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David Newman composes film music for over 20 years. He is also an accomplished violinist and successful concert conductor. Son of the legendary Alfred Newman, brother of Thomas and the cousin of Randy. David Newman began his transition into the world of film scoring by conducting James Horner's "Battle Beyond The Stars" and then playing violin on "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" by John Williams. Composing at least since 1984, he has scored nearly a hundred different films, shows and specials, and he has written in a number of styles for a number of types of movies. His scores include titles like "Ice Age", "Matilda", "Serenity", "Nutty Professor" and "The Spirit". He received an Academy Award nomination for the score to the animated film "Anastasia". That great composer was kind enough to answer my insightful questions, so now it is my pleasure to invite all readers of MuzykaFilmowa.pl to enjoy an exclusive interview with David Newman.


Łukasz Waligórski: At the beginning of every interview I always ask about the decision of becoming a composer. In your case it seems to be obvious – you’re part of big and respected musical family. Your father was brilliant Alfred Newman. I’m curious if you have ever considered not being a composer? Was your profession determined from the beginning?

David Newman: I never ever wanted to compose. I was a violinist and worked in the Hollywood Studio system as a session players through much of my 20's. I was trained in Violin at USC as well as Conducting. (I have a master's in conducting from USC). I just grew weary of playing freelance so I decided to give film composing a try. It took a long time with many missteps before I got really started on it.

What is it like to be a part of a musical family, especially in Hollywood? Do you have the feeling that you sometimes compete with Thomas and Randy? And are you under the influence of Alfred's music and legend?

I am asked this very frequently and it's hard to answer. I don't know any other way of living and working. Ours is a competitive family, but it is a family and I think we are all proud of the legacy. However, everyone's aesthetic is so different I don't really believe it's a "negative" issue.

How do you recall your first film projects, like "Critters", "Frankenweenie" or "Throw Momma from the Train"? How do you think you would score those movies today, with much more experience behind you?

I wouldn't trade those projects for anything and i wouldn't change a thing about them. I stand behind what I tried to do as I try to score the movie and not be under the influence of the musical culture of the time. Again, it's the movies themselves that dictate the music not the other way around. The music either "works" or it doesn't.

"The Brave Little Toaster", "Ice Age", "Scooby-Doo", "102 Dalmatians", "DuckTales", "Matilda" and much, much more - do you like working on animation and family/children flicks? What are the major differences between those type of cinema and standard, dramatic, real-life movies?

I love animation. Brave Little Toaster was where I really learned what I could do as a film composer. In other words, my "voice" became clearer to me and what I was physically capable of doing was gleaned from that project. What I love about animation is that it's a medium that handles music really well. You can do things in animation that you can't in live action.  102 Dalmatians is one of my favorite scores. There is a cue in that movie called "Midnight Bark" that I am really proud of. Duck Tales was my first animation movie and it was a pleasure as no one heard any music until the session. (I had to do a demo orchestra session to get the movie, but it was only one cue). After that, it was just the session. I got to really learn on that movie. Scooby Doo, Ice Age etc., were all wonderful in there own ways.

I've been wondering if the animated movies have temp-tracks? Did "Ice Age" have one?

Yes it did. All Hollywood movies have them. It's part of the landscape.

How do you feel about John Powell taking over the music in "Ice Age 2"? Why did that happened anyway and do you like the final effect?

This is Hollywood. Stuff like this always happens. If you try to figure stuff out like this you will drive yourself crazy.

You frequently collaborate with Danny DeVito. Do you understand each other so well? How do you recall your first meeting?

He loved the music from Critters and had temped it into Throw Momma From The Train. We just seem to really get each other and it has continued that way into the present. I find him a very operatic director so music just flows into his movie. It's part of the fabric.

You have scored lots of comedies. Chris Young told me lately, that he would be happy and privileged scoring horror movies for the rest of his live. Would you say the same about comedies?

No really. Comedy is very difficult. I would like to do different genres more often if I could. But don't get me wrong, it's great just to be working.

You said that comedies are difficult... What are main challenges in scoring comedies? Could you describe it on example of the latest "The Spy Next Door"?

You need to find the right "tone", or texture between what allows the humor to come through but addresses the action and emotions of the characters and story. I find it's like walking a tightrope. The audience must be able to laugh so that can be constraining of the choices one can make. In a movie like "Spy next door" there is also a reference element as well. This can be tricky to do as well. There are also issues of shorting phrases as the directors typically want very specific things addressed. It's hard to do and keep some kind of continuity.

You received an Academy Award nomination for the score to "Anastasia". Your father scored the 1956 live-action version of this story – how did you feel about that? Was it motivating you?

I honestly didn't ever think about it when I was composing. I am asked this a lot. I wish I had a better answer?

Could tell a little about process of scoring "Anastasia" and working on songs with Stephen Flaherty? How do you recall collaboration with Aaliyah and Deana Carter?

I did not work at all on the songs. I did use phrases throughout the underscoring of the movie but I had nothing to do with the writing, orchestrating or producing of the songs.

What was your approach to "The Spirit"? Previous movie made in this technique ("Sin City") had very dark, noir score. You apparently tried to do it different way. Could you tell about your ideas for this movie?

This movie had no temp score, so it was the exception. We combined a "heroic", "Noir", and "romance" element into one large pastiche. It's a very odd movie so I thought it needed this kind of score. It moves between those elements and sometimes they are all playing at once.

Was it difficult to score "Serenity"? Did you talk about it with Greg Edmondson and/or share ideas with?

Serenity was a dream project because of Joss Whedon. He is a fine film maker and he was in charge of the movie. It was very difficult to get the main Theme. I think we had around 15 tries before we got it. However, It was one of the best experiences of my life. It's a wonderful movie and great for music. I did not speak with Greg as I thought it was best to stay out of it. I also didn't listen to the music for the TV series as Joss wanted to do something different.

One of the latest events, related with film music, is releasing Alex North’s "Spartacus". You are a part of this project. Could you tell something about this? How significant was "Spartacus" in history of film scoring?

I think that Spartacus is one of the greatest scores that Hollywood has ever produced. I think it works in the movie, outside the movie - it's just a masterpiece. It still sounds modern because it's "classical" in nature. I don't mean "Classical Music" as such but classical in the Greek sense of the very strong structure and great beauty of the materials. It's a very emotional score as well.

I have an impression that film music in Hollywood is shrinking. I mean, there are less full orchestral scores than before. Composers seem to be forced to write music for smaller ensembles or simply use samples or electronics. Even legendary scoring stages are systematically closed. Have you experience that in your work?

I try not to think about it. I do think that the "light" of film music has diminished a bit but it's hard to tell where it's going. It's all about film makers. They don't have the same authority they did in the past. It's more of a corporate paradigm at the moment. But it will change eventually. it can't keep going the way it's been going.

Which of your scores was the hardest thing to do? And why?

Serenity by far. I had such a difficult time getting the theme right. It's always the most difficult part of the process for me but in that film it was a nightmare. But will worth the effort.

Are you familiar with polish film music composers?

I am not, but I love Lutosławski. Also, my wife's father was Polish, so to a degree it has a place in my life.

What are your future plans? On which projects are your working now?

I am working on another Scooby Movie and am planning an opera with Devito. 

Thanks for all answers and your time! Good luck with new projects!

Author: Łukasz Waligórski
Questions by: Łukasz Waligórski, Mefisto


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