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Oscar Watch: 'Skyfall' Builds Academy Support, Composer Thomas Newman Overdue for Oscar

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 4, 2013 at 4:03PM

"Skyfall" could land a surprising number of Oscar nominations when they are announced on January 10. James Bond films, while they have been popular over the decades with Academy voters as popcorn entertainment, have not been Oscar contenders except for the occasional technical or song nomination. (The Oscarcast is tributing Bond on its 50th anniversary, in any case.) But Bond 23 is directed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") and brings a certain class and patina missing from many other Bond films.

AT: How long have you been doing this?

'Skyfall' orchestra
'Skyfall' orchestra

TN: I guess my first gig was in '83. I've been doing it close to 30 years, it's a blink. I've been at it for a while.

AT: Were you brought in by your famous family?

TN: That was no reason to get into it. My dad died when I was young, I did not watch him work that much, I was not that interested in music. For "Star Wars" in 1979 I got a bone toss, I knew John Williams through the family, Uncle Lionel and Dad knew him well, John decided to give me a small bit in "Return of Jedi" when Darth Vader dies, it was so well-sketched and orchestrated that I was copying stuff down more than adding to it.

I had an opportunity, I met a producer in NY, Scott Rudin, who came out here to work on his first movie, "Reckless," with  Aidan Quinn, Darryl Hannah, and there I was. I thought it was a tough job, at first. I think you have to develop vocabularies and a sense eof procedure. You meet people to help you through. It took me 8 or 9 years to feel comfortable with the work and not fraudulent in my efforts.

How you get through any job is to make it meaningful, and like what you do. It took me a while to get comfortable in my role, to realize I had something to offer dramatically. I needed to understand what it was in order to have an opinion of what I thought. If I fell short of the mark, I had to ask 'why?' and correct it the next time out. That's how I started to understand this.

AT: What are your favorite, best realized scores?

TN: On "Flesh & Bone," I started to make stylistic progress, to understand working with a small ensemble in the sampling realm and adding strings, an interior/exterior sense of how music is made and can fit behind drama. "American Beauty," "Shawshank,""Wall-E," I like working with a game changer like Pixar. I learned from Pixar that the way to be free in music is to satisfy the dramatic requirement and see what you can sneak in that interests you stylistically. In animation you're very tied to action and mood changes happen quickly. The action is more demanding moment to moment.

AT: Where do you do your composing?

TN: I have a couple places where I work. I have a computer with several monitors above, and computer programs that lock up any idea to picture so you can have an opinion about it, as can anyone else in the room. It makes the invisible more visible, it's easy to move the music around--'like here, delay it 10 seconds'-- it's a collaborative process.

AT: What are the differences beween Mendes and Madden?

TN: They're similar in approach. Both are really musical and have great ears and have a great sense of how music is altering the image dramatically or emotionally. I'd put them on a par in their sense of leadership, they can be discouraging and encouraging. There's always moments when good ideas fall away for whatever reason, dire moments in one's level of energy. The mark of good leadership is when someone is rejecting ideas, they are still encouraging you to keep going forward. There's nothing worse than feeling discouraged, it's not a good place to be in, you have to keep ideas floating and still refine the director's sense of what they're doing.

Some other people leave you alone more---Steven Soderbergh--I've worked with him several times, it's a different way through, his approach is looser more improvisatory during post-production and leads to amazing choices. How you get to the end of the line, some directors feel the need to carry the point, others are confident enough in the material, like Soderbergh, to let go of it.


This article is related to: Skyfall, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Sound and Score, Awards, Awards

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.