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Overview for Thomas Newman
Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman



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Also Known As: Thomas Montgomery Newman Died:
Born: October 20, 1955 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Los Angeles, California, USA Profession: Music ... composer musician


A member of the famed Newman dynasty of Hollywood composers and industry players, Thomas Newman provided memorable scores for several of the greatest films of his era. While early compositions for such 1980s offerings as "Desperately Seeking Susan" (1985) and "The Lost Boys" (1987) relied heavily on electronics, Newman's later efforts on projects like "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994) embraced a more traditional, orchestral sound. Work with frequent collaborator, director Sam Mendes, on the dysfunctional family drama "American Beauty" (1999) earned him widespread critical praise. Though he dealt primarily with film, Newman often intermixed feature work like the score to director Steven Soderbergh's "Erin Brockovich" (2000) with crafting music for such highly regarded television programs as "Six Feet Under" (HBO, 2001-05). Other highlights of an already admirable career included the compositions for Mendes' gangster drama "Road to Perdition" (2002) and two of Pixar's most beloved animated features, "Finding Nemo" (2004) and "WALL-E" (2008). Another partnership with Mendes on the 23rd James Bond film "Skyfall" (2012) once again garnered the composer industry-wide accolades for his stirring score. Newman's signature sound brought together the past, present and future of film composition, gradually securing his status as one of Hollywood's most accomplished and innovative composers.

Born in Los Angeles on Oct. 20, 1955, Thomas Montgomery Newman was the son of prolific film composer and arranger Alfred Newman, who wrote the memorable fanfare for 20th Century Fox's onscreen logo, among countless other scores for film and television. Many of Newman's relatives were also in the business; his uncles were composers Emil and Lionel Newman, the latter an Oscar winner for his score for "Hello Dolly!" (1969), as well as film composer agent Mark Newman and Robert Newman, a vice-president at MGM. Brother David and cousins Joey and Randy Newman also made significant contributions to the history of film composition, while sister Maria was a violinist who served as concert mistress on several of his subsequent film scores. Newman spent a great deal of time on the Fox scoring stages, where he watched such giants as John Williams composing and conducting for such films as "The Towering Inferno" (1974) and "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972). His career path was clearly in music, as he studied under the legendary David Raskin - most famous for his haunting theme for the film noir, "Laura" (1944) - at the University of Southern California before completing his academic career at Yale, where he received a master's degree in music.

After graduation, he worked steadily in theater, where his music for the off-Broadway show "Three Mean Fairy Tales" drew praise from no less than Stephen Sondheim, while logging time in several pop and rock bands, including the improvisational group Tokyo 77. His first effort in screen orchestration came through his father's relationship with Williams, who asked Newman to orchestrate a cue from the finale of "Return of the Jedi" (1983). The following year, he landed his first job through friend and producer Scott Rudin, who hired him to provide songs for the teensploitation feature "Reckless" (1984). His first full-fledged score came with the Patrick Swayze flick, "Grandview U.S.A." (1985), but his breakthrough was "Desperately Seeking Susan" (1985), for which he provided an eclectic, rhythm-heavy soundtrack based on groove-heavy takes on ethnic music. Despite going over budget on the project, Newman's catchy score on both "Susan" and the vampire flick "The Lost Boys" (1987) helped to put him on the Hollywood map.

Newman's earliest scores were written largely for electronic instruments, but by the early 1990s, he was composing more traditional works for large orchestras. "Scent of a Woman" (1991) was the first of his features to utilize a full array of acoustic instruments, with Newman himself frequently providing the piano parts, and he soon began to attract attention for lush and haunting scores for such features as "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994) and "Little Women" (1994). At the same time, Newman also began introducing passages that utilized Eastern instruments and other eclectic sounds like marimbas and tablas, as well as mainstream instruments manipulated through electronics to resemble other musical devices, such as the Indonesian gamelan. The 1991 indie fantasy-drama "The Rapture" was the first to feature this technique, and it soon became one of Newman's trademarks in such films as "The Player" (1992) and the Oscar-nominated "Finding Nemo" (2004). The combination not only attracted filmmakers to his studio, but television producers as well; his main title theme for the short-lived Fox legal drama "Against the Law" (1990-91) earned him an Emmy nomination and led to more small screen work.

His music for theatrical features was also attracting considerable praise; his scores for "Shawshank," "Little Women" and "Unstrung Heroes" (1996) were each nominated for Academy Awards. But it was 1999's "American Beauty" that solidified Newman among the top echelon of American film composers. The score, driven by experimental orchestrations and propulsive percussion, earned him not only a fourth Oscar nod, but a Grammy, BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe nomination and five BMI Music Awards. It also led to a second successful collaboration with "Beauty" director Sam Mendes, who tapped him to write the theme for his series "Six Feet Under." The eerie, sinuous track won him his first Emmy, as well as two Grammys in 2003.

Newman's scores gilded some of the most successful film and television projects of the new millennium, including "Erin Brockovich" (2000), "In the Bedroom" (2001), "Road to Perdition" (2002) and "Angels in America" (HBO, 2003), which brought him another Grammy nomination. He also contributed to more offbeat fare like "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" (2004) and "The Good German" (2006), which gave him his sixth and seventh Oscar nominations, respectively. At the 79th Academy Award ceremonies in 2007, Newman was included in a humorous opening montage by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, in which he noted with comic ruefulness that he had been previously nominated for seven Oscars, and would lose his eighth shot at the trophy that evening. The year 2008 saw Newman busier than ever, with no less than three scores for features in theaters that year, including "Towelhead" and "Revolutionary Road" for Mendes. However, it was his music for Pixar's animated feature "WALL-E" that truly captured the hearts of moviegoers and Academy voters alike. Newman found himself on the receiving end of two Oscar nominations in 2009, including Best Original Score and Best Original Song for "Down to Earth," a collaboration with the legendary Peter Gabriel that earned the pair a Grammy and a Golden Globe in 2008.

After providing the score to the gripping Iraq wartime drama "Brothers" (2009) and the long-delayed Mossad thriller "The Debt" (2011), Newman entered one of the busiest and most notable periods of his already impressive career. Over the course of a single year, the composer's efforts were heard in a quartet of notable films: the science-fiction romance "The Adjustment Bureau" (2011), the civil rights-era surprise smash hit "The Help" (2011), the charming senior citizen comedy-drama "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2011) and the Margaret Thatcher biopic "The Iron Lady" (2011), starring Meryl Streep as the former British Prime Minister. The following year, Newman provided the theme song and incidental music for Aaron Sorkin's latest drama series "The Newsroom" (HBO, 2012-14), starring Jeff Daniels as a cable news anchor re-examining his profession, his country and his life. Reuniting with Mendes, Newman was also tasked with providing the original score to "Skyfall" (2012), the latest James Bond (Daniel Craig) adventure which coincided with the franchise's remarkable 50th anniversary. A massive commercial and critical success, "Skyfall" not only became the highest-grossing Bond film in the franchise, but the highest-grossing film of all time in the U.K. Among the five Academy Award nominations garnered by the film was one for Newman in the category of Best Original Score.

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