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Marriage Story not only tells the story of a romantic marriage, but also reflects the creative marriage between writer-director Noah Baumbach, music supervisor George Drakoulias and composer Randy Newman.
For the inaugural Soundcheck: A Netflix Film and Series Music Showcase event, presented by Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, longtime collaborators Baumbach and Drakoulias reflected on their work together and the vitality of Newman’s score for the film. Newman himself was unable to attend the event, hosted at the Avalon Hollywood on Monday afternoon, as he was recuperating from surgery.
Prior to Marriage Story, Baumbach and Drakoulias paired up on such films as Greenberg, Frances Ha, While We’re Young, Mistress America and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). But, as they revealed in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg, they disagree on how they first met over 20 years ago.
“It’s a subject of debate,” Baumbach joked. “He claims I met him at this restaurant I say I’ve never been to, called Gino’s,” said Drakoulias, who on Monday was announced as a nominee for the Hollywood Music in Media Award for best music supervision for his work on Marriage Story.
But one thing they could agree on was Newman, the two-time Oscar-winning composer who scored 2017’s Meyerowitz Stories. “As soon as I got the script, I cried and then we started talking and knew we wanted Randy right away,” Drakoulias said.
Baumbach’s process with his creative partners is to bring them on at the earliest stages, to give feedback on the script and take advantage of the talents they possess. “I sent Randy the script and he wrote me a really nice response to it. He attached this piece he had recorded on a piano, just on his iPhone,” the filmmaker recalled. “He has a studio in his backyard, and you can hear a lawnmower going and people calling him for dinner, but the piece he played was just so moving and felt of a movie I had not yet made. I was, like, ‘I hope I made this movie that he’s made this music for.'”
Newman, who is well-known for his singer-songwriter compositions as well as his scores for Pixar films like Toy Story 4, leaned on the former for his Meyerowitz Stories music. “It’s just him on the piano, very spare, kind of lonely. It’s almost like another family member in a way,” Baumbach said.
But the direction Baumbach and Drakoulias gave Newman for Marriage Story swung in the opposite direction. “I knew I wanted something that would reflect Randy as the composer we all know, something with an orchestra,” Baumbach said. “Although with the chamber orchestra, it was the first time he had worked with an orchestra this small. For me, it was the biggest orchestra.”
French composer Georges Delerue was largely influential and a source of fascination for Baumbach on Marriage Story. “He’s one of my favorite composers,” said the director. “He did many of the [Francois] Truffaut movies and [Jean-Luc] Godard’s Contempt score. I sent Randy things as I was cutting so he could be at the same pace that we were editorially, and I temped in some Delerue just to hear it.” Baumbach shared how in Frances Ha, he used a mashup of Delerue scores throughout the composer’s career.
The qualities that stick out to Baumbach and that he wanted to evoke for Marriage Story are that “they’re lush and romantic and beautiful and compassionate, without ever being sentimental. It feels honest. That’s something I feel very much about Randy’s music,” he said. “The characters have to get through a lot, and I felt like the music should honor that and embrace them. Honor the love story even though it’s a love story about a couple that’s not going to remain together.”
The duo joked that the easy way Drakoulias supervises Newman’s music boils down to a canine. “Randy’s dog loves George,” Baumbach said. “It’s true,” Drakoulias echoed.
The striking element of Newman’s work ethic is his self-effacing modesty, they both noted. “When he sends you something, he’s, like, ‘Okay, Noah, here it is. You’ll probably hate it. We’ll find something else,'” Drakoulias related.
“But of course it’s something that just breaks your heart and it’s beautiful,” he continued. “I mean, he’s fantastic, what do you say? He’s in it to win it. He wants to make you happy and you’re in the hands of a pro.”
One standout musical sequence kicks off Marriage Story and was the biggest hurdle to climb. “You’ve got to eat an elephant one bite at a time,” Drakoulias said of the eight minutes of uninterrupted score that plays over a two-part montage where Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) confess what they like about their significant other.
“We visually illustrate what they’re saying. And it’s the things that happen every day to many of us, that maybe don’t call attention to themselves unless somebody sees you and says, ‘I like how you do this.’ It’s that thing where you feel seen suddenly,” Baumbach enumerated. “It’s when someone does an imitation of you and you think, ‘Oh, I guess I do do that or talk that way.’ But it’s in the most affectionate way.”
The music for that sequence was critical to get right because the score returns at different moments throughout the film with new layers of meaning. “It was very important that it all be established at the beginning because it becomes in a sense, memory, and it’s memory for the audience, so it’s also musical memory,” explained Baumbach. “When you hear the score again, it brings back images, the way you remember things in life.”
Following the conversation, a 30-piece orchestra, conducted by Emmy winner Joey Newman, played the eight-minute introductory sequence live-to-picture with Marriage Story.
The program for Soundcheck also featured a music supervisor panel moderated by Billboard‘s Melinda Newman, featuring Drakoulias, Nora Felder (Stranger Things), Trygge Toven (Dolemite Is My Name), Randall Poster (The Irishman) and Aaron Byrd (When They See Us).
Performances abounded at the gathering. Accompanied by a string quartet, Zara Larsson sang “Invisible,” Justin Tranter’s song from Netflix’s first original animated film, Klaus. Kris Bowers also treated the audience with a rendition of his score from When They See Us. And Pharrell Williams, with the Voices of Fire choir all dressed in black tracksuits, sang “Letter to My Godfather,” his original song for Netflix’s documentary,The Black Godfather. During the song, he asked the audience to make some noise for positive father figures, referring to the doc’s subject Clarence Avant. In a conversation following the performance with Billboard’s Gail Mitchell, Williams shared how he felt “honored to be a comma in that amazing man’s book.”
Following the program, a reception was held at Capitol Records in addition to a screening of Marriage Story at Dolby Vine.
Pharrell and the Voices of Fire choir performing his original song “Letter to My Godfather” from @NetflixFilm The Black Godfather at the inaugural #NetflixSoundcheck @THR @billboard pic.twitter.com/Uuqe481FMh
— Tara Bitran (@tarabitran) November 5, 2019
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