And meet the Oscar-nominated composer behind it.
- by YOHANA DESTA
There’s nothing small about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them franchise. The expectations for the upcoming Harry Potter spin-off are massive, for everything from the high-caliber cast (Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell) to the score.
The legendary John Williams crafted the indelible music for the first three Potter films, creating the whimsical theme that’s come to define the sound of the franchise. How does a spin-off series follow that up? By tapping James Newton Howard, the eight-time Oscar nominee who’s worked on The Hunger Games franchise, The Dark Knight (in collaboration with Hans Zimmer), and beautifully grim fare like Nightcrawler, among others. Surprisingly, his stacked résumé alone wasn’t enough to land him Fantastic Beasts—he had to earn his way onto the film.
“I think every composer in the world, really, except for John, wanted to do it,” Howard tells Vanity Fair. “There was a prescribed list of feelings and emotions [the studio] wanted to hear examples of: suspense and humor, action, adventure, sad and poignant, romantic . . . I ended up sending, I think, 25 or 26 different pieces of music.”
Now one of the final songs on the score, “Pie or Strudel Escaping Queenie and Tina’s Place,” is debuting today exclusively on Vanity Fair. Listen below to hear the fantastical new track.
It was actually “the first piece” Howard crafted for Fantastic Beasts. “It was one of the pieces of music that David [Yates, the director] responded to extremely positively the first time he heard it,” he recalls. Pieces that elicited such a response were the ones with staying power, he says, whereas others were redone 20 to 30 times, before eventually being edited back to sound like their original version.
When Howard first landed the job, he remembers feeling “a thrill, like I was 10 years old.” He had seven months to craft the score, which is an extraordinarily long period of time (no expense spared in Potter land). “Often composers are stuck with very short abbreviated schedules—four weeks, five weeks, six weeks.”
Though he worked out of Los Angeles for the first four months, he still worked quite closely with London-based Yates, who also oversaw the last four Potter films. “Extremely collaborative, extremely articulate. And a very good typist,” Howard jokes, noting the director has a penchant for sending ”very detailed e-mails.” The composer eventually flew out to London for the final three months, where the duo “worked together almost on a daily basis.” (He still, by the way, has yet to meet Potter godhead J.K. Rowling.)
That kind of time commitment and elevated work level wasn’t “easy for anybody,” Howard admits, though it was rewarding in the end. There was also the other added pressure of living up to the Williams legacy. “John Williams, as we all know, is incomparable and has written many of the greatest themes in film music history ever,” Howard says of the iconic composer for Star Wars, Jaws, and more. “There’s a certain intimidation following those footsteps.
“John’s music is used very, very slightly, really only in a matter of a few seconds throughout the movie,” Howard says. He was “reverential” toward the famous composer’s material, but stayed focused on the fact that although Fantastic is connected to the Potter world, it’s still a fresh new franchise—a different beast, if you will.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, starring Eddie Redmayne, apparates into theaters on November 18.