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Alexandre Desplat Previews ‘Strange’ Score to Wes Anderson’s ‘The French Dispatch’

At the Cannes virtual Marché du Film, the Oscar winner and fellow composer John Powell talked about their trade.

Alexandre Desplat
John Salangsang/BEI/Shutterstock

The Cannes Film Festival’s virtual roll out continues this week with its Marché du Film, which featured composers Alexandre Desplat, a multiple Oscar winner, and John Powell in a keynote conversation on Monday morning. Moderated by Variety‘s Jon Burlingame, the composers discussed a range of topics from how they choose projects to budgets and processes. Among the highlights:

Scoring on Lockdown

Desplat said he had recorded the score to George Clooney’s upcoming science fiction film during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. “The Midnight Sky” is based on the Lily Brooks-Dalton novel about an Arctic scientist trying to stop a group of astronauts from returning home. Speaking about “The French Dispatch,” the highly anticipated Wes Anderson movie that was due to premiere at Cannes but got postponed to an Oct. 16 release, Desplat says: “I tried writing a score of that era with a sense of discontinuity and it has piano solos. It’s quite strange … [and] very minimal.” Desplat said he felt lucky to be working on projects during the lockdown, but felt for his musician peers and pals. “It’s been painful that many of my friends can’t express themselves publicly, and it’s been hard.”

Music to Script or Picture?

Powell, who has worked on the scores for the “How to Train Your Dragon” trilogy and “Happy Feet,” said he tried many times to score to script, but often “I’d end up writing the score twice.” As for Desplat, who has contributed to 191 scores including “Isle of Dogs,” “The Shape of Water,” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2,”  he added: “I’m not a script composer. I’m a film composer and my brain is excited by images and moving elements.” He went on to say his music is inspired by the “beauty of the photography and actors and I’d rather wait to have the movie in front of me.”

Europe or the U.S.?

Discussing the difference between recording scores in America versus Europe, Desplat pointed out that often a movie studio, by way of shooting or editing location, determines where a score is recorded. In the case of “Little Women,” director Greta Gerwig had just given birth, and so he recorded that score in New York.

Powell added there was an advantage to traveling around the world and you can find great musicians, but a challenge is ensuring they understand the complexities of film scoring. Said Powell: “The problem for musicians is that you do things again, and they wonder why? The director may be trying to chase something and might want to take winds out. There is an element of patience required by studio musicians. You can go outside of studio musicians, but you might have to work on the interface of how to work on films with them.”

Watch the full interview below: