Hildur Gudnadóttir, who won the 2020 Oscar for Best Original Score for her work on Joker, is back with two movie scores this year that are firmly in the awards season conversation. With work on Todd Field’s Warehouse and that of Sarah Polley women talking, she could go down in history as the first female songwriter to be nominated twice in the same season. The Icelandic musician spoke with THR about her processes for both films and whether the industry is opening up more to female composers.
You scored two films this year. Which came first?
I started on Warehouse first, but i think i’m done women who talk before i’m done Warehouse. So they were running a bit at the same time, but in a nice way that didn’t totally overlap. I had time chunks on each.
Is it normal for you to undertake several projects at the same time?
I really prefer to be present for a project that I’m working on, so I don’t like working on several things at the same time. I was on Warehouse for a year and a half, but I’m not 100% full-time on it for a year and a half. I have some flexibility in that time frame to take on other things, so if the process is that long, then it can work to maybe work on two things at the same time.
How did your conversations to compose for both films start?
The two directors called me and asked me if I was ready to work with them! Both projects were so wonderful and exciting to work on. With Warehouse, I was able to work on the subject to which I dedicated my life, in a film with phenomenal artists that I really admire. For women who talk, it was obviously a very different topic, but it’s an incredibly strong and important story. I was really happy to be able to work on that too. And Sarah Polley is absolutely fantastic as an artist, an activist and a feminist. She’s so wonderfully inspiring, like the way she tackles things that aren’t super easy, but I think she has such a human way of approaching everything she does.
How did your process differ between movies?
The process was very different, I would say. Warehouse is more a character study than it is necessarily a story as such. I was diving really deep into this character and her past, her future, her present, how she relates to music. It was very different from any other movie I’ve worked on, because I was writing music in part as her, so I put myself in her place. It was a very complex and very delicate process to work through. women who talk, on the other hand, is a much more traditional score; it’s a thematic score, it’s partly very melodic. Obviously the film is based on a novel, so there’s the traditional sense of storytelling in the way the music follows that narrative as well as in a classic sense. It’s based on real events, but it’s also framed as a fable – it’s almost like a fairy tale, so the music falls under that umbrella, which helped shape the story for us. You have to look at how the music can really amplify the story that’s being told in the most helpful way, without your ego or your preconceptions of how the music should get in the way.
For women who talkhow much emphasis did you place on using instruments that the religious colony in the story might have had access to?
It was very important to me that the sound world be as close as possible to the environment of this colony, because obviously these women would probably not have access to an instrument at all. Their musical landscape would not have been very rich. But I imagined that the closest instrument to their vicinity would have been the guitar. I wanted the instrumentation to be quite down to earth, accessible and folk or rural. I think it’s very important which instrument you choose to tell a story, especially when it’s based on real events. I felt the orchestration had to be very humble in this case.
For Warehousedid that make it easier to compose a film about a composer, given your background?
I guess yes and no. It was just a great process to work on this movie, because what I found so interesting about it is that it’s really a movie about the process of making music and writing and to communicate about the music to your fellow musicians and students, so it’s not about the finished version. She’s one of the best at what she does in the movie, but she also fails, you know. So it’s not sort of about succeeding, and I didn’t really feel any pressure to succeed. I felt really interested in the process, because for me, as someone who’s dedicated my life to the music-making process, it was so much fun to dive deep into that with these wonderful artists.
Do you think the field is expanding for women to have more of these opportunities?
Yes, I really feel like there are a lot of changes happening in this industry. When I was starting [in my career]when my name came up for projects it was very often [asked]: “Yeah, but can she handle it, because it’s a woman?” Not so long ago, people would still tell me that, even after completing several projects. But I have the impression that this machine has gone from skepticism to enthusiasm for female composers. It’s much more inviting right now for women to start their careers in this industry, and I think that’s really fantastic.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a December standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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Hildur Gudnadóttir, Composer of ‘Tár’ and ‘Women Talking,’ Could Make Oscar History Again – GameSpot