“The chaos level of New York — the fact that everyone is thrown onto the streets together, all these different ethnic groups speaking different languages, all walking on the streets, taking subways together, performing together — I love that. I view it as almost a Dickensian melting pot, a mess of a melting pot, chaotic and uncontrolled.”
Burwell, who has done seven films for Joel and Ethan Coen including “Fargo” and “The Hudsucker Proxy,” is now more in demand than ever. His “Gods and Monsters” score was widely acclaimed last year, and he counts no fewer than five 1999 releases including the summer hit “The General’s Daughter” and the current “Three Kings,” “Mystery, Alaska” and “Being John Malkovich.”
In fact, all of Burwell’s scores for the Coen brothers’ films were recorded in New York; so was “Being John Malkovich.” He prefers recording in Manhattan “simply because this is where my life is” and, because the city’s musical canvas is so diverse, he can find offbeat instrumentalists with ease.
“I think there is a great advantage to not being in the same town where the business is,” Burwell says. “I don’t take business lunches, I don’t go to business functions, I don’t go to business parties. I don’t have to hear what everyone thinks about film scoring. It hardly ever comes up in my daily life.”