Two Malibuites up for best film score


Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders talk about their work on “The Hurt Locker.”

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

There’s a good chance that Malibu will have two more small, gold residents after this coming Sunday’s Academy Awards telecast. Malibuites Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders have been nominated for their score for Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar front-runner, “The Hurt Locker.”

Beltrami, whose score for “3:10 to Yuma” was nominated for Best Original Score in 2007, has worked with Sanders scoring films for 13 years, and the two collaborated as composers on three movies.

“The Hurt Locker,” however, presented new opportunities, musically, Beltrami said in an interview with The Malibu Times on Tuesday.

“What was unique about this film was that Kathryn had no pre-conceived notions of how the movie should sound,” Beltrami said. “There was no ‘temp’ score put together from other sources. Originally, there was not going to be much music at all, so anything we did was very exploratory and very creative.”

Although the film does employ some of the aggressive, heavy-metal music that has come to symbolize a great deal of the Iraq War experience, Beltrami and Sanders were looking for a more integrated sound, even using recordings of a Chinese fiddle called an erhu to provide emotional connections as well as echo the nasal sound of the distorted PA systems found in mosques.

“Kathryn told us she didn’t want to know where the score ended and sound effects began,” Sanders said. “So our sound designer, Paul Ottosson, went around recording explosions on the set and the prayers you’d hear at the mosques or unusual sirens, and we integrated them into the score. There was this cross-pollination of sound and music.”

Bigelow took a similar cutting-edge approach to the film design, looking for a documentary-style feel to the cinematography. Sanders said she told them that there were four, mostly hand-held cameras on the actors at all times and the actors never knew which one to play to. The result was a realistic, tension-building effect that played well to the immediacy of the scene and it set the stage for a subtle, anxious punch from the score.

“We weren’t really trying to achieve Iraqi-style music,” Beltrami said. “It’s more like a stranger in a foreign landscape.”

Both men said the experience has prodded them to listen to film scores with new ears.

Beltrami studied music at Brown University for his undergraduate degree, and then moved to Yale University before coming to California and working with the late Jerry Goldsmith, who scored more than 100 films during six decades.

“Jerry was the most creative composer who ever came out of Hollywood,” Beltrami said. “The thing I learned from him was to become a master of economy. I think he would have approved of our approach to ‘The Hurt Locker.’ A traditional score just wouldn’t have worked.”

Sanders came to California with his high school metal band (“We were sort of like Satan, but with a positive message,” Sanders said) and studied guitar performance at UCLA. One of his professors used to prepare guitars for composer John Cage, who famously altered instrumental sound by placing everyday objects on the strings. Sanders became fascinated with the sound distortion.

Thirteen years ago, he was working in a local video store when a friend introduced him to Beltrami, who was then scoring the first of the “Scream” movies. Sanders visited a scoring session and ended up becoming Beltrami’s assistant. Sanders said he is amazed-and not entirely comfortable-with the opportunity to walk the red carpet with Beltrami on Sunday.

Both men said they were “shocked” by their nomination, particularly as they were trying to achieve a subtle influence with the score. Beltrami’s wife Jill (who jokingly referred to her husband as “Darko Beltrami”) said she felt the score was music “outside” of the film.

While the red carpet experience might be old hat to Beltrami now (he has also been nominated for a Cesar, the French equivalent of an Oscar, for his work on “L’ennemi public n’1”), Sanders is a bit nervous.

“There’s a lot of stress,” Sanders said. “My publicist tells me I have to watch what I say. But this movie was such a great experience, I guess it’s worth it.”

Sanders soundly rejected a suggestion that he spend Sunday morning surfing for relaxation.

“I might have been in Malibu for 10 years, but I don’t surf,” Sanders said. “There are rocks under the water. Surfing is much worse than the Oscars. I’d rather be nominated again.”

Where to view the Oscars

For serious fans who can’t make it to the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood this Sunday, the Malibu Film Society is offering its first community-wide “Awards Night Watch Party,” beginning at 4:30 p.m. and running till the last bit of mascara drips down a winner’s cheek.

The event will take place at the Malibu Screening Room located at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, 24855 Pacific Coast Hwy. Advanced reservations are required and can be made by calling 310.589.0223 or online at

Tickets are $50 for the black-tie optional evening and include Red Carpet arrivals, an open buffet and two drink tickets. A fashion show, contests and other entertainment will also be offered.

MFS Executive Director Scott Tallal said there will be “industry people attending who have rooting interests for the films they worked in,” as well as at least one “A” list director.

Other public venues screening the Academy Awards on Sunday are Duke’s Malibu and Paradise Cove Beach Cafe, which have promised to keep the volume tuned up for the broadcast.