Is it Oscar season already? The Venice Film Festival has set Alexandre Desplat to head the main competition jury at the 71st Venice Film Festival. It’s the first time they’ve set a film composer to be jury president, organizers said Monday. Desplat has the bonafides, earning six Oscar noms in the past decade, including on Best Picture winners The King’s Speech and Argo.
You have to hand it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Just as it is in the heat of putting on a little TV awards show over at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday night, the group still found time to stage the first-ever “Oscar Concert” on Thursday night at UCLA’s Royce Hall — and turn out in force. This ambitious show, which featured suites conducted by all the nominated composers for Best Original Music Score as well as performances of the four Oscar-nominated songs, was put into the works and approved by the Board of Governors last year, according to former president Hawk Koch, one of last night’s attendees. But as Academy Music Branch governors Arthur Hamilton and Charles Fox put it, most of this was cobbled together in the six weeks since the nominees were named. All the top Academy brass were there humming along, including president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson along with numerous members, particularly from the music branch.
It was quite a logistical challenge pulling the event off, which I am told by reliable sources cost in the neighborhood of half a million dollars to produce. And it may be sparking a trend: The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences plans to do its own concert at Royce Hall on May 21st featuring composers of new and classic TV scores. But I’m afraid Oscar has set this bar pretty high with a program that ranks as one of the highlights of the entire awards season, a classy event that saw tickets going to the general public for up to $100 each and discounted tickets for Academy members at $75 for orchestra seats. Box office was sweet as the place was packed.
Interviews by AwardsLine Editor Christy Grosz and Deputy Editor Anna Lisa Raya.
Here are some of this year’s lesser-known Oscar nominees, whose skills helped make the director’s and actors’ visions come to life. Without their research, technical mastery, or their ability to translate a story into melodies or visual effects, there would be none of the groundbreaking, iconic, historically significant films we’ve seen this past year. These are the real players who toiled in front of and behind the camera to make the 2013 Oscar season one of the best in recent memory.
Julie Delpy, Adapted Screenplay, Before Midnight
AwardsLine: What was the biggest challenge in writing and acting the 14-minute-long opening take?
Delpy: If we were able to do that as an improvised scene, we’d be geniuses. And we’re not geniuses. We work really hard at making it seem flawless, especially writing backstory stuff without seeming on the nose or expository. It’s the hardest part. How do you make it seem like we’re just having a conversation when we’re actually setting up the entire rest of the film, explaining what happened in the past nine years?
EXCLUSIVE: Alexandre Desplat earned his sixth Academy Award nomination for his lilting score to Philomena, but is the sixth time the charm for this most in-demand of film composers? He’s never won even though his previous nominations generally all came with high profile films including two Best Picture winners, The King’s Speech and Argo as well as Best Pic nominees The Queen and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. Another nomination came for the animated Wes Anderson film, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The prolific musician is currently represented on screen with The Monuments Men (in which he also displays his acting chops in a small supporting role) and Anderson’s upcoming The Grand Budapest Hotel which just won a major prize at the Berlin Film Festival. He starts recording the score for the May release, Godzilla in a couple of weeks. How does he do it all? Here is a look at the working process of Desplat as he went about creating the score for Philomena:
AwardsLine deputy editor Anna Lisa Raya contributed to this story.
Alexandre Desplat, the man behind the music of Best Picture Oscar winners The King’s Speech, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, is also the talent behind the musical score for Best Picture nominee Philomena. His Oscar-nominated score, melancholy but also incredibly wishful, walks a razor-thin line between the two and works beautifully with a sparkle of hope punctuated with a recurring delicate ding of a percussion instrument, the triangle. The music never dominates a scene, and by making that decision, Desplat gives the story and the actors the respect they deserve. The composer is a master at his craft; he began playing piano at age 5 and later learned other instruments such as the trumpet and flute. With the music of Philomena, Desplat mirrored the emotions of the character — an elderly mother who is haunted by the fact that her son was taken away from her when she was a young woman. She has a fervent hope that she will locate her little boy, now a grown man – but always her little boy – one day.
Judi Dench is nominated for Best Actress this year for her portrayal of Philomena Lee in The Weinstein Company pic directed by Stephen Frears. The actress, who has had a long career in theater, speaks through her eyes as much as in dialogue with her co-star Steve Coogan (who is nominated with Jeff Pope for Best Adapted screenplay). Carrying a deep grief and longing, the mother’s emotions break through her stoicism, giving audiences a peak into her troubled heart. Philomena feels the weight of sin of getting pregnant so young and having an illegitimate baby. With one bow of her head or glance away to hide her tears, Dench has captured the soul of the brave and persistent woman.
OSCARS: From ‘Philomena’ To ‘Saving Mr. Banks’, Composers Show Creativity And Agility With This Year’s Scores
David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor.
This year’s bevy of awards contender films is not only uncharacteristically large but also varied, particularly in how they were scored. The lack of similarity is apparent in everything from genre to instrumentation and even transcends musical matters, touching on the very core of the process. Specifically, when the composer is handpicked to buttress feelings and emotions primarily expressed in visual terms, what is his or working relationship with the director? Several prominent composers spoke about that intimate union, which in some cases was a new collaboration and in others a welcome reteaming.
Alexandre Desplat first worked with Stephen Frears on The Queen in 2006 and gratefully accepted the director’s offer to work on this year’s Philomena, a bittersweet road movie starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. “The story is intimate and deeply moving, and Stephen thought I could emphasize that,” Desplat says. “The story is such that it’s difficult not to be in tears: This little woman who seems to be lost but is actually ahead of everyone. It was so appealing to me. I came out with the main theme rather quickly.”
George Clooney‘s World War II tale The Monuments Men has been pushed to an unspecified date in early 2014. We’ve learned that the pic was delayed because visual effects could not be completed in time for the Sony film’s scheduled December 18 release date. Composer Alexandre Desplat also has not yet recorded the score. The thriller about a platoon of art historians and museum directors tasked with rescuing priceless art from the Nazis did well in screenings late last week in Phoenix and the week before in Sherman Oaks, CA. The film now won’t be eligible for the Academy Awards, but it was never Clooney’s goal to push it for Oscar attention. Rather, he intended to make an ensemble film in the style of 1961′s The Guns Of Navarone. Clooney also is burning the candle at both ends. He’s busy shooting Disney’s Tomorrowland as well as trying to wrap up Monuments Men.
Related: Hot Trailer: ‘The Monuments Men’
David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor. It’s not unusual to have big names in popular music perform end-title songs for major movies. Opera singers, though, don’t generally roll that way. But nobody ever said they can’t. Which is why Alexandre Desplat, who composed the music for Rise Of The Guardians, decided to approach soprano Renée Fleming about singing “Still Dream,” which uses the melody he wrote for the picture’s main theme and lyrics by the film’s screenwriter, David Lindsay-Abaire.
“It covers two octaves,” Desplat says of the song. “The music is very orchestral; the melody, very lyrical. So it really made sense to ask Renée Fleming, who is the greatest soprano alive. And she said yes right away. It was a suggestion that could have been rejected, but it was right — though I can’t remember the last time a soprano sang an end-title song.”
David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor.
Alexandre Desplat is nothing if not prolific. This year the quadruple Oscar-nominated composer will have five films in theaters. And, as is typical for him, each score is completely different from the others—much like the movies themselves. “If I only did thrillers, I would kill myself,” he said by phone recently from Majorca. “Seriously, I would want to change jobs.”
What keeps him in the game is the opportunity to play with various styles in different genres and compose music that challenges and delights him. “They’re all my babies and all so different,” he says of his scores. “They have different faces and shapes and costumes. Some are big, some are small—and some are huge. Some are talkative, and some are quiet. But I try to give the best of my energy to all of them.”
The most time consuming of these recent projects was his soaring music to DreamWorks’ Rise Of The Guardians, which marked the first time Desplat wrote for animation on such a vast scale. “It was three months altogether, writing and recording,” the composer says. “When you work on animation, the music has a great task: to create a sound and melodies and mood and atmosphere and energy dedicated to these extraordinary characters. And you see they are very specific, very clearly designed. Each has a personality that is different. It’s fun and moving and very emotional.”