WALL-E AND REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
Eight-times Oscar-nominated composer Thomas Newman has two scores in contention this year, both very different compositions for very different films: Andrew Stanton's animated futurist fable Wall-E and Sam Mendes' period drama Revolutionary Road.
There is a chasm between the pictures in terms of tone. Wall-E is set in the future while Revolutionary Road is fixed at a moment in post-war America recognisable to millions of viewers. Animation, says Newman, is literally more animated. "The big difference is the rate of change. Moods are not sustained for long, whereas in live action a mood can be sustained for 10 minutes." Animation's many transitions, the changes from tempo to tempo, translate into a lot more writing.
On Wall-E, he says, the initial impulse was to pay homage to space operas such as Star Wars. "There is a vernacular. To a degree we had to abide by it and then decide how far we could take it." After all, he adds, "Wall-E is not just a space movie but an intimate, character-driven story."
Because the character of Wall-E has its own distinctive mechanised voice and sound presence, says Newman, "Andrew and (sound designer) Ben Burtt wanted my palette to be symphonic and orchestral so it could stand in relief to all the sound effects." But that mandate, he admits, felt limiting from a dramatic point of view. He convinced Stanton to let him introduce computer-generated elements to the score in the latter part of the film, where the introduction of future humanoids brought its own compositional challenges.
Revolutionary Road, an adaptation of Richard Yates' 1961 novel, is "classic period film scoring", says Newman. "You're drawing different musical conclusions, a theme is developed and repeated. The good thing about writing music for period films is that the image tells you what you can and cannot get away with. Whereas with Wall-E, the process is more reductive. You take your best shot and then let it hit you. And then you subtract."
The similarity in both cases was that Newman has collaborated with both directors on earlier pictures. He worked with Stanton on another Pixar-Disney production, 2003's Finding Nemo, and scored Mendes' American Beauty (1999), The Road To Perdition (2002) and Jarhead (2005).
"It's always the next time out," says Newman of working with the same directors. "You have the success behind you, it got you through the door, but the challenge remains. You have to do the job as excellently as if you had never worked together. You couldn't get anything past those guys."
Although many Westerners will not recognise his name, AR Rahman is one of the world's biggest music stars and composers, with more than 100 Indian films to his credit. They include, in recent years, Jodhaa Akbar, Water, Rang De Basanti, The Rising, Swades: We The People and Lagaan. He has sold more than 100 million records and a further 200 million cassettes, making him one of the world's top 30 all-time best-selling artists.
Rahman is no stranger to working outside India. He scored Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth: The Golden Age and He Ping's Warriors Of Heaven And Earth, for example. But working with Danny Boyle on Slumdog Millionaire allowed him to collaborate with a Western film-maker on an Indian film - a fusion of styles, perhaps.
"Slumdog may have a Western sensibility because of Danny, but the heart and soul is very Indian and it is based on an Indian story," he says.
Scoring it, however, was very different to a traditional Bollywood film, which can run to 200 minutes or more. "Indian movies have a huge amount of cues," he explains, "180 cues maybe, and six songs. In Slumdog, the main slots for music were much less but very important. There was much more quality in it for a composer."
Boyle approached Rahman, who is a huge celebrity in India, when he was coming to the end of the shoot. "He had discovered my music by then," laughs Rahman. "He sent a DVD with the first cut of the movie on it, a very basic cut which was very long. I saw the promise of the movie and started sending him ideas on e-mail.
"In his previous films, Danny likes to have a collage of styles in the music so I took hints from that, giving him different genres and styles. It's very urgent music and unique in its way. It's not scorey-scorey at all. The way Danny works, he creates great moments for music, like the title sequence or the chase through the slum or the last song."
That final song, Jai Ho, which plays as the entire cast dances in a Bollywood-style dance number on a railway platform, is a favourite scene for many Slumdog fans.
"The song was shot with a temp song," explains Rahman. "When I saw it they didn't lip-sync, so I wrote a song in a day based around the Jai Ho chant of victory and celebration. And while it took a day to write, it took plenty of time to produce it."
Rahman continues scoring Indian movies, such as holiday hit Ghajini starring Aamir Khan, but says he plans to spend more time in 2009 on personal music not connected to movies. And what if Hollywood comes calling' "I'd love to work in Hollywood if I get someone like Danny who knows what I do and knows his stuff. I know what it's like to have a bad experience with a director."
Renowned composer Danny Elfman came to Milk without any ideas about how the music would eventually sound. "I've learned over the years that the best way for me to see a movie is with my mind blank. I believe in a lack of research," he says. "I look at it and see what speaks to me."
Elfman was coming off Standard Operating Procedure, Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Wanted and had a desire to work on a drama since he "thrives on contrast". He also had a strong working relationship with director Gus Van Sant after collaborating on To Die For, Psycho and Good Will Hunting.
"Gus would never tell me, 'This is the kind of score to write.' Gus likes having lots of options," Elfman says. "The tone and theme emerged slowly. I began very operatically, because Harvey Milk listened to opera. But that would give the character the wrong kind of melodrama."
He continues: "One theme that emerged was very simple, an almost Americana theme. I was apprehensive at first at going in that direction, but this is a classic American story."
Van Sant and Elfman wanted to bookend certain musical themes - there is, for example, a piece with choral voices for an early Harvey and Scott kiss that later inspired a lively, upbeat piece at the end of the film. Also, a closing piano theme was adapted for an earlier appearance. "Gus said, 'I really like the noir feel of this theme,' so we thought we'd try it with saxophone for the opening," Elfman says. "I always try to work around instincts."
Elfman knew from the outset he wanted to avoid a score that reflected the disco music of the period. "That would work for a silly or kitschy film; this was a different kind of story," he notes. Making use of the opera and pop music Harvey Milk actually liked was also never a priority. "That's getting literal and you're not serving the film. You don't want the music to jump out and grab you, you want it to feel like it's coming out of the character's head," he says.
Above all, Elfman and Van Sant knew the story and Sean Penn's performance were strong and they did not need the music to manipulate the audience. "There's a line between being emotional and going too far," he says. "Too bad there's no emotion-o-meter or schmaltz-o-meter to measure that. You just hope your instincts are right."
OTHER CONTENDERS IN THE ORIGINAL SCORE CATEGORY
David Arnold, Quantum Of Solace
Terence Blanchard, Miracle At St Anna
Carter Burwell, Burn After Reading
Alexandre Desplat, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Clint Eastwood, Changeling
Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens, Gran Torino
David Hirschfelder, Australia
James Horner, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas
Jan Kaczmarek, The Visitor
Clint Mansell, The Wrestler
Angelo Milli, Seven Pounds
Nico Muhly, The Reader
James Newton Howard, Defiance
John Ottman, Valkyrie
William Ross, The Tale Of Despereaux
Howard Shore, Doubt
Marc Streitenfeld, Body Of Lies
John Williams, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
Gary Yershon, Happy-Go-Lucky
Hans Zimmer, Frost/Nixon
Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, The Dark Knight
Hans Zimmer and John Powell, Kung Fu Panda
SONGS ELIGIBLE FOR the ACADEMY AWARD ORIGINAL SONG CATEGORY
Another Way To Die from Quantum Of Solace
Barking At The Moon from BoltThe Boys Are Back from High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Broken And Bent from Role Models
By The Boab Tree from Australia
The Call from The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Can I Have This Dance from High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Chase The Morning from Repo! The Genetic Opera
Chromaggia from Repo! The Genetic Opera
The Code Of Life from My Dream
Code Of Silence from Save Me
Count On Me from The Women
Di Notte from The Lodger
Djoyigbe from Pray The Devil Back To Hell
Down To Earth from WALL-E
Dracula's Lament from Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Drive from Fuel
Forever from They Killed Sister Dorothy
High School Musical from High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Gran Torino from Gran Torino
I Thought I Lost You from Bolt
I Want It All from High School Musical 3: Senior Year
In Rodanthe from Nights In Rodanthe
It Ain't Right from Dark Streets
Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire
Just Getting Started from High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Just Wanna Be With You from High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Little Person from Synecdoche, New York
The Little Things from Wanted
A Night To Remember from High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Nothing But The Truth from Nothing But The Truth
Now Or Never from High School Musical 3: Senior Year
O Saya from Slumdog Millionaire
Once In A Lifetime from Cadillac Records
Right Here Right Now from High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Right To Dream from Tennessee
Rock Me Sexy Jesus from Hamlet 2
Scream from High School Musical 3: Senior Year
The Story from My Blueberry Nights
Sweet Ballad from Yes Man
Too Much Juice from Dark Streets
The Travelling Song from Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Trouble The Water from Trouble The Water
Up to Our Nex from Rachel Getting Married
Walk Away from High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Waterline from Pride And Glory
The Wrestler from The Wrestler
Yes Man from Yes Man
Zydrate Anatomy from Repo! The Genetic Opera