The executive committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Science’s music branch has disqualified the score for this past summer’ blockbuster The Dark Knight over what amounts to a technicality.
Although composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard receive in screen credit for the film’s musical score, the Academy has ruled that it is ineligible due to the inclusion of music editor Alex Gibson, ambient music designer Mel Wesson and composer Lorne Balfe as additional composers on studio Warner Brothers’ official music cue sheets.
The cue sheets are the official studio documents that in part track whom is responsible for each piece of music in a film. Since both ASCAP and BMI use cue sheets to help distribute performance royalties, Gibson, Wesson and Balfe’s names were included on the documents for Dark Knight to ensure that they would be properly compensated. Academy Award rules “expressly excludes from eligibility… partial contributors (e.g., any writer not responsible for the over-all design of the work)… and … scores assembled from the music of more than one composer”.
Despite an affidavit signed by Gibson, Wesson and Balfe stating that Zimmer and Howard were primarily responsible for the score, the committee rejected Warner’s application. The committee stated that they had received additional documentation that alleged Zimmer and Howard were only responsible for only 60-70% of the score.
The fact that the score for Batman Begins was disqualified in 2005 for the same reason and that the committee spent a reported four hours over two meetings deliberating the Dark Knight score only goes to show that the very nature of how film scores are composed is changing and that the Academy needs to revise their rules to reflect this evolution. More and more soundtracks are becoming collaborative affairs, and the fact that there was some substantial discussion on The Dark Knight’s score indicates that at least a few members of the music branch’s executive committee realizes this. Unfortunately, they were not enough to override the remaining, stuck-in-the-mud members who ultimately voted to keep The Dark Knight score out of consideration.
If the music branch of the Academy clings to its increasingly outmoded rules in this regard, they run the risk of looking as out of touch as the Grammy’s did when they awarded their first Heavy Metal Grammy to the not-very-heavy metal Jethro Tull.