Three years into its existence, WME’s Music for Visual Media Dept. is trumpeting major successes for its newbie composers, from Alex Ebert’s Golden Globe win for “All Is Lost” to Junkie XL’s “300: Rise of an Empire” and “Divergent” scores, to the maestros behind three consecutive top winners at Sundance.
Has it changed the composer representation landscape? The verdict is still out.
If anything, it’s the film-scoring landscape itself that has changed, and WME is taking advantage of it with its overall deep client base of artists and performers interested in making music for movies.
In early 2011, William Morris Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel invited Amos Newman — whose experience included 15 years at record labels and four years at film-music-focused Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency — to head up the new department.
Within a week they were meeting with composer Hans Zimmer, who subsequently left GSA for WME.
Some competitors considered the coup a smoke-and-mirrors maneuver that wouldn’t last; others cited Newman’s pedigree as showbiz royalty as an obvious calling card. Newman’s father is singer-songwriter Randy, himself the nephew of legendary film composers Alfred and Lionel Newman.
“I certainly don’t think that hurt him,” says one composer agent who asked not to be identified. “He grew up in the business and came from a very prestigious and powerful agency and has built-in connections because of that.”
While it’s difficult to gauge what Newman brought to the table at GSA, where he didn’t act as an agent, the deep well of recording artists and producers at WME gives him plenty of talent to draw upon as he attempts to extend the agency’s musical reach into visual media.
“We’re not just a composer agency,” Newman says. “We like to view ourselves as a complete music solution. We represent a great roster of composers, but we also represent a great roster of artists, most of whom are willing to contribute something — a song or a performance — for a film, TV or game project.”
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” now out, is a case in point: Zimmer scored the film, but fellow WME clients Pharrell Williams and Alicia Keys produced and sang the end-title song.
Other WME recording artists who’ve dabbled in film music include Eddie Vedder, Jack White, Grizzly Bear and Danger Mouse, and there’s no reason to think they won’t be further expanding their portfolio under Newman’s watch.
But Newman is just as interested in breaking acts in movies and TV as he is with pop-rock darlings who’ve already crossed over. If any WME client represents the future of film scoring, it may be Tom Holkenborg, better known as producer-DJ-artist Junkie XL. Based at Zimmer’s Remote Control studios in Santa Monica, he’s been working with Zimmer on projects like “Man of Steel.” But he recently branched out on his own, scoring the action sequel “300: Rise of an Empire” and the young-adult sci-fi “Divergent.” He’s now working closely with Australian director George Miller on the “Mad Max” prequel “Fury Road.”
“The industry is a people business,” Holkenborg says. “My manager and I met Amos many years ago and we became friends. When he started working at WME, (becoming a client) was the most natural thing to do. They are powerful and represent so many different types of people, I feel really at home there.”
But, he points out, “an agent can only make sure people know who you are, where you are, and if eventually there’s a meeting between composer and director, it’s a creative choice. The composer needs to seal the deal.” That hasn’t changed.
While WME boasts the kind of vertical integration that can pair above-the-line with below-the-line talent, composers and studio music execs agree it’s usually impossible to “package” a composer with a filmmaker. Those collaborations — whether it’s John Williams and Steven Spielberg or Carter Burwell and the Coen brothers — usually develop over time and rely on chemistry.
“The director often has somebody that he already has a relationship with,” says a competing agent. “And if they don’t, the composer decision is usually going to happen at a completely different point in the process than when it’s being set up. What we do is such a niche that it can get lost in the shuffle with the bigger agencies.
“But (a larger agency) can make the introduction if they have access
If WME doesn’t rep a director on a film, it might rep a producer, says Newman, so “there’s always some point of entry where I can pick up the phone and speak to an actual filmmaker. That’s what sets us apart.”
Junkie XL and fellow WME client Trent Reznor — the Nine Inch Nails singer-songwriter who is now an Oscar-winning composer (“The Social Network”) — along with non-clients M83 (“Oblivion”) and Daft Punk (“Tron: Legacy”) are the kinds of artists who appeal to young filmmakers looking beyond the traditional orchestral score to enhance their vision.
“Their musical points of reference are going to be more Radiohead than Korngold,” says Newman. “They like the idea of working with someone where there’s a commonality of taste, someone they can speak to in a different way. You’re going to see a lot of these non-traditional guys scoring more and more films.”
That’s what happened with J.C. Chandor, the WME-repped writer-director who was looking for something different for his survival film “All Is Lost.” Newman recommended Alex Ebert from the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Ebert’s moody, unorthodox score ended up earning him a Golden Globe.
Not that symphonic work is obsolete; Spanish composer Roque Banos, a recent WME addition, will be writing one for Ron Howard’s 19th-century shipwreck saga “Heart of the Sea.” Zimmer, who has done five films for Howard, recommended Banos, but as Banos says, “a big part of me doing this score was because Amos was fighting for it.”
Just what WME offered Zimmer to lure him into its stable is unclear, since neither the composer nor Emanuel would comment. But Newman says early rumors Zimmer wanted to become a movie or TV producer are untrue: “Hans is an idea guy. That’s the reason he wanted to come here. He has all sorts of cool technology ideas that he wants to experiment with. Those are things that we can help with.”
While Zimmer needs little help in securing movie gigs, WME has managed to broker connections with non-traditional partners, such as the EDM festival Tomorrowland in Belgium, for which Zimmer composed theme music to celebrate its 10th anniversary; ABC’s “World New with Diane Sawyer,” also enhanced by a new theme by Zimmer; and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, for which Zimmer composed a 60-second opening-title sequence used for all UFC events.
Compared to the more established boutique reps like Gorfaine/Schwartz, Kraft-Engel and First Artists — with their heavyweight arsenal of award-winning film and TV music talent — many on the WME MFVM roster aside from Zimmer are not household names, although Henry Jackman (“Captain Phillips,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) is on the rise, as are Ludwig Goransson (“Fruitvale Station,” TV’s “Community”), Lorne Balfe (“Son of God”) and Mica Levi (“Under the Skin”). Goransson is one of three composers whose films have copped top honors at Sundance (Dan Romer scored “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Justin Hurwitz did “Whiplash”).
Recent music-supervisor signings include Mary Ramos (who works with Quentin Tarantino), Bob Thiele Jr.
(“Sons of Anarchy”) and Mathieu Schreyer (“Chef”).
If WME’s Music for Visual Media Department arrived on the scene with much fanfare, studio music chiefs and rival agents say they haven’t changed their working methods as a result of the new kid on the block.
“Like anything like that, it did kind of keep everybody on their toes,” says one. “It won’t change the ongoing musical chairs that happens with composers anyway,” says another.
And it’s no different for WME. Three composers associated with Zimmer — Atli Orvarsson, Geoff Zanelli and Heitor Pereira — who were with WME’s MFVM in its nascent stage have since departed, as did Oscar-winning maestro Ludovic Bource (“The Artist”).
“In this business climate that we’re in, people change even more frequently than they would at other times in the cycle when jobs might be more flush,” says one rival agent. “I like Amos; he’s a really nice guy, but I think it’s a tough gig to start a department from scratch like that.”
What may work in WME’s favor is the disappearance of the mid-range budget film, with studios concentrating on blockbuster franchises and the remainder falling under the $20 million range. One high-ranking, award-winning composer, who is not a WME client, says music budgets for most films are so squeezed now that composer fees are minimal, even insulting, compared to 10 or 15 years ago.
Even major composers are doing small indies now (Zimmer hinted during awards season that he did “Rush” and “12 Years a Slave” not for the money but because he liked the films). But most indies wind up with talented, if little-known, composers, and Newman hopes his roster will shine in that arena.
Asked what’s ahead for the next three years, Newman says: “I want to discover and break new guys. I definitely bring more of an A&R mentality to the process. I like putting the right people together.”
Steve Chagollan contributed to this report.