14-Time Oscar Nominee Thomas Newman on Scoring Space Drama ‘Passengers’

A Monster Calls
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

This is not a typo: Thomas Newman has earned 14 Oscar nominations without a win. The composer behind such iconic scores as “The Shawhsank Redemption” and “American Beauty,” son of legendary composer Alfred Newman, finds himself back in the race with director Morten Tyldum’s sci-fi romance “Passengers.” Though he’s tackled countless genres, Newman spoke to Variety about the unique challenges of composing the sound of outer space.

***

How did you come to be involved with “Passengers?”

For me, it was space. I’ve done space a little bit with “WALL-E,” but I’d never really done a space movie and the idea of floating through space interested me.

How do you go about creating the sound of the future?

Probably anywhere that gives you an idea. You just want to have an idea and if it’s a success, you ask where else it can go. It’s a practical approach to a poetic task, I think. You associate space with a lot of silence, and I think that proved to be wrong in terms of music in “Passengers.”

How do you choose when to utilize silence?

You learn as you go. You learn what part of the drama can last without music and how music can add to the enjoyment or sharpen the tone of something. Obviously along the way there’s tons of input you get from a director and editor, so it’s highly, highly collaborative. Silence is always such a great thing. Maybe the best thing about music is its entrances because it’s a heightening thing. The tough thing about movie music is going away because in most cases you have to dribble away and hope people don’t notice it’s faded out.

Because you’re working in a known genre, were there any tropes you wanted to avoid?

I guess organs on a low key note reverberating. Or clusters of vocals. Those iconic sounds. And sometimes that stuff works because you are operating in a genre. So you have to be aware of what gives pleasure and satisfaction next to what you think is tired, because you’ve heard it and didn’t invent it.

This is a sci-fi movie, but it’s also a relationship film. How did that affect the score?

When I first saw the movie I thought, “Well, not a lot of music.” And Morten Tyldum said, “No, I see tons of music in this movie!” It was clear the more I got to know the movie, it’s a love story and things happen and the story keeps moving forward incrementally in ways that had to be accommodated appropriately with music. It just turns into the nature of the beast; you kind of get to know the nature of the beast as you go along and it wipes out your preconceptions.

What ended up being the biggest challenge in scoring the film?

The first two thirds of the movie are more sensual and atmospheric than the last third. So I think finding an action movie tone that doesn’t violate the tone you’ve set up in the first third. Finding that vocabulary and music was hard.

You’ve done so many genres, is there one you haven’t done yet you’d like to take a shot at?

Wow, I’ve never thought about that. I’ve done a wide range. I started with teen comedies — in the 80s I was the teen comedy/synth guy. People thought I didn’t want to do serious movies because I was doing “Real Genius” and “Revenge of the Nerds.” You know, I’ve never done a western! I did a movie with horses in it but not really a western. That would be fun.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 6

Leave a Reply

6 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Korveno says:

    I see that the composers have been listening to my suggestions, to leap from using the tired ’19th century church orchestra’ for every movie. The best direction to go in sci fi movies at the least, is electronic ambient – prog breakbeat – space ambient – mixed with a little conventional score elements, combining a epic-electronic hybrid.

  2. Canes58 says:

    i don’t know i saw it and to be honest the only part i liked was the end when the crew woke up first seeing all the growth but with many unanswered questions.

  3. Jack Mathys says:

    This guy is great. I especially liked his music for American Beauty, but everything he does is first-rate. A true American treasure.

  4. I don’t understand how Thomas Newman has managed to get an impressive 14 nominations and not win a single one. He definitely should’ve won for American Beauty or if not, then maybe Road to Perdition. Unfortunately for him he won’t win this year either, there’s no chance of that happening. I don’t even remember the soundtrack to Passengers, all of the other nominated soundtracks were memorable and stood out a lot more, particularly Nicholas Britell’s amazing score for Moonlight, which is my personal favourite.

More Film News from Variety

Loading