Sometimes You Get Lucky: Composer James Newton Howard on News of the World | Interviews

Even though you would expect to have them in the movie to some extent, I used them in many ways as a drone, and then the orchestra around them necessarily didn’t sound quite as perfectly executed as it would have without that. We called them a “broken concert.” You can’t make it sound so ridiculous that it’s laughable. But they do have a roughly hewn edge to them.

Yeah, you hear the vulnerability in those instruments as they play.

And the thing is, those instruments are murderously difficult to play. And the people that played them in London are ancient instrument specialists who play these ridiculous, crazy old works. There’s a harshness and fragility to them. They seem like they’re made of glass, and can break easily. Those are the qualities we’re really looking for. 

Obviously, the pandemic has affected the movie industry in a lot of different ways—I’m curious to hear your perspective on how COVID has complicated the logistics of film composition or recording. How has it changed your world?

In many ways. I compose with my two assistants in my studio, and we’re all incredibly careful and continue to be so. My studio’s a bit of a Fort Knox, so that’s been easy to control. 

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But recording-wise, it’s been tough. For “News of the World,” there were no studios open in Los Angeles at the time, so we recorded remotely in London. At that point, Abbey Road was letting forty musicians in at a time. We would sometimes double the performances so you got the impact of more people playing it. 

Recently, I did a Disney animation with Sony [“Raya and the Last Dragon”], and that was our first time recording in LA for me since “Jungle Cruise.” It’s tricky; the musicians were great, and we were very, very careful. Everybody got tested. I stayed in the control room; I wanted to hug everybody, but I couldn’t. Sony’s one of my favorite rooms—we can have up to 100 people or more normally, but we had forty strings, everyone with masks.

It just takes more time and a great deal of ingenuity on the part of the recording engineers. The tried and true recording techniques have to be altered to accommodate social distancing. I never met the filmmakers [behind “Raya”]; in fact, I never saw Paul after November of last year! We Zoom together and talk all the time, but never face to face. It’s odd; it’s kind of sad and lonely. But it requires that people be ever more inventive.

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