Four years ago, I reached a monumental crossroad in my life. It was my sophomore year of college, and I (like most college students) had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
We’re always told to choose a career that makes us happy day every day. I sat up night after night wondering what path to take, hoping that the choice I make would be the right choice for me.
Doubt plays such a large role in making decisions, and it can make all the difference in loving what you do. It takes courage to act on your instincts without letting fear hold you back.
But I think deep down, it’s fear that depicts the life you want to live. Fear is caused by caring about something so much that your inner voice takes over.
When I reached that ever-important crossroad my sophomore year of college, all I could hear was that voice in my ear steering me in the right direction.
And for me, that direction was film.
Now you may be thinking, “I’ve heard this before.” And that’s exactly what I thought when I initially made the decision to pursue my passion. Therefore, I needed to figure out what it was about filmmaking that drove my inner voice to make this decision.
“The Fountain” to this day has been my answer when asked to name my favorite movie. And as I watched each scene again and again, I came to a realization.
It wasn’t the plot development, the characterization, the set design or the theme that caught my eye – it wasn’t even my eyes that we’re doing the catching.
My love for film came from a place I never expected: the music.
As I went back and thought about some of my favorite movies of the past, it was their soundtracks that drew me in. Clint Mansell’s OST for “The Fountain” changed the way I not only approached film, but it changed the way I approach my life.
Music can take a good film and make it great, and take a great film and make it extraordinary. This realization not only fueled my film-maker’s fire within, but left a lasting impression on my creative soul.
On that note, here are the 11 film composers that changed my life forever.
Howard Shore is a Canadian composer with three Academy Awards under his belt. He studied music at Berklee College of Music in Boston and has scored all but one of David Cronenberg’s movies since 1979.
Top 3 Scores: A History of Violence, The Departed, The Lord of the Rings (trilogy)
Random Fact: He was one of the original creators of “Saturday Night Live” and served as its musical director from 1975-1980.
Mychael Danna is a composer and keyboardist from Winnipeg, Manitoba. He earned his degree in composition from the University of Toronto and won the prestigious Glenn Gould Composition Award his final year there.
Top 3 Scores: Moneyball, Life of Pi, Capote
Random Fact: A hand injury at age 14 ended his piano career at an early age. However, this didn’t stop him from reaching his goals.
Dario Marianelli is an Italian composer of piano, orchestral and film music. Born in Pisa, he started studying piano and began singing as a chorister at the age of six. When his voice broke, he devoted his talents to playing piano and composing.
Top 3 Scores: V for Vendetta, Pride and Prejudice, Atonement
Random Fact: When asked about his musical process: “I mostly use the computer. On occasion I sit at the piano, at home, and deliberately look for a theme or a particular harmonic sequence, and scribble it down for later use in my studio.”
Alexandre Desplat is a French composer and the son of a Greek mother and a French father. Fascinated by both music and film, he decided to pursue a career in movie score composition.
Top 3 Scores: The Kings Speech, Argo, The Queen
Random Fact: Alexandre started studying piano at the age of five, later switching to trumpet and flute because of their unique sound and use within an orchestra.
You may have heard the name Danny Elfman side by side with the well known director Tim Burton, but Elfman’s talents go far beyond scores like Beetlejuice. The son of novelist Blossom Elfman, Danny was born in Amarillo, Texas. His realm of composition mostly derives from his love for dark fantasy.
Top 3 Scores: Beetlejuice, Milk, Sliver Linings Playbook
Random Fact: The first film Danny Elfman and Tim Burton worked on together was “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”.
Clint Mansell is an English musician and composer known for his work with director Darren Aronofsky. His soundtracks have proven again and again to be some of the finest compositions the film industry has seen in quite some time. However, his latest score – Noah – received mixed reviews because of the negative criticism of Aronofsky’s film.
Top 3 Scores: Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler
Random Fact: Clint Mansell started out his career as the lead singer of the band Pop Will Eat Itself.
James Horner was born in Los Angeles, the son of Austrian Jewish immigrants Joan and Harry Horner, who was a production designer, set designer, and occasional film director. He started playing piano at the ripe age of five and spent his early years in London attending the Royal College of Music.
Top 3 Scores: Field of Dreams, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind
Random Fact: At the 70th Academy Awards, Horner won Oscars for Best Original Dramatic Score and Best Original Song for “My Heart Will Go On” .
Born in Los Angeles, California, Thomas Newman is the youngest son of Mississippi-born Martha Louise Montgomery and composer Alfred Newman. His film-scoring dynasty includes his father Alfred, brother David, sister Maria, uncles Lionel and Emil and cousin Randy. Newman studied composition and orchestration for two years at the University of Southern California before moving to Yale University, where he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in 1977 and a Master of Music in 1978.
Top 3 Scores: Meet Joe Black, American Beauty, The Green Mile
Random Fact: While at Yale, he met composer Stephen Sondheim, who became an early mentor.
James Newton Howard
James Newton Howard was born in Los Angeles, California. He came from a musical family; his grandmother was the Pittsburgh Symphony’s concertmaster and violinist during the 1930s and ‘40s. Howard began studying music as a child, taking classical piano lessons at the age of four. He attended the University of Southern California, studying at the USC School of Music as a piano performance major, but dropped out after six weeks because “he wanted to do other things than practicing the piano”.
Top 3 Scores: The Sixth Sense, Michael Clayton, The Dark Knight
Random Fact: After briefly touring with Crosby, Stills and Nash, based on the skills he had gathered in music orchestration, Howard took an opportunity brought to him by his manager to write a film score for a small-time movie. This career move he made in the mid-1980s would lead to his path to becoming a famous film music composer.
Hans Zimmer is a German film composer and music producer. Zimmer spent the early part of his career in the United Kingdom before moving to the United States. He is the head of the film music division at DreamWorks studios and works with other composers through the company he founded – Remote Control Productions. Zimmer’s works are notable for integrating electronic music sounds with traditional orchestral arrangements. He has received four Grammy Awards, three Classical BRIT Awards, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award.
Top 3 Scores: The Lion King, Gladiator, Inception
Random Fact: Zimmer began his career playing keyboards and synthesizers in the 1970s with the band Krakatoa. He worked with The Buggles, a new wave band formed in 1977 with Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes, and Bruce Woolley. Zimmer can be seen briefly in The Buggles’ music video for the 1979 song, “Video Killed the Radio Star”.
John Williams is an American composer, conductor and pianist. He is considered one of the greatest film composers of all time. In a career spanning over six decades, he has composed some of the most popular and recognizable film scores in cinematic history. With 49 Academy Award nominations, Williams is the second most-nominated person, after Walt Disney.
Top 3 Scores: The Star Wars Series, the Indiana Jones Series, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
Random Fact: Additionally, Williams worked on the theme music for four Olympic Games, NBC Sunday Night Football, NBC Nightly News and the theme song to Gilligan’s Island.