Agent/manager Laura Engel had attended 15 Oscar ceremonies with her composer clients before winning for the first time in February with Alexandre Desplat, 53, for the score to The Grand Budapest Hotel. The 55-year-old co-owner of the Kraft-Engel agency, who also represents Danny Elfman, John Powell, Michael Penn and Marco Beltrami, says victory was a welcome relief from the usual “depth of despair and sadness I feel in that moment when their name isn’t called.” It also helps that “Alexandre is such a great guy,” she adds (on deck for Desplat: Suffragette, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep, and the next Roman Polanski feature). “A lot of people were rooting for him.”
Desplat is among today’s most prolific composers. Is there an “Oscar effect” for a person who’s always working?
We actually have been feeling the effects for the last couple of years [in that] his work is so diverse — Harry Potter to Philomena to Godzilla to The Imitation Game. I don’t know that a win versus having eight nominations will be much different. I just made a couple of deals for him that, whether he had won or not, would have been the same. We have films booked until 2017.
How do the two of you pick projects?
The first thing Alexandre cares about is the filmmaker, the director and, alongside that, the story. He has some director relationships where we try to have windows to score everything they do. Then there are certain movies that, after meeting with the director, he knows he can score really quickly. He wrote The Imitation Game in three weeks; Zero Dark Thirty was almost five weeks.
You have built a career through managing Danny Elfman, John Powell and Desplat. How do you see future expansion?
Richard [Kraft] and I want to stay a boutique agency and keep our client numbers down, and represent everyone for the specific reason of who they are musically. I started out working with bands as a tour manager, and very soon [after] as a manager, and the main thing has always been about guiding and facilitating careers and artistic ambitions. We’re producing film-music concerts now — I love that.
What are composers confronted with now that did not exist 10 years ago, and how do they keep their incomes up?
There definitely are more lower-budget projects — we’re down to films that cost under $30 million. We try to look at how things are going to work out financially for the year — “If we do this micro-budget, this small-budget and this mega-budget film and then another small budget, are we OK?” On the list of compelling reasons to do a film, the budget is only one of those reasons.
What opportunities are you exploring outside film and TV?
We’re always looking for ballet, orchestral commissions and other Cirque du Soleil-type shows. [Elfman], for example, wrote a ballet that Twyla Tharp choreographed and a symphony performed at Carnegie Hall. There are also opportunities for concerts. We’re developing several full orchestra-with-picture productions with our composers and working with the studios, [which] gets the music out there to the public in another context and sometimes is financially [rewarding]. Other times, not so much. I think Antonio Sanchez performing Birdman is going to have it easier than us doing Alice in Wonderland live with 100 people onstage.