Acad's strict rules can derail composers' chances

Although the Academy on Thursday released a list of 97 scores that are eligible for nomination for the 2011 Oscars, what’s more interesting is the list of the ones that were disqualified, including the music for “Drive” and “My Week With Marilyn.”

Both were considered possible finalists but were disqualified, sources inside the music-branch executive committee say, because they ran afoul of the Acad’s strict rules.

In the case of Cliff Martinez’s music for “Drive,” sources say there were two problems: songs instead of score at key dramatic points, and Martinez not being the only composer listed on the official studio cue sheet. Apparently two other names were included as contributing to some cues.

Acad rules disqualify “scores… diminished in impact by the predominant use of songs, or assembled from the music of more than one composer.”

The cue sheet is the official studio record of who composed each cue, or individual piece of music, in a score. Exact timings, how each is used and music publishing information are also included.

In the case of “My Week With Marilyn,” composer Conrad Pope submitted his score but the theme written by Alexandre Desplat (used by Pope throughout the film) had an impact that was “too great to overlook,” the committee ruled.

Committee members explained that the score might have been eligible if Desplat and Pope had directly collaborated — as last year’s Oscar winners, “Social Network” composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, did — and had they submitted together as a team. But Desplat wrote his theme and then moved on; Pope wrote a score that incorporated the Desplat theme at key moments.

“I’m disappointed, but I understand the Academy’s ruling,” said Pope. Martinez could not immediately be reached; his score for “Contagion” remains eligible.

Also disqualified by the committee were Marco Beltrami’s score for “Soul Surfer” (again, too many names on the cue sheet, a commitee source said) and Michael Giacchino’s score for “50 / 50″ (too many songs “diluting” the impact of the score).

The concept of “partial contributors” — another Acad rulebook phrase — has been increasingly problematic for the music branch in recent years. It started with “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” when screen-credited composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard weren’t the only ones listed on the Warner Bros. cue sheet.

Zimmer later explained that he added names of people who assisted in the creation of the score in order to ensure that they were financially rewarded later on, since the cue sheet is used to determine performance royalties and assures that those listed will make back-end money (sometimes substantial sums, as with the “Batman” films).

“The issue of authorship is often confused when there are other names attached to that of the submitting composer,” a high-ranking committee member said. “It’s hard, if not impossible, to determine what sort of work the other name represents. Who did what?”

The number of scores that are being created with very low budgets has led to a growing misuse of the film’s cue sheet to later compensate orchestrators and technical assistants, officials say, something that performing-rights societies ASCAP and BMI frown upon.

They say the cue sheet is the only legal document that can be relied on to precisely determine authorship of a score.

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