No Economy For Old Film Composers


About a month ago we came across this half-baked piece asking where all the great film composers had gone. Turns out The Hollywood Reporter might have the answer: shrinking budgets due to the bad economy have resulted in less time and resources for them to work with, and in many cases, a diminished final product.

It’s a dark time for film music, no doubt. But our biggest worry shouldn’t be whether original scores will hummable enough for audiences to enjoy but rather whether they will continue to exist at all.

“Budgets are shrinking as we speak,” says John Debney, whose film scores include last year’s Evan Almighty and 2005’s Sin City. “It’s part of the climate in Hollywood right now — the studios are tightening their belts. But there’s budget tightening, and then there’s sacrificing quality. When the (music) budget for a $100 million-plus picture has made it cost-prohibitive to do the right thing, it makes our job much tougher.” “Creative fees (aside), the hard costs for a big movie that needs 80 or above musicians, with four to five days of recording, is $700,000-$800,000,” he says. That includes “studios, engineers, musicians, copying, orchestration. All of these are not negotiable — they’re union.” So imagine Debney’s dismay when, on one tentpole movie he recently scored, he was offered just $500,000 for the entire package. [THR]

And that’s when established names are getting hired. These days younger, less experienced composers are landing more gigs due to these cutbacks and the short turnaround time given to get the work done. Can you imagine someone like Howard Shore turning around The Lord of the Rings over the course of a few weeks on a shoestring budget?

If times are tough for composers working on major studio projects, just imagine how the current crunch is affecting the indies. Two of the most buzzed-about independent films we’ve seen this year — Ballast and Wendy and Lucy — cut out soundtracks completely. We had a hard time watching both, and we wonder if the lack of music was at least partially to blame for our general apathy.

But if critics are embracing these soundtrack-free films, will we see a trickle up effect where producers on large studio flicks cut budgetary corners by eliminating original scores completely? We pray to Thomas Newman that this trend doesn’t take hold. Just imagine last year’s Oscar winner No Country For Old Men without the work of composer Carter Burwell. Was it discreet? Sure. But even in a case where the score is subtle, taking it away would leave you with a completely different film.