Composer Thomas Newman Breaks Down the Business of Film Scoring

Thomas Newman's 'The Escape' from 'The Shawshank Redemption.'

Barry Schrader’s special spring semester class at CalArts, The Art of Film Composing, featured a series of presentations by professional film composers on their work and on the business of film composition.

Guest artists included big industry names such as John Debney (Ironman 2), Charlie Clouser (Saw film series), Rolfe Kent (Up in the Air) and Mark Degli Antoni (Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired). Throughout the semester, speakers covered a wide range of experience in various types of film scoring, including features, television, animation, documentary and sound design.

Last week’s guest composer was veteran Thomas Newman. With more than 87 film credits to his name, Newman’s most recognizable film music can be heard in The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, and the more recent animated blockbuster, the CalArtian-directed WALL-E.

Newman’s presentation included clips from American Beauty, Skin and Bone and Road to Perdition, but mostly consisted of a Q&A with students of the class, who asked questions ranging from what software he uses to score films to how he deals with ornery film directors. His amiable personality and enthusiasm to share his knowledge lent much to the discussion atmosphere.

Newman discussed the art of collaboration in order to create films that satisfy both the composer and the director. When working with filmmakers, he advised film composers to “encourage rejection” of ideas immediately (rather than later in the post-production process), as well as to offer many musical ideas for a single cue.

Below is a clip from Newman’s score for American Beauty, titled Dead Already:

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