The Oscars 2020: How music can make or break a film

It's not just the A-list stars who will be crossing their fingers for Oscar success at Sunday's 92nd awards, there are all manner of different filmmaking roles that are recognised at the annual event.

One of the top awards is for Best Original Score, demonstrating the power music has to make or break a movie.

"Film is not just about actors, it’s more than that," said the Hollywood movie composer Daniel Pemberton.

"The Oscars are helpful in shining a light on all the different aspects that go into a film."

Previous winners include Vangelis for Chariots of Fire, Herbert Stothart for The Wizard of Oz and John Williams for Schindler's List.

Williams will be hoping for success this year with the latest Star Wars score.

42-year-old British composer Daniel Pemberton wrote the score for Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse (2018) movie. He’s also a winner of an Ivor Novello and has been nominated for multiple BAFTAs.

"Film music can massively change how you feel or experience something," this applies even when there isn't anything happening on screen, he explained "you’ll be getting excited and what’s giving you that feeling is, the music."

What does a winning score sound like?

"A really great winning Oscar score is something that’s very original" and "doesn’t sound like anything you’ve heard before and captures the movie," Daniel Pemberton said.

He explained the audience will engage "the more you can make a movie score unique" which "can be anything from a melody and the sound world you create - that’s how you’re going to make really great film music."

His quintessentially memorable film score is for Blade Runner (1982) starring Harrison Ford, whose music was composed by Vangelis.

"There is someone who’s created a whole audio world that’s unique for that movie and has become such a big part of the experience of that film".

Harrison Ford starred in Blade Runner in the 1982 movie that was composed by Vangelis.

Daniel Pemberton is working on his next movie, Enola Holmes, about the child sister of Sherlock Holmes, due to be released later this year.

"Anytime you’ve had a really good cinematic experience, I’d say probably music has played a big role in that and a lot of people don’t notice it," he said.

"A really good score is something that you can hear away from the film and it takes you immediately back into that world."

Music can evoke all sorts of emotions, it can "make you feel in love", "exhilarated" and even "give you tension".

Ennio Morricone, who wrote the score for the 1966 film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, starring Clint Eastwood, is a musician Daniel Pemberton admires for being "an unbelievably inventive composer".

"This film is a great example of how someone took an array of sounds from screams to whistles to guitars and created an audio language", he said.

Morricone invented "how we see the Wild West music today" and it's made people "see the world differently - he’s a very exciting composer."

Daniel Pemberton composed the music for the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) movie and is set to write the music for the next film in 2022.

The significance of the Oscars

Daniel Pemberton believes Oscar wins can "change the goal posts for other composers."

"Hollywood is still quite a conservative town and every time a really ground-breaking score wins, it pushes the goal posts for everyone else."

When Trent Reznor won an Oscar for The Social Network film in 2011, "it had a really big impact on what was acceptable for film music."

"20 years ago it was all orchestral and it’s swung very heavily towards more electronic synthesis.

"The great thing about film music is that it can be anything and the Oscars can be helpful in confidently moving the goal posts for everyone.

"So you don’t get stuck with the same old sounds".

This year's Oscar nominations for Best Original Score are:

Alexandre Desplat (“Little Women”)

Hildur Guðnadóttir (“Joker”)

Randy Newman (“Marriage Story”)

Thomas Newman (“1917”)

John Williams (“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”)

The Oscars awards ceremony will take place on Monday 10 February 01:00 GMT.

The Oscars award ceremonies celebrating the talent in Hollywood began in 1928.

Where next?

Thunder Jam: Superheroes
Bjorn Ulvaeus: Reasons why music is important for children
Seven child music stars who made it big