If there’s a mission that The Weinstein Co., Universal, Warner Bros., Sony and Fox Searchlight have this season, it’s to make sure Alexandre Desplat wins a best score Oscar for one of their films. Ever since the French composer made a splash with his music for 2003’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, he has been in demand by major studios and art-house labels for his graceful, classical, nuanced scores. Not to compare, but since 2003, Desplat has churned out 77 scores to Hans Zimmer’s 57. In 2011 alone, Desplat scored 10 films; he also has six Oscar noms to his name, for such films as The Queen (2005), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Philomena (2013).
So why is he always an Oscar bridesmaid?
It’s certainly not because he’s from out-of-town: His countryman, Ludovic Bource, was a complete unknown in Hollywood until he won a best score Oscar in 2012 for The Artist.
“It’s not about what’s a good or bad score at the Oscars, rather what’s exposed to the ears more,” Desplat says, by way of explaining the category. “There aren’t that many understated scores that have won in the last 10 years. It’s not easy to write an understated score over a loud one.”
Momentum also helps. Last year, Gravity was on a roll with below-the-line wins, yielding an Oscar to British composer Steven Price, also a Hollywood newbie.
This year, Desplat has five scores in contention: The Imitation Game, Unbroken, Godzilla, The Monuments Men and The Grand Budapest Hotel. For Grand Budapest he reteamed with Wes Anderson to create the geographic sound of an imagined Mitteleuropa, incorporating music from Switzerland to Turkey. When you listen to Desplat’s range, he doesn’t merely manufacture his sound, but rather makes each one unique to its subject.
As for his prolificacy, Desplat says he can take weeks or months to finish a project. “It depends on the size of the film and how much score is needed,” he says. “Godzilla took two months because it required a two-hour-plus score. Imitation Game was three weeks. If I work on films with less than an hour of score, I can accelerate (my projects).”
Striking the right tone stems from Desplat’s discussions with the director as well as his connection to each film. Quite often, because filmmakers and studios revere his work, Desplat is blessed with autonomy. While someone like TWC chief Harvey Weinstein isn’t known as a passive presence, Desplat says he’s never received any notes. “I can’t remember hearing Harvey’s voice directly on a film unless it’s, ‘Well done.’ ”
Alexandre Desplat photographed by Brigitte Lacombe