When decorated composer Michael Giacchino was presented with the illustrious Henry Mancini Award at the 34th Annual ASCAP Screen Music Awards on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, he made the most of his acceptance speech to a packed room of industry insiders.
Following a warm, playful introduction by director Brad Bird — a frequent collaborator whose last five films Giacchino scored — as well as a cheeky video tribute by J.J. Abrams, Giacchino took the stage to offer his thanks to those who helped him along the way but also to deliver an earnest plea aimed at The Musicians Union of Los Angeles to keep jobs within the city.
“I myself have recorded out of town on occasion, and there is no denying the incredible talent that exists beyond our city,” Giacchino said from the stage. “But watching those outside Los Angeles prosper in this new international music community while we at home cling to a business model that simply falls short of this new millennium makes it all the more clear the real problems we face. We have decided to stand firm hoping that the producers in this global new world of media will suddenly and with no incentive throw themselves at our feet again. Well, the history of progress says that this will not happen.”
Giacchino’s lengthy speech — which drew multiple rounds of enthusiastic applause from the assembled crowd — served as a passionate appeal to the union to do more to keep jobs local by, in his words, offering “more options for employment … that would allow new producers to work with musicians under terms that may not fit the current contract parameters.” As the employment rate for Los Angeles-based studio musicians has continued to decline over the several years, the union has been charged by some with harming the work prospects of its membership by insisting on charging stiff fees to producers, who then outsource those jobs elsewhere to avoid paying them.
“When a small independent producer wants to score here, let’s find a way to make it happen,” continued Giacchino, who insisted he is not anti-union. “Why are you pushing them away? When you as a producer have a project, try to make it work here first.”
Giacchino’s award, which was followed by a stunning orchestral medley of his work conducted by Gordon Goodwin, was just one of the highlights of this year’s show, which was held in a packed ballroom filled with industry insiders at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The evening also saw Oscar-winning La La Land and Greatest Showman duo Justin Paul and Benj Pasek take home the Vanguard Award, while Captain Marvel composer Pinar Toprak — the first woman ever to score a billion-dollar film — accepted the annual Shirley Walker Award, which honors individuals whose achievements have contributed to the diversity of film and television music.
“I’m honored to say that 15 years ago, when we were both trying to break into rooms like this, you took a risk on a young filmmaker who was 20 years old making his first thesis film,” said Skydance founder and CEO David Ellison, who introduced Toprak with a gushing tribute. “And that film started my career, changed my life and got us both going in the right direction. And for that I will never have the words to appropriately thank you.”
Following a highlight reel of Toprak’s work, which also includes the blockbuster video game Fortnite and the Syfy TV series Krypton, the beaming composer herself took the stage to thank those who had helped her along her path.
“I’ve had an incredible year and I’m so grateful. But there are certain people that saw me before I was visible,” Toprak said. She went on to namecheck Ellison, her agents Richard Kraft and Laura Engel and ASCAP assistant vp film and TV Michael Todd. “In this room, there are so many people who actually gave me a shot,” she continued. “All of you, thank you. Because that’s how we’re gonna change the world. We just need that shot.”
In their own acceptance speech, Paul and Pasek expressed thanks to ASCAP (“we are so grateful as beneficiaries and products of this ASCAP family and system,” Paul said) as well as legendary Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz, who first encountered the duo when Paul — then a musical theater student at the University of Michigan alongside Pasek — slipped him a CD of their music after meeting him at an event.
“I put the CD on in my car thinking I would give it a casual listen on my drive home,” said Schwartz in presenting the award. “But after only a couple of songs, cause that’s all it took, I realized, ‘Oh, wait a minute, these kids are really good.’ And that was just the beginning of their development. But it was already obvious and undeniable. This was that rarity: a songwriting team of great and original talent.”
“Up on our UMich.edu email addresses pops ‘Stephen Schwartz,’” Paul recalled while accepting the award, which has never before gone to composers known for film, TV or musical theater. “And what it was, it was sort of like, ‘Hey guys, I got a chance to listen to your songs.’ And then it went on for 14 pages. And it was an analysis of every single song on our CD.”
Other major honorees last night included If Beale Street Could Talk composer Nicholas Britell and music supervisor Gabe Hilfer, who won the inaugural ASCAP Harmony Award. Created in partnership with the Guild of Music Supervisors to recognize an “outstanding collaboration” between a composer and music supervisor, the honor was presented by Beale Street cast member Colman Domingo, which expressed his admiration for the duo from the stage.
“When I first saw a screening of the film … I was so moved by the film and more than anything I was moved by the music,” said Domingo. “Because I thought, ‘How did they know this is how they felt?… How did they get into the interior lives of these characters?’ I really felt punched in the gut.”
“Working in film is about being a part of a team, so to be honored for a collaboration is something very special to me,” said two-time Oscar nominee Britell, who also composed the score for Beale Street director Barry Jenkins’ 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight. “And [on] this film in particular I think there were so many deep collaborations.”
Hilfer, meanwhile, recounted his reaction when he was first approached for the job by producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner. “I cut them off immediately and I said, ‘Yes. I don’t need to know the schedule, I don’t need to know anything else. Just, I want to be involved.’ And it’s just a dream come true to be a third wheel with Nick and Barry.”
Other trophies presented on Wednesday included the three ASCAP Composer’s Choice awards, which are voted on by the ASCAP composer and songwriter community. Choice Film Score went to John Powell for Solo: A Star Wars Story, while TV Composer of the Year went to Jeff Cardoni (Young Sheldon) and Video Game Score of the Year was awarded to Lena Raine for her work on Celeste.
Additionally, David Vanacore, Joel Beckerman, Michael Giacchino, Cat Gray, Jared Gutstadt, Didier Lean Rachou, Jeff Lippencott, Ed Robertson, Mark Snow, Mark T. Williams and Hans Zimmer were recognized in the Most Performed Themes and Underscore category, while Top Box Office Film went to Giacchino for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
In TV, Top Cable Television Series was awarded to Maurizio Malagnini for Call the Midwife, while Top Television Network Series went to Dan Foliart and Howard Pearl for Roseanne. Though Pearl wasn’t in attendance, Foliart had one of the best quips of the night when he referenced last year’s controversy around series creator Roseanne Barr, stating, “First let me say that I’m glad that there wasn’t Twitter in 1988 when this show started.”
Other live performances of the evening included Keala Settle‘s rendition of Pasek and Paul’s “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman, as well as Tim Davis’s performance of “Come Alive” from the same film. Under Goodwin, the house orchestra also performed Toprak’s themes from this year’s Pixar animated short Purl.