Thomas Newman - Writer

Composer. Nationality: American. Born: 20 October 1955. Family: Married to Ann Marie. Education: University of Southern California where he studied with Frederick Lesemann and David Raksin; Yale where he studied with Jacob Druckman, Bruce MacCombie, and Robert Moore, with a masters in musical composition. Career: Played keyboard in The Innocents rock band; composed first feature score for James Foley's Reckless , 1984; composed music for Amazing Stories TV series, 1985; commissioned to create a seven-minute symphonic piece, "Reach Forth Our Hands" for the city of Cleveland bicentennial, 1996. Awards: Australian Film Institute Award, Best Original Music Score, for Oscar and Lucinda , 1998. Agent: Gorfaine and Schwartz Agency, 13245 Riverside Drive, Suite 450, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423–2172, U.S.A.

Films as Composer


Reckless (Foley); Revenge of the Nerds (Kanew); Grandview U.S.A. (Kleiser); The Seduction of Gine ( Another High Roller ) (Freedman)


Real Genius (Coolidge) The Man With One Red Shoe (Dragoti); Desperately Seeking Susan (Seidelman); Girls Just Want to Have Fun (Metter)


Jumpin' Jack Flash (Marshall); Gung Ho ( Working Class Man ) (Howard)


The Lost Boys (Schumacher); Light of Day (Schrade); Less Than Zero (Kanievska)


The Prince of Pennsylvania (Nyswaner); The Great Outdoors ) (Deutch)


Cookie (Seidelman)


Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (Abrahams); Naked Tango (Schrade); Men Don't Leave (Brickman); Heat Wave (—for TV) (Hooks)


Deceived (Harris); Career Opportunities ( One Wild Night ) (Gordon); The Rapture (Tolkin); The Linguini Incident (Shepard); Fried Green Tomatoes ( Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe ) (Avnet)


Whispers in the Dark (Crowe); Scent of a Woman (Brest/Smithee); Those Secrets (—for TV) (Manson); The Player (Altman); Citizen Cohn (—for TV) (Pierson)


Josh and S. A. M (Weber); Flesh and Bone (Kloves)


The War (Avnet); Threesome (Fleming); The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont); Little Women (Armstrong); The Favor (Petrie); Corrina, Corrina (themes) (Nelson)


Unstrung Heroes (Keaton); How to Make an American Quilt (Moorhouse)


Up Close & Personal (Dansie); Phenomenon (Turteltaub); American Buffalo (Corrente); The People vs. Larry Flint (Forman)


Mad City (Costa-Gauras); Red Corner (Avnet); Oscar and Lucinda (Armstrong)


The Horse Whisperer (Redford); Meet Joe Black (Brest/Smithee)


American Beauty (Mendes); The Three Kings (Russell); The Green Mile ( Stephen King's The Green Mile ) (Darabont)


Erin Brokovich ; My Khmer Heart


By NEWMAN: articles—

"Thomas Newman Continues to Be Interesting and Good," an interview with Doug Adams, in Film Score Monthly , no. 162, Winter 1996.

On NEWMAN: articles—

" Little Women ," review in Entertainment Weekly , 3 February 1995.

" How to Make an American Quilt ," review in National Review , 23 October 1995.

" The People vs. Larry Flynt ," review in Entertainment Weekly , 13 December 1996.

" The People vs. Larry Flynt ," review in The New Republic (New York), 20 January 1997.

" Oscar and Lucinda ," review in Newsweek (New York), 12 January 1998.

"Stanley Kauffman on Films: In the Midst of Life," in The New Republic (New York), 7 December 1998.

* * *

Thomas Newman was born into that outstanding cinemusical dynasty, the Newmans of Hollywood, on 20 October 1955. His father was Alfred Newman, the legendary composer, conductor, and musical director of 20th Century-Fox studios, and one of the key figures in the development and refinement of film music during the studio era. His uncles were Lionel and Emile Newman, also both prominent composers and conductors at Fox during the same period.

Newman attended college for two years at the University of Southern California, before graduating with a Masters in Music from Yale University. After graduation Newman garnered experience in both performing and in writing for musical theater. For several years he played the keyboard in a rock band, The Innocents, and with an improvisational group, Tokyo 77. During this same period, and under the championship of musical theater legend, Stephen Sondheim, Newman made a musical theater piece, Three Mean Fairy Tales , produced as a workshop production by the Stuart Ostrow Foundation.

Newman reports that his indoctrination into film music was occasioned by his relationship with his uncle, Lionel Newman: "Because my uncle Lionel was head of music at Fox during my high school and college years, I went down there a lot and watched John Williams conduct some of his early Irwin Allen movies like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. I think because of my uncle Lionel's relationship with John Williams, one of my first gigs in Hollywood was orchestrating one of the cues from Return of the Jedi (1983), when Darth Vader dies at the end. John's sketch was so complete that it was more of an exercise and a bone-toss, though it was a very nice bone-toss!" The first film Newman scored on his own was Reckless in 1984, but the young composer's breakthrough-movie was the Madonna vehicle Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985. His rhythmic, ethnic flavored score was prominently featured and drew much attention.

Like many contemporary film scores Newman's works are often a fusion of orchestral and electronic techniques, such as his early scores for The Lost Boys and Less Than Zero. Newman comments that he is fascinated by both orchestral and electronic techniques. "I hate the notion that electronics are a cheesy way of doing things and that orchestra is the 'only' true approach to scoring. But you can understand those critics, because electronics allow you to make easy choices, Anyone can do it. But while synthesizers are things you hide behind sounds, they can also be put in places you'd never expect. I've always wanted these boundaries to be amorphous."

Another attention getter for Newman was his score for The Rapture , a controversial film about a hedonistic young woman who converts to super-Fundamentalism and, at the film's bizarre climax, literally ascends into heaven during the "end times." For this unusual and extremely specialized feature Newman fused a chamber-sized ensemble of acoustic instruments with ambient electronic sounds and colors. He continued his fusion experiments with his next film, Men Don't Leave , and later commented: "I learned on those scores by trial and error."

Newman's first mainstream Hollywood film was Scent of a Woman in 1992. The composer's experimental sound crystallized with this and ensuing major scores, and it was soon to earn him numerous awards and nominations. His critically acclaimed scores for Little Women and The Shawshank Redemption were both nominated for Academy Award in the same year, and he was also nominated for Unstrung Heroes in 1995.

A 1995 Entertainment Weekly review of the Sony Classical CD release of Newman's score for Little Women commented: "Pastiche-Copland often sounds tired, but Thomas Newman's glowing score to the latest version of Little Women proves that it can also, occasionally, be inspired. If Newman's score works so miraculously well, it may be because he seems to have peppered the Coplandisms with canny seasonings from Charles Ives, the mad genius of Danbury, Connecticut." The following year the same publication commented on the CD from The People vs. Larry Flint : "This elegant and austere orchestral score by Thomas Newman becomes progressively more abstract and brooding, absorbing the country, gospel, and pop songs studding the album."

However, in a New Republic review of Meet Joe Black , Stanley Kauffmann complained that "Thomas Newman's music should not pass without a protest: it's the nosiest compilation of bangs and surges in several weeks." It might also be noted that the complaints of elder critic Kauffmann were not dissimilar to certain grumblings voiced against another young genius of modern film music, Elmer Bernstein, in the early 1950s.

Contemporary film music has changed radically from the days when Newman's father, Alfred, created his legendary symphonic scores for 20th Century-Fox, and today's Hollywood composers often find themselves providing supplementary instrumental scoring for a collection of chart-hopeful pop-music chart tracks. While Thomas Newman does not possess the readily recognizable style of his father and other classic Golden Age musicians, he is an amazingly versatile musician with the uncanny gift for creating a new and utterly appropriate sound for each new film he scores. In addition to his AA nominations Newman has received five BMI Music Awards, and several Grammy and Golden Globe nominations. Newman was again nominated for an Oscar for his score for American Beauty , the film which won for Best Picture in 2000.

—Ross Care

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