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The Most In-Demand Composers in Hollywood

By Scott Bettencourt

It took twenty six years for a studio to remake the smash hit The Amityville Horror (following two theatrical sequels and a few made for video), but it's only taken me a year to remake my annual classic Top Forty Countdown, and this list is almost as factually accurate as The Amityville Horror. The new list may not include any African-Americans (blame the biz, not me) but there is at least one white guy with dreadlocks, and though we're not at liberty to say how many Friends of Dorothy may be on this list, there is definitely one Friend of Adam Sandler.


2004 RANKING: Not ranked
AGE: Unavailable
BIRTHPLACE: Bay Village, Ohio
REPRESENTATION: Soundtrack Music Associates
BACKGROUND: Berklee College of Music, member of Oingo Boingo, keyboard player for rock singers/musicians
FAN FAVORITE: Battlestar Galactica
TYPECAST IN: African-American comedy
1. Dr. Dolittle--144 (U.S. gross in millions)
2. Big Momma's House--117
3. Barbershop 2: Back in Business--63
4. Like Mike--51
5. Fat Albert--48
6. 10 Things I Hate About You--38
7. 28 Days--37
8. Son-in-Law--36
9. I Spy--35
10. Johnson Family Vacation--31

One of Gibbs' first major assignments was as the episode composer for the first season of The Simpsons (his history with Oingo Bongo and especially Danny Elfman was probably a major contributor to getting this job), and those early episodes are strikingly different from the show today, both in the visual style and in the scoring -- while Alf Clausen's music is relied upon to help maintain the show's pace and energy, Gibbs' episodes were far more sparsely spotted, one early cue even sounding a little like Jerry Fielding (the only time you'd hear the Fielding sound on the show today is if they parodied The Wild Bunch or "The Trouble With Tribbles."). Gibbs worked steadily in features through the nineties, mostly in comedies, writing inventive music for forgettable films like Amos & Andrew and Fatal Instinct, but despite his prolific output his scores have rarely received soundtrack releases, and thus he's a nearly unknown quantity to most soundtrack collectors. His scores for Queen of the Damned (written with Korn's Jonathan Davis) and the miniseries remake of Battlestar Galactica have seen him work in territory closer to film music fans' hearts, but somehow it's African-American comedy (or at least comedy with African-American leads -- there's nothing inherently "black" about the Dr. Dolittle remake) that's ended up providing him with his steadiest employment.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Honeymooners


2004 RANKING: Not ranked
AGE: Unavailable
REP: Greenspan Artist Management
BACKGROUND: Saxophonist, studio musician for Michael Jackson, Linda Rondstadt, Dizzy Gillespie, others
RELATIONSHIPS: Adam Sandler, Peter Segal, Steven Brill
FAN FAVORITE: Little Nicky
TYPECAST IN: Low comedy
1. Big Daddy--163
2. Anger Management--134
3. Mr. Deeds--126
4. 50 First Dates--119
5. The Wedding Singer--80
6. White Chicks--69
7. Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo--65
8. The Animal--57
9. Little Nicky--39
10. Adam Sandler's 8 Crazy Nights--23

While still steadily employed as the composer-of-choice for Adam Sandler projects -- he's even scoring the upcoming Sandler-starring remake of Robert Aldrich's The Longest Yard, following in the footsteps of Aldrich's perennial composer Frank DeVol -- he's also getting hired for comedies with stars not named Adam Sandler. White Chicks may not have been the most prestigious scoring assignment but it was a modest boxoffice hit, and along with Yard he's got another sports comedy due this year, the Martin Lawrence vehicle Rebound.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Longest Yard, Rebound


2004 RANKING: Not ranked
AGE: 34
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz
BACKGROUND: U.C. Berkeley, Media Ventures
FAN FAVORITE: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre--80

After years at Media Ventures, Jablonsky had his first solo hit with the surprisingly profitable, Michael Bay-produced remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While 2004 came and went without any new Jablonsky-scored features, the new year brings a varied assortment. Steamboy is the latest anime feature from Akira's acclaimed auteur Katsuhiro Otomo, and has just been released in the U.S. in a dubbed, shorter version, though some theaters are including special showings of the longer, Japanese cut. More important for his Hollywood status, his collaboration with Michael Bay continues with two very different projects -- the Bay-produced remake of The Amityville Horror, which like the Chainsaw remake retains its original 70s setting (logically enough, since Amityville is based on a "true story"), and The Island, not a remake of the Peter Benchley disaster but a high profile sci-fi action thriller directed by Bay himself, and starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johanssen.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Island, The Amityville Horror


2004 RANKING: Not ranked
AGE: Unavailable
BIRTHPLACE: Glen Ridge, New Jersey
REP: Kraft-Engel
RELATIONSHIPS: Paul Thomas Anderson
BACKGROUND: Rock singer-songwriter, music producer (for Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple)
FAN FAVORITE: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
TYPECAST IN: Offbeat comedy-drama
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind--34
2. Magnolia--22
3. Punch-Drunk Love--17
4. I Heart Huckabees--12

Until last year, Brion's film work was largely confined to the cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson, who with four films in ten years is not the most prolific of directors. However, last year saw the release of two high profile films (neither directed by Anderson) scored by Brion, combining all-star casts and offbeat subject matter to produce truly unusual comedy. I Heart Huckabees was the first unsatisfying film from writer-director David O. Russell but it has its defenders, and Brion's quirky score (based in part on some of his previously written songs) was a fitting complement. More impressively, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was arguably the finest American film of the year -- funny, romantic, wildly experimental and deeply moving -- and Brion's fresh touch helped hold the disparate elements together. Brion has no projects on the horizon, but he joins the select group of film composers (consisting mostly of Danny Elfman) whom critics actually respect.


2004 RANKING: 32
AGE: 47
BIRTHPLACE: Redbanks, New Jersey
REP: First Artists
BACKGROUND: UCLA Music Department (under David Raksin), low-budget features
RELATIONSHIPS: Jon Amiel, Lasse Hallstrom, Sam Raimi
FAN FAVORITE: Hellraiser
TYPECAST IN: Horror, thrillers
1. The Grudge--110
2. Entrapment--87
3. Swordfish--69
4. Species--60
5. The Hurricane--50
6. Runaway Jury--49
7. Bandits--41
8. Urban Legend--38
9. Set It Off--36
10. The Core--31

On the upside, Christopher Young had his biggest boxoffice hit in 2004, which was also his first film to crack the hundred million mark. On the downside, this film was The Grudge, which, though a skilled remake of an acclaimed Japanese horror film, is only likely to reinforce Young's typecasting as a horror composer, which began decades ago with his first film, Pranks (aka The Dorm That Dripped Blood). Young continues to explore other dramatic genres, scoring a well reviewed HBO medical docudrama, Something the Lord Made, but his latest Lasse Hallstrom project, the family drama An Unfinished Life, had its release pushed from late 2004 to 2005 and thus its status as Oscar bait is drastically reduced, despite its stellar cast of Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez and Morgan Freeman. The upcoming Beauty Shop is a definite change of pace for the composer (was star Queen Latifah a fan of his Set It Off score?), but Young has said in interviews that there's only going to be about 20 minutes of score in the film, and it's the kind of "urban" comedy that's likely to be dominated by songs.

WHAT'S NEXT: An Unfinished Life, Beauty Shop


2004 RANKING: 24
AGE: Unavailable
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz
BACKGROUND: German cinema, Media Ventures
FAN FAVORITE: The Time Machine
1. Pirates of the Caribbean--305
2. Constantine--70 (as of 3/20/05)
3. The Time Machine--55
4. The Recruit--52
5. Catwoman--40
6. K19: The Widowmaker--35
7. Basic--26
8. Equilibrium--1

While the enormous boxoffice success of Pirates of the Caribbean must look wonderful on Badelt's resume (despite the score's less than beloved status among collectors), it hasn't done as much as you would expect for his career, and director Gore Verbinski has hired Hans Zimmer (who worked with Verbinski on The Ring and the upcoming The Weather Man, as well as "overproducing" the Pirates score) to score the upcoming back-to-back Pirates sequels. Ned Kelly featured Badelt's best score so far but was seen by barely anyone in the U.S., and he left Wimbledon and took over Catwoman but neither film was a hit. His most recent project was partial rescoring duties on Constantine, which has done decent boxoffice (not enough to offset what was probably an enormous budget), but it's hard to know exactly what his contribution was, especially since the Varese Sarabande CD of the score doesn't tell which cues are his and which were from original composer Brian Tyler. He will reunite with Equilibrium director Kurt Wimmer on another futuristic action film, Ultraviolet, and in a welcome change of pace will score Imagine's CGI film of the children's classic Curious George.

WHAT'S NEXT: Curious George, Ultraviolet


2004 RANKING: 36
AGE: 54
BIRTHPLACE: London, England
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz
BACKGROUND: Stage actor, theater composer
BEST PICTURE NOMINEES: Gandhi, Dangerous Liaisons
RELATIONSHIPS: Nora Ephron, Stephen Frears, Harold Ramis, Andy Tennant, Richard Attenborough, Nicholas Hytner, Ken Loach
FAN FAVORITE: Dangerous Beauty
TYPECAST IN: Romantic comedy
1. Hitch--159(as of 3/20/05)
2. Sweet Home Alabama--127
3. You've Got Mail--115
4. Groundhog Day--70
5. Ever After--65
6. Gandhi--52
7. Anna and the King--39
8. Dangerous Liaisons--32
9. Object of My Affection--29
10. Final Analysis--28

Fenton continues to score arthouse dramas for the acclaimed English director Ken Loach (including the recent A Fond Kiss), but it's his work with two A-list comedy directors that maintains his continued Hollywood viability (if not producing his most inspired scores). His four projects with Andy Tennant, a collaboration begun when he replaced John Barry on Ever After, have included his two biggest boxoffice hits, Sweet Home Alabama and the current smash Will Smith vehicle Hitch. After contentious working relationships with Marc Shaiman and Randy Newman, Nora Ephron has picked Fenton as her composer-of-choice, and their next project is the high profile, all-star feature version of the TV sitcom Bewitched. His collaboration with director Stephen Frears has spanned 27 years (including Dangerous Liaisons) and continues with the Judi Dench comedy Mrs. Henderson Presents, and he will score his first film for director Wayne Wang, the Queen Latifah remake of the Alec Guinness comedy Last Holiday.

WHAT'S NEXT: Bewitched, Valiant, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Last Holiday


2004 RANKING: Not ranked
AGE: 43
BIRTHPLACE: Paris, France
REP: Kraft-Engel
BACKGROUND: European cinema
FAN FAVORITE: Girl With a Pearl Earring
TYPECAST IN: Women's films
1. Hostage--19 (as of 3/20/05)
2. Girl With a Pearl Earring--11
3. Birth--5
4. The Upside of Anger--2 (as of 3/20/05)
5. Read My Lips--1
6. The Luzhin Defense--1

Desplat's lovely, Golden Globe nominated score for Girl With a Pearl Earring helped garner him some welcome Hollywood attention, and his second major American project, the stylish, frustrating Birth, was an even more striking composition, melodic and bold in a way that few American scores are allowed to be these days, and garnered much critical praise. For a composer who's done so few English language films, it was a shock for him to have two American films released on the same day earlier this month, and though neither score is as successful as Earring or Birth they demonstrate his impressive range and intriguing choice of orchestration, with his powerful, varied score for the deliriously over-the-top Hostage features a recorder theme for one of the imperiled children, while his pleasant if overly cutesy score for the entertaining comedy drama The Upside of Anger includes a prominent use of the mandolin (though, unfortunately, neither score has been announced for a soundtrack release). His next American project is Lasse Hallstrom's biopic of Casanova, starring Heath Ledger, which should provide an excellent scoring opportunity and the kind that Oscar voters are inclined to notice.

WHAT'S NEXT: Casanova


2004 RANKING: 22
AGE: 55
BIRTHPLACE: Beirut, Lebanon
REP: Evolution Music Partners
RELATIONSHIPS: Anthony Minghella, Jean-Jacques Beneix, Jean-Jacques Annaud
BACKGROUND: Pop songwriter, European cinema
FAN FAVORITE: The Talented Mr. Ripley
TYPECAST IN: Tragic romance
1. Cold Mountain--95
2. The Talented Mr. Ripley--81
3. The English Patient--78
4. City of Angels--78
5. Shall We Dance ? 57
6. Message in a Bottle--52
7. Autumn in New York--37
8. Wings of Courage--15
9. Possession--10
10. Clean and Sober--8

Yared's score for Troy is an exciting, melodic work, a rousing composition that seemed destined to change the way Hollywood sees this composer, and open him up to a whole new array of high profile projects. Unfortunately, his score was rejected -- those who argue that director Wolfgang Peterson must have been unsatisfied with the score (even after working with the composer for a year on the project) may not be aware of the pressure that even an A-list director faces from the studio when it comes to such a megabudget project, and it's more likely that the studio had a pre-existing dissatisfaction with the score than they relied on a focus group's complaints -- or maybe they just wanted a big hit James Horner/Josh Groban ballad. Because of the loss of the Troy score, Yared's only U.S. release last year was Peter Chelsom's remake of the hit Japanese comedy Shall We Dance (Chelsom's usual composer John Altman shared the scoring credit), and though the film proved to be one of Yared's highest grossers, his score consisted largely of one whimsical, European sounding theme -- your basic Miramax score. His next major English language project, not yet in production, will be his fourth film for director Anthony Minghella (his previous three all earned Best Score nominations), the Jude Law vehicle Breaking and Entering.

WHAT'S NEXT: Charly, Breaking and Entering


2004 RANKING: 19
AGE: 49
BIRTHPLACE: Auckland, New Zealand
REP: Kraft-Engel
RELATIONSHIPS: Philip Noyce, David Twohy, Carl Franklin, Robert Rodriguez
BACKGROUND: Trained in piano and French horn, psychiatric orderly, rock band SPK
TYPECAST IN: Thrillers, superheroes
1. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider--131
2. Daredevil--102
3. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle--87
4. Freddy vs. Jason--82
5. The Saint--61
6. The Chronicles of Riddick--58
7. Spawn--54
8. Blow--52
9. The Crow--50
10. The Negotiator--44

Revell may have dodged a bullet with his departure from the critically reviled Catwoman, but his biggest project of 2004, the Pitch Black sequel The Chronicles of Riddick was a critically reviled boxoffice disappointment and his percussive score didn't expand his creative horizons, and nor did his recent score for the remake of Assault on Precinct 13. The upcoming Sin City looks highly promising but he's one of three composers listed (including the film's co-director, Robert Rodriguez), and he is too seldom is hired for projects like the Anne Frank TV movie or the Charlie Kaufman comedy Human Nature, where he gets to display a warmer, more emotional facet of his talents.


NEXT TIME: A bunch of Englishmen as well as two new additions to the list, including a brand new Oscar winner.

I would like to thank Jonathan Broxton and his website Movie Music UK, whose composer bios have proven an invaluable resource for this series.

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