How Much Is An Oscar Win Worth? Industry Insiders Weigh In

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Illustration by Sébastien Thibault
     

Before composer Ludwig Göransson even received his engraved Academy Award for winning best original score in 2019 for Black Panther, the win was already paying dividends.

“The next day after the Oscars, I got the call from Christopher Nolan’s people saying that Chris wanted to hire him on his next movie, Tenet,” says Amos Newman, Göransson’s agent at WME.

While receiving any award is good for the ego and the mantelpiece, the Oscar is seen as the pinnacle for composers — and most likely to yield the biggest financial payoff. “If you’re a recording artist and making records, a Grammy is your Oscar in a way, and it makes a difference in those careers,” says Laura Engel, a partner at Kraft-Engel Management who represents two-time Oscar recipient Alexandre Desplat and four-time nominee Danny Elfman. However, she adds, “I haven’t really felt that a Grammy makes much of a difference in a film composer’s career.”

The benefits aren’t always as tangible, but a win can provide an agent with “ammunition,” says WME’s Newman. “It gives us the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, my guy won the Oscar, and his price has gone up.’ It’s an excuse to call people about your client.”

Since scoring fees are negotiable and vary greatly depending on a film’s budget and the composer’s reputation, Engel says it’s impossible to assign a dollar value to a win. However, an Oscar victory can drive up the demand for a composer, and since “there’s only so many films a year a composer can do, those fees have to be at a certain level, because a film is taking up a very precious amount of time,” she says.

The win can also help reposition musicians not necessarily associated with film. When Nine Inch NailsTrent Reznor and Atticus Ross won the statuette for best original score for 2010 film The Social Network, “it made a pretty significant statement in their case, since they came from a rock background, that composing for film was now open to outsiders,” says Newman. “Their win created a much greater awareness of them as composers.”

Similarly, Anthony Rossomando, who swept the 2019 awards season by winning a best original song Oscar (as well as a Golden Globe and a Grammy) for co-writing “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, calls the Oscar the “holy grail.” The Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things veteran wasn’t someone who “practiced an acceptance speech my whole life in the shower,” so the rock musician was taken aback by the opportunities the win provided. “I have personal relationships with all the heads of music at all the major studios now,” he says. “That’s obviously a big change.”

Rossomando notes that the award wins, as well as “Shallow” topping the charts in several countries, contributed to his ability to pick and choose projects. “Let’s be real: That’s how it works,” he says. “You have a success, and people want to work with you. It has really allowed me to do whatever I want.”

As glorious as a win may be, agents say what matters more is consistency. For example, A-list composer Thomas Newman has been nominated 15 times for work on such films as American Beauty, WALL·E, Bridge of Spies and this year’s 1917, but hasn’t won. A win would not likely increase his marketability. “Being continuously nominated is more important than the odd win,” says Amos Newman, reeling off names of one-time winners who have seldom been heard from since. “When you see composers nominated over and over again, that is a harbinger of great work and the definition of a great career. The odd win doesn’t necessarily move the needle. In the long run, I don’t know if it has an appreciable affect on their career.”

Asked whether they would take a high box-office gross over an Oscar win for a client, every agent picked the big gross. “I always prefer people who score successful movies,” says Engel’s partner, Richard Kraft, who represents songwriter-composers Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, the Oscar winners for best original song for 2016’s La La Land who were nominated for The Greatest Showman. “Successful movies, critically acclaimed movies and scores that capture people’s imaginations are the trifecta of career-building. A lot of winners become answers to Trivial Pursuit questions.”

There is, however, one undeniable result that winning an Oscar brings, adds Kraft with a laugh: “You know for certain what the first sentence of your obituary will start with.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 25, 2020 issue of Billboard.

2020 Academy Awards


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