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Interview: Emmy-nominated composer Michael Price on scoring 'Sherlock'

What he learned from greats like Michael Kamen and Craig Armstrong

POZNAN, POLAND— Michael Price gets around. The British composer leaves Poznan today after being one of the featured speakers at the Transatlantyk Festival, a week-long event dedicated to film, music, and cuisine,  to head straight to Los Angeles for the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Saturday (16).

Price is nominated for the first time for Outstanding music composition for a miniseries, movie or a special (original dramatic score) for “Sherlock,” the BBC  series he composes music for with David Arnold.  Price apprenticed with a number of composers, but he also worked as a music editor for years, on such films as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Love Actually,” and “Nanny McPhee.”

I hopped in a car with Price to interview him on our way to Transatlantyk’s closing gala.

You started as an assistant for the late composer Michael Kamen ("Brazil,""Band Of Brothers," "Lethal Weapon," "Mr. Holland's Opus"), who was a very passionate and emotional composer. What was the biggest thing you learned from him?

Michael was the ultimate tunes guy. He was about melody and it was quite in a way that sometimes the films weren’t big enough to contain what he wanted to say with them and the music that he wanted to write. Sometimes I would take sort of small detailed view of a scene and he would step back from it and try to write a theme that would play out right over the top of it and I don’t think I got that when I was his assistant. I was just like ‘C’mon, that’s where it stops.”  And he said, “No, it will be great.” And the older I get and the  further away I get from[my days with him], the more I’m in awe really of that melodic sense, and that sense of the glorious theme. And now I think in my own work, I do less, I just try to simply play the best tune I could make.

So what he taught you was to play up to your strengths?

Absolutely. And just to believe in the power of the melody. He worked with that sense of not a mechanical way to writing for films, but a glorious, open hearted way of doing it.

After Michael, you went to work with Craig Armstrong (“Love Actually,” "Romeo + Juliet," "The Incredible Hulk"), another very melodic composer. What did you learn from him?

I think Craig has the amazing ability to make the same instruments that everyone else is using sound like Craig Armstrong. I was trying to to work out why him doing orchestra or strings and piano sounded totally, immediately like Craig and why somebody else didn’t have that same character to them. I was fascinated to the extent where I did some transcriptions of his work to try to work out and came to the conclusion that every composer just has a DNA themselves and the way that they move from one note to another and all the tiny little choices that the make add up to them and you can’t reverse engineer it…

What’s your DNA?

I think I thought I was quite serious and then I did “The InBetweeners” and comedy after comedy after comedy, so I’m not really sure. In a way I try not to become self conscious about something like that. With “Sherlock,” it’s become so popular that the tunes that David and I originally wrote for it have sort of gone out from us and just become public  property now. They’re there for people to play on YouTube themselves and for people to do their own thing. When you carry on and do another [season] of it, if in any way become self conscious and are trying to work out what is the DNA of the music of “Sherlock” to try and replicate it, it makes for hard going.

“Sherlock” has so many quick cuts and is edited so interestingly visually. How does that affect how you and David score it?

There was an original pilot episode [that got scrapped]. A lot of the tunes that we wrote for the pilot stayed and it was clear that the speed of thought of Sherlock was driving the whole momentum of the show, really. It was trying to get inside his brain and kind of give the audience an experience of what it’s like to be with Sherlock when he’s doing it. But then when [new director] Paul McGuigan came on to direct the first series proper, rather than the pilot, he brought with him this incredible visual panache and flair and it’s stunning. So I think we developed the material from the pilot episode it was about trying to keep up and not artificially force the pace, but I guess it’s like surfing, you’ve got to catch the wave and just go with it, and on a good day, I think we did that.

You and Oscar winner Steven Price [for “Gravity”] were both music editors. How does that help you as a composer?

It’s sort of like an apprenticeship in the deepest. oldest sense. Being a music editor often means that you’re there right at the start and you’re there right at the end. You’re the last person to turn the lights off and close the door on the way out. I’m very happy that I’ve done both. I’m happy I was a music editor because it gives you an incredible technical background and a lot of  sense of structure and I’m really happy I’ve had people like Michael Kamen in my life,  which gave me a sense of melody. I think if you glue the two together, on a good day, it works well.


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Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' will have a trailer attached to 'Sin City 2' in theaters only
Credit: Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' will have a trailer attached to 'Sin City 2' in theaters only

But what's it going to show?

What is Quentin Tarantino up to?

Man, I would love it if he's been sneaking around and shooting a movie without telling anyone. I don't think that's what happened… but who knows? I think it's far more likely that what we've heard is correct. The shoot will happen in the spring, and we can count on seeing the film in time for the holiday season in 2015.

But let's pretend for a moment. After all, word is breaking that The Weinstein Company will have a nearly two-minute-long trailer for "The Hateful 8" attached to the front of "Sin City 2" when it hits theaters next week. It appears the plan is not to officially put it online.

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<p>Joe Earley</p>

Joe Earley

Credit: FOX

Fox Television Group ups David Madden, Joe Earley to key executive posts

FTG gets a new COO, while FBC gets a new Entertainment President

Newly minted Fox Television Group Chairmen and CEOs Gary Newman and Dana Walden announced a couple key executive appointments on Thursday (August 14), filling two roles with companies whose very similar names will confuse me for a long time.

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Kelsey Grammer and Randy Couture on unlikely 'Expendables' friendships
Credit: HitFix

Kelsey Grammer and Randy Couture on unlikely 'Expendables' friendships

Seriously, how weird is that?

Thanks to the way junkets work, you sometimes end up with the oddest combination of people in a room, and that was certainly the case when I attended the press day for "The Expendables 3" and found myself sitting across from Kelsey Grammer and Randy Couture.

In general, it's been a pretty strange summer for Kelsey Grammer. I spoke with him when I was in Hong Kong about his work in "Transformers: Age Of Extinction," and he also had a featured role in "Think Like A Man 2." In "The Expendables 3," Grammer plays Bonaparte, the guy who Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) turns to when he's putting a new team together. He's like an agent for badass mercenaries. We discussed how wide a net he's cast this year with the roles that he's been playing, and he seems to be in a great mood about all of it.

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Review: Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. try hard but 'Let's Be Cops' is a bust
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Review: Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. try hard but 'Let's Be Cops' is a bust

Oh, boy

This was just a bad idea.

Don't get me wrong… Jake Johnson, Rob Riggle, Keegan Michael Key, and Damon Wayans Jr. are all genuinely funny people, and when you put that many funny people together, there are going to be funny moments. I certainly laughed a few times during "Let's Be Cops," and as far as actual film craft goes, it's perfectly serviceable.

But if anything counts in comedy, it's timing, and right now is not the time to make a movie about how easy it is to abuse the privileges that come with wearing a police uniform. I'm not just talking about this week's horrifying events in Ferguson, Missouri, either, although I'm sure everyone at Fox is mortified. This is the second time in recent memory that they've released a comedy at the exact wrong moment, with "The Watch" rolling into theaters just as the Treyvon Martin conversation was at its most heated.

This time, though, the problem runs deeper. At Comic-Con, they mentioned that Luke Greenfield actually did this with a friend of his, and that's where the idea for the film came from. I have to assume that they didn't take it anywhere near as far as the characters do in this film, because he would have ended up shot to death if that was the case, but just admitting that you ever thought it would be a good idea to leave your house pretending to be a police officer is basically confessing that you are a sociopath. It is an insane thing to do.

In the film, they are careful to lay the groundwork that excuses Ryan (Johnson) and Justin (Wayans) of any sort of malice or forethought. Justin's a video game designer, and he's working on a game about being a street cop, so he has a pair of uniforms that he puts on a pair of mannequins. Those happen to be in the apartment when Ryan reminds him that there's a costume party that night. It's labored, all in service of that first image of the two of them suited up, and the movie does make the point that when you put someone in that uniform and you get all the details right, it is transformative. Johnson and Wayans could easily play cops in another movie. They've both got the right build, and they wear the uniforms well. And the first evening they're out, when they accidentally discover that people think they are the real deal, is pretty funny and fairly innocent. It's the 13-year-old idea of what you'd do with that power.

Where the film goes from there is way more problematic, and there's no real way to get it right. The longer they do what they do, and the more elaborate the lie, the less identifiable these guys are. Ideally, this should have been handled like a "Superbad," a story about one long night. I could buy it if there's not a moment where they characters have a chance to stop what they're doing, consider their actions, and then suit up again to go back out. They try to earn it by writing Ryan as a guy who thought he would play pro ball, only to get injured, and he's been playing dead ever since. As he pretends to be a cop, he starts to realize that he's good at the job. The more he learns about it, the more he clicks with it. It's ultimately played as a redemptive arc for the character, and I didn't buy a word of it. Likewise, I enjoyed Rob Riggle here because they have him playing it straight. I'm so used to seeing Riggle turn into a lunatic that when it becomes clear that his character is just a good and decent cop who is always trying to do the right thing, it's almost a twist. And while I liked watching him do it, I don't buy his relationship with Ryan and Justin. It just doesn't track the way they write it.

When you're making comedy films, you need to take the cultural temperature as you're working. We're in an era right now where there are some serious questions about the way the public relates to law enforcement, and that's not just this week. That's the last few years, a conversation that's getting louder and louder because it is impossible to pretend it's not a real problem. We are over-arming law enforcement. We are creating a military state in which certain citizens are treated a different way for the most dispiriting of reasons. And we have such a troubled relationship with firearms and who is allowed to have them and how, and just seeing images of white people carrying rifles in Wal-Mart and unarmed black people being held at gunpoint for no reason in Ferguson juxtaposed should have all of us asking ourselves how things got this broken, and how we begin to fix them. It's real, real, real hard to laugh at parts of this movie right now.

Key shows up as a low-level henchman who Ryan and Justin use to try to get close to the big bad guy in the film, and there's a whole big sub-plot about what happens when they end up clashing with genuinely dangerous Eastern European mobsters and crooked cops, and it's sort of brutal to sit through any time it's trying to be serious. Nathasha Leggero shows up playing crazy and drugged and horny in a way that only she could combine those things, and again… like Key… she scores laughs because she's so genuinely funny, even if the film doesn't do anything interesting with them.

Look, someone's going to cast Jake Johnson in the right film and it's going to be gigantic. I think it's inevitable. He's almost able to make this all seem palatable, and I don't fault any of the cast considering what they were asked to do. But the script by Luke Greenfield and Nicholas Thomas makes too many easy choices, and it simply doesn't work in terms of maintaing credible audience sympathy.

"Let's Be Cops" is in theaters now.

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'Gone Girl' and 'Birdman' top our 25 most anticipated Fall Festival Films

'Gone Girl' and 'Birdman' top our 25 most anticipated Fall Festival Films

Jennifer Aniston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Reese Witherspon ready to make some noise

After an underwhelming summer, the fall festival season is finally upon us.  And, unlike previous years, it appears the wealth of world premieres has been spread across the Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York Film Festivals.

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'Dancing’s' Derek Hough joins 'Nashville'

“Dancing’s” Derek Hough joins “Nashville”
The “Dancing with the Stars” pro will take on his first major acting role next season, playing a movie star in a multi-episode arc.

TCM to celebrate Lauren Bacall’s movie career with a 24-hour marathon ending on her 90th birthday
The marathon, starting Sept. 15, will include every movie she made with Humphrey Bogart, plus a 2005 episode of “Private Screenings."

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Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, his wife says

Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, his wife says
“Robin’s sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly,” Susan Schneider said in a statement.

Brittany Murphy’s father says he plans to take legal action over Lifetime’s biopic
“Lifetime has not been authorized to produce the true story of Brittany Murphy,” says the late “Clueless” star’s father, Angelo Bertolotti.

Key & Peele, Andy Samberg, Viola Davis, Sofia Vergara added to Emmy presenters list
Also presenting: Octavia Spencer, Debra Messing, Allison Janney and Lucy Liu.

TNT's “Legends” debuts to half the viewers of "The Last Ship"
About 2.6 million watched the TNT Sean Bean series premiere, compared to 5.3 million for "The Last Ship" on TNT in June.

History channel’s “Texas Rising” event series to debut on Memorial Day
The eight-hour history of the Texas Revolution starring Bill Paxton as Sam Houston will premiere on May 25.

NBC is expected to replace David Gregory as host of “Meet the Press” very soon
Chuck Todd is the reported choice as Gregory’s replacement.

Check out the “Once Upon a Time” gag reel
Here are the mistakes from Season 3.

TV stars warn of the dangers of binge-watching
Check out the PSA made for EW.

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Credit: Sony Pictures

Brad Pitt to close out 2014 London Film Festival with David Ayer's 'Fury'

A prime spot two days after the US release and five days ahead of the UK release

I had a hunch when Sony slid "Fury" to a mid-October release date that they might opt for something like the closing night slot of the London Film Festival two days after the domestic release. And so it is. The Brad Pitt WWII film directed by David Ayer, which was filmed outside of London, has been slated to wrap up the fest on Oct. 19.

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Review: YA-adaptation 'The Giver' is both ridiculous and morally suspect
Credit: The Weinstein Company

Review: YA-adaptation 'The Giver' is both ridiculous and morally suspect

Could this be the dumbest film of the year?

I hardly know where to start.

So far this year, "Winter's Tale" remains the gold standard for pure unmitigated batshit hubris, and it's the scope of the folly that impresses me most. But if we're ranking films by how dopey they are, then "The Giver" may actually be a contender for some special honors this year.

It is a firm belief of mine that you do not need to read a book in order to review a movie. I've never read Lois Lowry's novel, which is evidently fairly well-liked. Originally published in 1993, the book has been controversial, and it's also been enormously popular. In reading about it tonight, one thing becomes clear: the dumbest idea in this very dumb movie appears to be an invention of the film. We'll get into that later, but first, the broad strokes.

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<p>True Detective</p>

True Detective

Credit: HBO

Emmy Predictions 2014: Outstanding comedy/drama directing

Will Jodie Foster get 'Orange' an early win? And can anything beat the 'Breaking Bad' finale?

Because it's NBC's turn to air the Primetime Emmy Awards this year, and because the Peacock would understandably rather air its lucrative Sunday night NFL package in September, the ceremony will take place in late August again. And as an added wrinkle, this year's ceremony will actually happen on a Monday, August 25 at 8 p.m., with Seth Meyers hosting.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s 'HitRecord On TV' has won an Emmy

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “HitRecord On TV” has won an Emmy
Gordon-Levitt posted a YouTube video announcing his win for his Pivot series. “HitRecord" won the Interactive Media Emmy Award for Social TV Experience.

Report: Robin Williams had a drink while filming “The Crazy Ones” at a restaurant
Page Six also reports that on set, "Williams frequently engaged in his trademark frenetic shtick, veering off script and forcing co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar to improvise her responses.” PLUS: Listen to Williams talk about suicide on Marc Maron’s podcast (listen to the entire April 2010 interview).

David Letterman a finalist for the Thurber Prize
Dave is up for the prize that is considered “the nation’s highest recognition of the art of humor writing” thanks to the book he wrote, “This Land Was Made for You and Me (But Mostly Me)."

Chelsea Handler is promoting her final “Chelsea Lately” by stripping down: “I’m a Kardashian"
Handler yesterday posted a pair of racy pics to Instagram.

Original “Teen Moms” are coming back to MTV
Maci Bookout, Catelynn Lowell and Amber Portwood will return for a new season on MTV in 2015.

“Big Brother” shows the reaction to Ariana Grande’s brother revealing who he is
The reactions ranged from total glee to confusion over “Amanda Grande.”

Oops! Official “Downton Abbey” photograph shows a plastic water bottle in the background
This is not the first “Downton” historical blooper. PLUS: See more photos from the new season.

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