April 27, 2011

The “Casual Genius” of John Williams

Composer for Star Wars and Jurassic Park Honored with Soundstage

Legendary composer John Williams has been the recipient of numerous accolades and awards. He has won five Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, seven BAFTA Awards, twenty-one Grammys, is a member of the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and is tied with Hollywood legend Alfred Newman for the second most nominated person in Oscar history behind Walt Disney.

Steven Spielberg, John Williams, George Lucas and Dean
Elizabeth M. Dailey

On Tuesday April 26th, Williams’ colleagues and friends gathered to dedicate the new John Williams Scoring Stage at the School of Cinematic Arts. SCA alumnus John Singleton began the evening with a story about how Williams’ scores helped him get through school. Singleton made the point that, before they were colleagues, he was a fan. “Years later when I got the chance to make my fourth film, I made an unusual request that ‘could John Williams score my film Rosewood,” said Singleton. “It was an honor to work with [Williams] and to see his process. He’s a casual genius.”

Long time collaborator George Lucas paid the greatest compliment of all after being introduced by John Singleton who referred to E.T, Jaws, Star Wars and Schindler’s List as “great works”.

“These great works that John [Singleton] refers to; the true genius of John Williams is that these are mediocre works which John [Williams] made great,” said Lucas. “The great thing about John is this: composer equals maestro. Maestro equals ego. John never writes his score. He writes the movie’s score. He’s not doing the work to aggrandize himself. He’s doing it to make the movie as good as it possibly can. You don’t find that very often.”

“No one’s had this experience except [Williams] and myself but Jaws with John is one thing and Jaws without John isn’t Jaws,” said Steven Spielberg. “I’ve always said, if I can get a tear to form in someone’s eye, John can get it to call down their cheek.”

Dean Elizabeth M. Daley hosted the event and highlighted the fact that students at the School of Cinematic Arts have to use original music in their student films. She noted that SCA students collaborate with musicians in order to tell their stories as effectively as possible.

Williams began his remarks by telling a story about working with Spielberg on Schindler’s List. “Steven called me to screen Schildler’s List at his house in South Hampton. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the requirements of the film. It’s certainly the most moving film I’ve ever seen. At the end of the film, you may remember, is a scene in Israel where the survivors come with their children to place stones on the gravesite of Oscar Schindler. At the end of the film, the lights came up and I couldn’t speak [because] I was so choked up.”

“I just excused myself and went outside and walked around the building and came back in. I said ‘Steven’ and I meant this not to be deprecating but to be nothing but objective. ‘Steven, you need a better composer than I am for this film.’ And very sweetly he said, ‘I know, but they’re all dead.’”

“Thanks are inadequate to USC. The naming of this hall is probably been the greatest honor I have ever received,” said Williams in closing. “It represents the notion and the very idea of collaboration and certain truths that we all derive our power from one other. Alone we are powerless. Together we can get things done. This has to be the true value of this stage. It may be among the greatest lessons that someone attending here may learn.”

The John Williams Scoring Stage is currently open for student use.