Oscar-Nominated Composers Reveal Secrets and Inspirations

6:30 AM 2/18/2019

by Tara Bitran

The music pros for 'Isle of Dogs,' 'Black Panther,' 'If Beale Street Could Talk' and 'BlacKkKlansman' all have had long relationships with their directors.

From left: Alexandre Desplat, Ludwig Goransson, Nicholas Britell and Terence Blanchard
From left: Alexandre Desplat, Ludwig Goransson, Nicholas Britell and Terence Blanchard
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  • Alexandre Desplat

    'Isle of Dogs'

    A two-time Oscar winner for The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2015 and The Shape of Water in 2018, Desplat, 57, is nominated for his fourth collaboration with director Wes Anderson. Set in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki, Isle of Dogs gave Desplat the chance to explore his adoration for Japanese culture. "My admiration for the country and its music, the films of [Akira] Kurosawa," he says. "It all culminated with this project."

  • Ludwig Goransson

    'Black Panther'

    Goransson, 34, who teamed with fellow USC alum Ryan Coogler on 2013's Fruitvale Station and 2015's Creed in addition to the Marvel blockbuster, needed to rethink the way he scored Black Panther, to put "more focus on rhythm and sound," he says. "I was also trying to capture cultural rhythms that are written for specific African moments, like ceremonies, rituals and challenges. How can we use these rhythms and put them in the movie?"

  • Nicholas Britell

    'If Beale Street Could Talk'

    Reteaming with not one but two directors this season, Britell, 38, created the musical soundscape for Dick Cheney's political ascension in Adam McKay's Vice as well as the sumptuous sounds of falling in love in 1970s Harlem for Barry Jenkins' James Baldwin adaptation. Describing his process of working with Jenkins, Britell says the method to his madness is to "hole up for days" and just experiment in Jenkins' New York studio.

  • Terence Blanchard

    'BlacKkKlansman'

    Blanchard, 56, has been around the block when it comes to Spike Lee Joints — he's composed the score for all the helmer's films since 1991's Jungle Fever. While he finds Lee's distaste for underscore tough, he starts writing melodies by keeping open ears. "My composition teacher always used to tell me you have to learn how to listen. You've got to get your brain out of the way," he says. "For me, I have to allow my emotional state to connect to the story first of all."

    This story first appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.