“I did try to change my name to Lady Gaga last night,” joked Scott Wittman, co-writer with Marc Shaiman of “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns, addressing the 200-strong crowd at Saturday’s (Feb. 23) annual Society of Composers & Lyricists’ reception for Academy Award nominees for best original song and best original score.
Wittman’s remark was a lighthearted nod to Gaga’s frontrunner status for best original song for A Star is Born’s “Shallow” at Sunday’s Oscars. While Gaga wasn’t at the reception, held at Los Angeles hotspot E.P. and L.P., her nominated co-writers — Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt — were.
As pop songwriters and first-time nominees in a room full of composers, they remarked on how welcoming they had found the film music eco-system.
“To get to be in a room with so many people I’m such big fans of and to just be part of this community is special,” said Ronson, after saluting fellow nominee Gillian Welch, who, along with Dave Rawlings is also up for best original song for “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
“I told Gillian that I remember going to see O Brother Where Art Thou at the Union Square Theater and walking straight out to the Virgin Megastore on the corner to buy the soundtrack … I was [like] I must have that soundtrack now.”
Welch is credited as as a vocalist and arranger on the 2002 Grammy Award-winning album of the year.
Such good spirits and camaraderie abounded at the event, with nominees sharing their stories about fellow nominees or expressing the joy they’ve experienced making new friends while running the Oscar gauntlet.
Ludwig Goransson, nominated for best original score for Black Panther, shared his memory of moving to Los Angeles in 2007 to study film scoring at University of Southern California and meeting Alexandre Desplat, who is nominated this year for scoring Isle of Dogs.
“I snuck into a screening with Alexandre Desplat for Benjamin Button. After the movie he was getting interviewed by [Variety film reporter] Jon Burlingame. I just moved from Sweden to L.A. and I’m seeing this movie and then meeting the composer and hearing the composer talking about the movie, talk about the music. I’d never experienced anything like that before.”
Shaiman, who is additionally up for best original score for Mary Poppins Returns, also recalled a story about Desplat, who was unable to attend the reception: “After Scott [Wittman] and I were blessed to be able to write Hairspray and basically moved to Broadway, I ended up subletting my home and studio in L.A. to many folks, but the best tenant I ever had twice was Alexandre. I distinctly remember once coming out here and coming up to say hello to him and saying, ‘You know, I used to be nominated for Oscars and now I’m a landlord for people being nominated.’ So it’s nice to be back on the other side of the fence.”
For Shaiman, his re-entry into the Oscar world — he’s been nominated five times previously — with Mary Poppins Returns is a full circle moment, doubly made so by Bette Midler performing “The Place Where Lost Things Go” at Sunday’s ceremony, accompanied by Shaiman.
“In the ’60s, I was obsessed with Mary Poppins. I listened to that soundtrack album endlessly,” he said. “Then in the ’70s, I was a teenager and I became obsessed with the new star, Bette Midler, and I listened to her albums endlessly. If you could have ever told me at the ripe age of 59, that I would get to play for someone I’ve now worked and lived with as a friend for 41 years, Bette Midler, would be singing this song that I co-wrote with my best friend, Scott Wittman, for the sequel to Mary Poppins, you wouldn’t believe that in a movie. You’d say ‘that’s bullshit, it’s just too corny.’”
Similarly to the “Shallow” writers, for Welch and Rawlings, the immersion into the film composing world has proven not only enjoyable, but enlightening and perhaps a path to an expanded career.
“I had no idea [‘When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings’] would connect to anything,” Rawlings said. “We thought we would write this little song and send it off and [Buster Scruggs co-director Joel Cohn] would say yes or no and that would be the end of it. But as soon as the nomination hit, it’s been a whirlwind. It’s been an eyeopening experience to know that there are people who do this all day long and I wouldn’t mind trying it sometime.”
Among the other nominees in attendance were If Beale Street Could Talk composer Nicholas Britell, BlacKkKlansman composer Terence Blanchard and Diane Warren, who received her 10th best original song nod for “I’ll Fight” from RBG.