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Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

Los Angeles, California

Music

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By Sam Molineaux-Graham
Each year the Academy hands out two Oscarsfor music: best musical score and best original song. Though thecategories originate from the same branch of the Academy, they couldn�tbe more different.
But some voters are hard-pushed to discern thedifference, since what is often perceived as good music � and is oftenthe most memorable music in a film � are the songs from the soundtrack,not the more subliminal score.
�I remember the film The FullMonty, that many people voted for it for best original score, and itwon the Oscar in 1997,� says composer and Academy music branchcommittee member John Debney, whose score for The Passion of the Christearned him an Oscar nomination in 2005. �But, in truth, there was verylittle original score, but there were some incredible songs.�
Toavoid confusion, Debney suggests voters pay attention to the thematic,non-vocal music in a film in judging the score category. Whatconstitutes a good musical score, says Debney, is music that feels asthough it was absolutely born to be part of the given film.
�Themusic works its way into the fabric of the film, so it�s more than justbackground music,� he says. �That can mean everything from when themusic starts and stops, to the choice of instruments to convey acertain place and time. It�s those types of things that composers lookfor in each others� work. But to those who are less musically inclinedor aren�t composers, I would say it�s crucial to pay attention to therole the music plays in the arc of the film, and to be convinced thatthe music is tied into what you�re watching, but never takes over. Itshould highlight and accompany the film in an elegant way.�
A goodoriginal song can be just as tricky to discern. It�s not simply a caseof liking a particular song � the song should be an integral part ofthe film.
�When Randy Newman writes a song for a film it alwaysties in thematically with the film�s score,� says composer andsongwriter Michael Giacchino, whose song �Le Festin� from Brad Bird�sRatatouille (for which Giacchino also wrote the musical score) hasalready garnered a World Soundtrack Award nomination.
Giacchino�sscore for Bird�s Oscar-winning animated movie The Incredibles earnedthe composer a slew of award wins and nominations; and Ratatouilleseems on track for repeat success for Giacchino.
�A great song[from a movie] is one that incorporates a theme that�s usedinstrumentally in the film. It ties the whole thing together and makesit cohesive,� he says. �It�s not something that�s yanked from the popworld, that�s inserted as an afterthought.�
A case in point,according to Giacchino, is �Moon River,� from the film Breakfast atTiffany�s. �It�s a perfect example of where a song is tied into thewhole movie. She�s out the on the fire escape singing the song, andit�s a melody in the movie.�
Henry Mancini�s score to Breakfast AtTiffany�s is one of Debney�s all-time favorites. �Henry Mancini wrotesome incredible scores,� says Debney. �You only need to hear thatfamous four-note motif to know immediately that it�s The Pink Panther.�
Debney also cites the scores of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith as some of the best ever written.
Whilethe music branch, which comprises composers, music editors and musicsupervisors, decides upon the five nominations each for best score andbest original song � the latter in a bake-off where eligible entriesare screened for branch members, who then vote for their top five � thefinal vote goes out to the entire Academy membership.
In a changeof regulations that occurred this year, the Academy has barred studiosfrom sending out sheet music, recordings or music videos of music fromeither category.
According to an Academy spokesperson, thethinking behind the regulation change is that �the category is intendedto honor musical achievements that best serve the film. And so tolisten to those music compositions without the film as context doesn�tserve what the category is intended to do.�
Not all members aresold on the new regulation. Debney says it makes it more difficult forhim, as a music branch member, to consider all the possible contenders,since he couldn�t possibly go out and see up to 100 films incontention.
�If I can listen to a CD while I�m driving to work Ican get a feeling after the first two pieces if I think the music iswell written, and if I should look for that movie.� He hopes thatdecision will be revisited next year.
This year�s voters,therefore, will be required to really pay attention to the music whilethey�re viewing the nominations � something that is almostcounter-intuitive, since often it�s the less noticeable musical scorethat works the best.
Giacchino has the advice for general voters:�You may not necessarily be hearing the music, but you�re feeling it.If, after you�ve seen the movie, you walk away with the feeling likeyou�d like to go back and listen to it, that�s a good thing.�
Thesame, he says, applies to the original song. �Obviously it never hurtsto have a song that you can hum, and a melody that sticks in your head.�

Written by Sam Molineaux

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