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The history and future of Hollywood film music

Long before movies could talk, they still had the power to tell a story – with music.

Long before movies could talk, they still had the power to tell a story – with music. In the silent era, Charlie Chaplin not only acted in and directed his own films, he wrote music for them. As film making evolved, so too did the process of scoring for the cinema.

Some of the greatest scores in film history are the product of a shared vision between directors and composers. The legendary pairing of director David Lean and composer Maurice Jarre resulted in some of the most memorable movies and scores of all time, creating a landscape both visual and musical, impossible to separate. Picture Doctor Zhivago and Lara defying the Russian snows with their passion, Lawrence of Arabia rallying his troops from the top of a train – what music do you hear?

When he made Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, Steven Spielberg hired long-time collaborator John Williams to score the film before even one frame had been shot. But these days, movie budgets are shrinking and composers are feeling the pinch. Film scores generally comprise a very small portion of a film’s budget and are often commissioned so late in the game that the deadlines and demands on composers can be brutal. American films used to be scored by large orchestras; these days, thanks to budget and time constraints and the convenience of electronic music, live scoring is becoming a lost art.

What does all this mean for the future of film music? Are we losing touch with the art? How has technology changed the business? Is there more or less originality in movie music now than 20 or 30 years ago? Is the golden age of film scoring over? How are today’s working composers able to overcome the many challenges?


Michael Giacchino is an award-winning composer of films, television shows and video games; his feature film composing credits include Pixar's UP, which earned him an Oscar, The Incredibles, Super 8, John Carter, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, 50/50, Ratatouille, Cars 2, and Star Trek among others, as well as ABC's groundbreaking series, LOST. Giacchino sits on the Advisory Board of Education Through Music Los Angeles.

Randy Newman is a songwriter, singer, pianist, and composer. His solo albums span six decades and include 12 Songs, Sail Away, Good Old Boys, Harps & Angels, and the current Randy Newman Songbook series. Newman began scoring films in the 1980s, with movies such as The Natural, Awakenings, Ragtime, Toy Story 1, 2 & 3, Seabiscuit, James and the Giant Peach, and A Bug’s Life. He has been recognized with six Grammys, three Emmys, and two Academy Awards. Newman is on the Board of Councilors for the USC Thornton School of Music.

David Newman is an award-winning composer and conductor who has scored over a 100 feature films including War of the Roses, Matilda, Bowfinger, Heathers, The Spirit, Serenity, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel among others; his music has also been featured in Brokedown Palace, Hoffa, Norbit, Galaxy Quest, The Nutty Professor, The Flintstones, Throw Momma From the Train, Ice Age, The Brave Little Toaster and Anastasia. Newman also headed the Sundance Institute’s music preservation program in the late 1980s and recently has been touring, conducting the film "West Side Story," live with orchestra.

Trevor Rabin is an award-winning musician and composer who has scored 34 feature films including The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Get Smart, I Am Number Four, National Treasure 1 & 2, Bad Boys 1 & 2, Flyboys, Glory Road, Remember the Titans, Armageddon, Con Air, and Enemy of the State among others. Rabin is also well known as a guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for the British rock band Yes from 1982 to 1994. As a member Yes, Rabin wrote most of the material for the group’s bestselling album 90125, including the number one single “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”

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