Richard Kind, the kindly goofball actor from “Spin City” and many Pixar films, opened the ASCAP Screen Music Awards with a bondage joke.
“You wonder, why do I tell that to start off?” Kind said, responding to the roomful of titters at the Beverly Hilton. “Well, a joke about bondage and sexual deviation, amongst musicians — I know my audience.”
Kind hosted the 34th annual awards dinner at the request of Michael Giacchino, the Oscar-winning composer of “Up,” “Star Trek” and “Inside Out” (which featured Kind as the beloved Bing Bong). Giacchino received the Henry Mancini Award, ASCAP’s top honor, which gave Kind an opportunity to lovingly razz the composer (“The only reason he grew a beard is so that people would think he was an adult”) and pour love on a man he called “the greatest spirit that you want to have around you.”
Introduced in person by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” “Tomorrowland”) and, via video, J.J. Abrams, Giacchino used his time at the microphone to preach the importance of the musicians who perform his music.
“Musicians are a composer’s life blood,” he said. “Without them, all we have are little black dots.”
Then he got serious, addressing the exodus over the past decade-plus of screen music recording done in Los Angeles.
“I can’t help but wonder how we went from an industry with work for every musician in town to an industry where a fractured community is rife with players who can barely find employment — struggling to hold onto jobs, and in many cases having to take non-music work in-between gigs just to survive.”
Giacchino admitted that he’s recorded outside of L.A. a few times, but he issued a direct challenge to the musicians union, and to his peers and any filmmakers in the room: “When a small independent producer wants to score here, let’s find a way to make it happen, not push them away. When you as a producer have a project, try to make it work here first. We have to say no to living under the shadow of a small group of people who use threats and inaccurate information to hold onto a business model that continues to strangle progress.”
He strongly clarified that he isn’t anti-union, as the proud son of two lifelong union members — “but I watched over the years as they stood up to the status quo, demanding change from their leadership when the environment was working against their better interest,” he said. “And when an environment does change, survival and growth will go to the organisms that can adapt. It will not be easy, but the ability to adapt is the path to prosperity and survival.”
Giacchino’s barnburner speech was met with a standing ovation.
Another major honoree was Pinar Toprak, who took home the Shirley Walker Award (named after the pioneering female composer of “Batman: The Animated Series”). Toprak made history this year as the first woman to score a billion-dollar film, “Captain Marvel,” as well as the first woman to score a Marvel film.
She was introduced by David Ellison, CEO of Skydance Media. Toprak scored Ellison’s short student film 15 years ago, and she also scored the Skydance logo. In her speech, she singled out people who “saw me before I was visible. That’s everything.” She thanked her two children, who sat at her table. “I know it’s not easy to have a single momma who loves what she does and works quite a bit,” she said. “Every note that I write is inspired by you, dedicated to you.”
Songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul won the Vanguard Award, a testament to their meteoric résumé which already includes the Oscar-winning “La La Land,” the Tony-winning “Dear Evan Hansen” and the Grammy-winning, chart-destroying “The Greatest Showman” — all before their 35th birthdays. As the president of ASCAP, the award-spangled songwriter Paul Williams, pointed out: “They are one E away from their EGOT. Let that sink in.”
Broadway veteran Stephen Schwartz (“Pippin,” “Wicked”) introduced the boyish duo, and recalled being handed a CD of demos after an event while the two were still students at the University of Michigan. “I put the CD on in my car, thinking I would give it a casual listen on my drive home,” Schwartz said. “But after only a couple of songs — because that’s all it took — I realized, ‘Oh, wait a minute, these kids are really good.’”
“What Stephen didn’t tell you,” Paul said after taking the stage, was that several months later the two young men received an email from Schwartz. “It went on for 14 pages, and it was an analysis of every single song on our CD…”
“…The most encouraging and beautifully critical, but honestly like the most incredible feedback that we could’ve ever gotten,” Pasek jumped in, “that taught us so much about now what we think of as writing a good song.”
“Well, he was like, ‘Guys, there’s this thing called rhyming — you’re not doing it, exactly,’” Paul said to a wave of laughs. “In the most loving way!”
Filmed dispatches from Alan Menken, Hugh Jackman and James Corden heaped further praise on “the boys.”
Oscar-nominated “If Beale Street Could Talk” composer Nicholas Britell and music supervisor Gabe Hilfer received the inaugural Harmony Award, which ASCAP created alongside the Guild of Music Supervisors to celebrate the unique partnership between the two music roles that can often be antagonistic. Britell and Hilfer were introduced by actor Colman Domingo from “Beale Street,” who said: “I was so moved by the film, and more than anything I was moved by the music, because I thought: how did they know that this is how they felt? How did they get into the interior lives of these characters? I really felt punched in the gut.”
A good-sized ensemble of the local players that Giacchino championed were on hand to perform throughout the evening — songs from “The Greatest Showman” (Keala Settle, who played the bearded lady, sang the Oscar-nominated “This Is Me”), the theme from Toprak’s Pixar short, “Purl,” and a big band medley of Giacchino’s themes.
Other spotlighted winners included John Powell, who won the Composers’ Choice award for Film Score of the Year for “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” Jeff Cardoni (“Silicon Valley,” “Young Sheldon”) for TV Composer of the Year and Lena Raine for Video Game Score of the Year, for “Celeste.”
The elephant in the room was the elephant a mile east on Wilshire. BMI, the other major performing rights organization, was hosting its annual Film, TV and Visual Media Awards at the exact same time at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel — cleaving the screen music community in two. Many publicists and agents were running from cocktails at one to dinner at the other to support their clients.
Williams acknowledged it right at the top.
“We truly are all a family,” he said, wryly smiling, “even if sometimes our PRO calendars get a little mixed up.”