×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Questions of Diversity Inform the Awards Race for Score

Gender and race remain obstacles to joining the ranks of elite composers who typically vie for Oscar

New voices, new musical approaches?

Last year, five of the six nominees in Oscar’s original score category were first-time nominees, and one was a woman, seeming to demonstrate that doors to the traditionally white male realm were finally opening to others.

Will this year be different? It may be too early to say. An informal late-November survey of Academy music-branch voters showed that many are just now starting to watch screeners, and few have made any firm decisions about what the year’s best scores might be.

One trend that insiders have spotted is a gradual return to the concept of melody and memorable thematic material. Recently, “moody, atmospheric, less-melodic music was definitely a much larger presence,” says Michael Giacchino, who scored Pixar’s “Coco” (pictured above) and Fox’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.” “We’re now seeing a rebalancing, the idea that there’s room for all kinds of music. I do see more of the old-school style starting to return.”

Along those lines, expect this year’s two John Williams scores to figure prominently in the coming debate: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Williams’ eighth in the series that has earned him one of his five Oscars) and “The Post” (his 28th film for director Steven Spielberg). Williams has a record 50 nominations and has won five times.

Similarly, two other composers who generally offer tuneful scores, French composer Alexandre Desplat and American Thomas Newman, have films in contention: Desplat with “The Shape of Water” and Newman with “Victoria & Abdul.” Branch voters tend to nominate them almost every year; last year it was Newman’s little-seen “Passengers,” his 14th nomination without a win. Desplat won for 2014’s “Grand Budapest Hotel.”

In addition to “the usual suspects,” music-branch voters also consider the year’s high-profile films that everyone is talking about. That means automatic consideration of Hans Zimmer’s music for “Dunkirk,” his sixth score for Christopher Nolan; Rolfe Kent’s score for “Downsizing,” his fifth for Alexander Payne; Dario Marianelli’s music for “Darkest Hour,” his fifth for Joe Wright; and Carter Burwell’s score for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” his third for director Martin McDonagh. Burwell also has “Wonderstruck,” his fourth collaboration with Todd Haynes.

Those kinds of long-term director-composer ties generally mean that music-making can begin long before post-production, a relatively recent development. Composers used to be hired at the end of the process, often with just three or four weeks to write and record a score.

“Joe [Wright] calls me even before the script is finalized,” Marianelli says. “I read an early version of the script and started writing music straightaway. There were ideas flying around over a year ago.”

The “diversity” issue continues to be debated: Will a woman, or a person of color, be nominated? Two key possibilities are Tamar-kali for her intimate score for Dee Rees’ “Mudbound,” and Michael Abels for his orchestral and choral music for the Jordan Peele horror satire “Get Out.”

Last year, Mica Levi became only the fifth woman nominated in a score category, and the topic of women composers — and how rarely they are hired — has become an issue.

“People have this theoretical, mathematical approach to it like it’s a numbers game, when, really, as a society there is a major blind spot when it comes to women in certain industries,” says Tamar-kali. “A first step would be to expand your horizons and have a more diverse knowledge of the people you’re trying to hire in those positions. If you know about more women, then you’ll hire more women.”

Genre titles are tricky, and not always taken seriously by the branch, although Rupert Gregson-Williams’ “Wonder Woman” score could be an exception, and Benjamin Wallfisch’s terrifying score for “It” was among its most talked-about elements.

Animated scores are another matter. Never count out the Pixar films, which are often nominated (this year, it’s Giacchino’s “Coco” and Randy Newman’s “Cars 3”). Add to the mix the work of Mychael and Jeff Danna for the acclaimed “The Breadwinner.”

Documentary scores are an even bigger crapshoot, although Philip Glass has received positive notices for “Jane” and Jeff Beal has gotten considerable attention for his score for the marathon documentary “Boston.”

More Artisans

  • Home Again Trinidad and Tobago

    Trinidad and Tobago Attracts Producers by Adding Hefty Cash Incentive to Visual Lures

    A dual-island Caribbean nation that fits fulfills the all visual requirements of a tropical paradise, Trinidad and Tobago offers a striking variety of shooting locales ranging from azure waters, white sands, thick jungle, sprawling savannahs and – on the urban side – bustling cities. Though the islands have predominantly housed local films, they are now [...]

  • Netflix Our Planet Sophie Darlington

    Netflix's 'Our Planet' Roars to Life With Work by Top Wildlife Cinematographers

    In terms of scope, production time and — very likely — budget, Netflix’s “Our Planet” is one of the most ambitious projects from the streaming service to date. Narrated by David Attenborough and made available worldwide on April 5, the goal of the eight-part series is to capture diverse habitats across the globe and highlight [...]

  • Les Miserables BBC

    BBC's 'Les Miserables' Recreates the Dark World of Victor Hugo's Novel

    Director Tom Shankland didn’t want his “Les Miserables” to be anything like the stage-musical version of Victor Hugo’s sweeping historical novel, nor like the 2012 Tom Hooper feature-film musical.  For the BBC limited series — a drama starring Olivia Colman, Lily Collins, David Oyelowo and Dominic West, which aired the first of its six episodes in [...]

  • Marsai Martin Little Movie

    How the 'Little' Production Team Created Look of Marsai Martin-Regina Hall Comedy

    What if you could return to a time in your childhood and relive your life from that point knowing what you know now? That’s the fantasy at the core of Universal’s “Little,” released April 12, in which Regina Hall’s Jordan Sanders, a character overwhelmed by the pressures of adulthood, gets the chance to relive the [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8 BTS

    How 'Game of Thrones'' Locations Have Expanded With the Series

    When the eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” debuts on April 14, the show’s millions of followers will once again be transported to the exotic lands and sweeping landscapes where the saga is set. From King’s Landing to The Wall, stunning locations have been woven into the fabric of “Thrones” since its [...]

  • In The Dark CW

    How 'In the Dark' Trained a Regular Dog to Act as a Guide Dog

    There used to be an adage in show business about never working with animals or children, but for Violetta Hessing, there’s nothing more fulfilling than finding a dog that wants to be on set and training it to deliver just as much emotion as its human scene partners. Hessing owns and is the head trainer [...]

  • Ryan Higa Youtube Star

    YouTube Star Ryan Higa Shows the Way to Maintain Independence With DIY Studio

    Hollywood creatives have always dreamed of having total control of their work. For most of them, it has been just that: a dream.  But that doesn’t hold true for a new breed of content creators: YouTube influencers. These individuals, with no corporate boss to answer to, and whose work is growing in scope and impact, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content