How ‘News of the World’ composer James Newton Howard recorded the score during the pandemic [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

When eight-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard begins a new project, there is one dictum he tries to follow: “There are no rules.” 

Never did that philosophy seem more appropriate than for his latest film, Paul Greengrass’ “News of the World.” Post-production work on the Western, which shot in the fall of 2019, happened during the coronavirus pandemic, forcing Howard to utilize remote production techniques and social distancing measures to record the film’s score. Luckily, Howard tells Gold Derby, necessity was the mother of invention.

“We oftentimes had to do performances twice just to get the numbers, so it really felt like 80 people playing instead of just 40,” he says of recording the score with musicians appropriately spaced at London’s Abbey Road studio. “In another way, I think you gained a certain kind of personality in the score because you can hear individuals.”

Howard has worked with a number of big-name filmmakers, including Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”), Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games” franchise), Peter Jackson (“King Kong”), M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” and many other features), Kathryn Bigelow (“Detroit”), and Barbra Streisand (“The Prince of Tides”). “News of the World,” however, is his first collaboration with Greengrass.

“Paul says he’s wanted to work with me for years, so I’m going to believe that,” Howard jokes. “Although he was working so successfully with John Powell, I would wonder about that. No, Paul wanted to work with me, and I was certainly aware of Paul as a really interesting filmmaker.”

Howard connected with Greengrass through editor William Goldenberg. He finally met the director on the set in November 2019 on the set, where the two men discussed the sparse Western about a former Confederate captain (Tom Hanks) and the young German girl (Helena Zengel) who becomes his responsibility. 

“Somebody with Paul’s confidence as a filmmaker that when he hires somebody he wants them to help him realize his vision for sure but he also expects them to come up with ideas that he doesn’t have, otherwise what’s the point,” Howard says.

The result of his work speaks for itself: the “News of the World” score is one of last year’s most recognized, earning not just a nomination from the Golden Globe Awards for Best Score but a spot on the Academy Awards shortlists for Best Score as well.

“You always hear people saying it’s such an honor to be nominated. Fact is, it is an honor,” says Howard, who was last nominated at the Oscars in 2009 for his “Defiance” score. “It would be really fun. Randy Newman said to me, when you’re nominated it’s like having your birthday every day until you lose. Then it’s like, whatever. But I think he’s right about that. When I got the Golden Globe nomination, it’s a very fun and light thing to happen in this rough time we’re all going through. I think it would mean a lot to my wife and to all of my friends. And to me, of course.”

“It’s a movie I’m really proud of,” he adds. “I think Paul made an excellent movie. He gave me a great musical opportunity. I tried to take advantage of it and the rest is out of my control.”

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