Composers Behind 'A Quiet Place,' 'Crazy Rich Asians' and More on Capturing "Emotion of the Characters" Through Music

10:00 AM 1/11/2019

by Tara Bitran

The pros behind the 15 shortlisted original scores for films such as 'Vice' and 'Mary Poppins Returns' talk creating music to inspire love, angst and action.

Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures

  • 'Annihilation'

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    British duo Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow previously collaborated with writer-director Alex Garland on 2015's Ex Machina (another thriller with sci-fi elements), winning the 2016 Ivor Novello Award for original score.

  • 'Avengers: Infinity War'

    Courtesy of Marvel Studios

    Composing the scores for Captain America: The First AvengerThe Avengers and now Avengers: Infinity War, Alan Silvestri is well-versed in the Marvel Universe. But he says Infinity War "was a really different experience than anything I'd done before, especially in regard to the approach and balancing quick shifts in tone."

  • 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs'

    Carter Burwell has composed music for 17 of the Coen brothers' films. But for this six-part Western anthology, he approached each segment as its own movie. "The big question was, to what extent do we try to weave a thread through it that gives it some unity?" he says.

  • 'Black Panther'

    Courtesy of Marvel Studios

    Ludwig Goransson and director Ryan Coogler, who have worked together since their days at USC, discussed early on the importance of wanting traditional African music to be the base of the score. Since African music is all about rhythm, Goransson had to "rethink" the way he arranged for an orchestra: He used every different instrument "more as a drum" to create the sound of Wakanda.

  • 'BlacKkKlansman'

    David Lee/Focus Features

    Terence Blanchard has provided the score for all of Spike Lee's films since Jungle Fever in 1991. But for BlacKkKlansman, the biggest struggle was adhering to Lee's aversion to underscore. "In some of the later action sequences, I had an urge to score the action," says Blanchard. "But he really loves to have music that's more narrative than anything else."

  • 'Crazy Rich Asians'

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    Composer Brian Tyler was tasked with scoring a modern rom-com that felt like it had music from an older era. Director Jon M. Chu specifically mentioned the 1950s as an inspiration.

  • 'The Death of Stalin'

    Courtesy of TIFF

    Chris Willis says director Armando Iannucci told him, "Let's just imagine that we could resurrect Soviet composers from the 1950s." Adds Willis, "He said all this quite breezily — I then had to go away and spend months studying that kind of music."

  • 'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald'

    Courtesy of Warner Bros.

    After scoring music for the initial film in the Harry Potter spinoff series, James Newton Howard came back for the sequel, which jumps from New York to London and Paris.

  • 'First Man'

    Daniel McFadden/Universal

    Justin Hurwitz (who won Oscars for La La Land's song and score) found his biggest challenge to be "scoring the really intimate scenes," he says. "The movie goes back and forth between these big, grand space-action sequences, but it also has this side to it where it's very quiet, intimate."

  • 'If Beale Street Could Talk'

    Tatum Mangus/Annapurna Pictures

    Nicholas Britell was tasked with figuring out "what love sounds like" for Barry Jenkins' James Baldwin adaptation. When creating the sound of '70s Harlem, he started with brass. The trick to tapping into that swoony feeling of love was adding strings: "They represent love and the brass represents the high highs and the low lows," Britell says. "The brass can feel like ecstasy, but it also can feel like a very deep melancholy."

  • 'Isle of Dogs'

    Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

    "My challenge was to mix Japanese culture with the world of Wes Anderson," says Alexandre Desplat, who enlisted taiko drums as the beating heart of the score. "From there, I added saxophones, some strange recorders, French horns and the male choir."

  • 'Mary Poppins Returns'

    Courtesy of Disney

    Because the film is nearly wall-to-wall music, Marc Shaiman offers that it is "the biggest score I've ever done, as far as just the amount of time in the studio with the orchestra. But it was glorious."

  • 'A Quiet Place'

    Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures

    Marco Beltrami was tasked with creating a score for a world where a single sound can be deadly. "The film is truly intimate and contained," the composer says. "All I needed were strings and a piano. I actually de-tuned the piano's black keys to make it a little askew."

  • 'Ready Player One'

    Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.

    Avengers composer Silvestri also created the score for Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One. "I never tried to project the idea of what music in 2045 would sound like," Silvestri explains. "It was all about playing on the emotion of the characters and playing up the action, which has a very timeless feeling."

    This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.