Songwriters from three of the five Oscar-Nominated songs spoke at The Los Angeles Film School about their songwriting experiences
With less than two weeks until the Oscars, the steady buzz around Hollywood’s biggest night feels palpable. On Tuesday, The Los Angeles Film School welcomed some of the Oscar-nominated songwriters for a conversation with Songwriter Hall of Fame inductee Paul Williams and moderator Chris Willman. This was the first time The Los Angeles Film School hosted The Songwriters Hall of Fame on campus in the Main Theatre.
The panel included Diane Warren, who wrote the socially conscious song I’ll Fight from RBG; Anthony Rossomando who co-wrote Shallow from A Star is Born; and songwriting partners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who co-wrote The Place Where Lost Things Go from Mary Poppins Returns.
Chris Willman opened the Q&A by asking the panelists about their experience with assignment writing versus non-assignment writing. According to Shaiman, assignment writing tends to be a little easier because the story exists within a scene and there is a goal in place. Diane Warren added that it doesn’t matter if you’re writing for a movie or an album, getting inspired is key to working as a songwriter.
“I think the most exciting thing about what we do as far as writing for film is approaching it first as an audience member,” said Williams. As one of the more seasoned songwriters on the panel, Williams joked with Shaiman saying, “Marc has been doing this for 200 years, but I’m a lot older than him. I’m old enough to be your granddaddy, I think!”
Williams wrote seven of the songs for the 1976 version of A Star is Born with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. He was the music supervisor and contributing lyricist for the Oscar and Grammy-winning song Evergreen. He explains that from this first viewing, you begin to pick up the emotional tools needed to get the assignment done. The big lesson for writing songs for films is to give yourself to the movie, while staying true to the director’s vision.
“Finding the language of the director is a little different each time,” said Williams. He later praised Rossomando for his work on Shallow and how he led the audience on an emotional journey with the song.
A newcomer to songwriting for film, Anthony Rossomando got his start in a ska band called JC Superska. He later became the founding member of the band Dirty Pretty Things.
When it came time to write Shallow, Rossomando says there wasn’t a lot of production—it only had a piano, a couple of guitars and bass. Shallow originally had a more rhythmic tune to it, then Lady Gaga switched the style to a more emotional tone. “It was like playing melody ping-pong in a very vulnerable space,” said Rossomando. The final product puts Shallow as a likely contender for an Oscar win.
Later in the panel, things switched gears to Diane Warren’s more recent socially conscious work versus the iconic love songs that she is best known for. She wrote the song I’ll Fight as an anthem to inspire people in an era filled with #MeToo moments. “I thought Jennifer Hudson would be the perfect vocal avatar for Ruth Bader Ginsberg who speaks so softly,” said Warren.
“It helped me talk about stuff like that,” said Warren. This was in reference to her own story of overcoming sexual assault at an early age. “Music is such a powerful force,” said Warren.
In the last few years, Warren’s Oscar-nominated songs reflect the myriad social issues that have been brought to light. Some of those credits include Stand Up for Something from Marshall and the sexual assault-themed, Til It Happens to You from The Hunting Ground. I’ll Fight is her 10th Oscar-nominated song.
Chris Willman closed the panel discussion with asking Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman about their experience writing for Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns. Emily Blunt was still making Girl on a Train and about to have baby when the Mary Poppins role opened up.
“I don’t think they would’ve made this movie if Emily wouldn’t have said yes,” remarked Wittman. “Emily has the most beautiful version of confidence that was never obnoxious.”
Willman asked the writers to touch on the possibility that Emily Blunt will sing at the Oscars this year. Ironically, rumor has it that she wasn’t confident about singing in front of a large audience.
“Mary Poppins never explains anything,” said Shaiman.
The Other Oscar-nominated Songs include:
“All The Stars” from “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch