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The past, present and future of film scoring

September 19, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has recently feted such legendary Oscar-winning composers as Franz Waxman and Miklós Rózsa, who began making their marks in the 1930s. But with its upcoming seminar series, "The Music Sound Track," the organization is examining the present and the future of film composition.

The three-evening program at the Linwood Dunn Theater examines the musical scoring process through the eyes of several of today's best-known composers. Thursday's seminar, "Traditional Scores," is hosted by Charles Bernstein ("Cujo," "Nightmare on Elm Street") with guests Lalo Schifrin ("Mission: Impossible," "Cool Hand Luke") and Oscar-winning Jan A.P. Kaczmarek ("Finding Neverland").

"Alternative Scores" is the subject of the Sept. 27 program, with host Bruce Broughton ("Silverado") in conversation with Mychael Danna ("Little Miss Sunshine," "Capote"), Mark Isham ("A River Runs Through It") and Rolfe Kent ("Sideways").

The series concludes Oct. 4 with "The Music Team," featuring host George S. Clinton ("Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery") along with Michael Giacchino ("The Incredibles"), John Powell ("Happy Feet," "United 93") and music editor Mike Flicker.

"We'll talk about career aspects and what it's like to work in this industry -- the hardships and deadlines," says Bernstein of his seminar. "We'll talk about the art and nature of writing and about the art of writing for films."

Ironically, though Schifrin and Kaczmarek are participating in the "traditional" evening, neither of them is traditional in the classical style of an Erich Wolfgang Korngold or Max Steiner.

"Lalo is about as experimental and cutting edge and radical, any name you want to find that is the anthesis of traditional," says Bernstein. Yet his scores are steeped in tradition, he adds. "One of the things that differentiates traditional film from non-traditional is the ability to create themes that might highlight a character and story. Sometimes it all comes together, like with 'Lara's Theme' from "Doctor Zhivago.' And when that happens you have magic.

"That is what separates the great from the non-great. Lalo is always testing the edges, but he is able to make memorable themes and iconic themes that are remembered and loved."

Bernstein hears the same qualities in Kaczmarek, whose haunting Oscar-winning score for "Finding Neverland" he describes as "the kind of thing you want to hear again. It's both beautiful and evocative. So when you hear it again, it brings the movie back."

Kaczmarek, though, says he would never describe himself as a traditional composer.

Danna, who is participating in the "alternative" evening, says the lines between traditional and nontraditional film music have blurred over the past five years.

"I think maybe a generation ago, there were two very different streams of film music," he says. "A more traditional score has a more simple role in that it's buttressing what the dramatic action is. The role of an alternative film score a generation ago was something other than representing what was on screen."

These days, Danna says, most film composers cross over between the styles. "My No. 1 goal is simply to do the best score for the film you are working on."



'The Music Sound Track'

Where: Linwood Dunn Theater, 1313 Vine St., Hollywood

When: Thursdays at 7 p.m.

through Oct. 4

Price: $20 to $30 for the series: $10 for an individual seminar

Contact: (310) 247-3600 or go to


Thursday: "Traditional Scores"

Sept. 27: "Alternative Scores"

Oct. 4: "The Music Team"

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