Alan Silvestri: The Dynamic

Born in 1950, Alan Silvestri was born in New York and raised in New Jersey.  Picking up instruments at an early age, Silvestri began with drums before moving woodwinds and the guitar.  His high school years were spent in band and joining small ensembles in which he could perform his own music.  

After high school, he attended Berklee College of Music in Boston as a guitar and composition major.  Focusing on jazz, Silvestri later started getting work as a musician and left the school.  He toured as a guitarist with many bands including Wayne Cochran and the C C Riders.  Winding up in Los Angeles and asked to score a film, Silvestri quickly read books on film scoring before scoring his first film - The Doberman Gang (1972).  He continued with other independent films like Las Vegas Lady (1975).  After giving guitar lessons to actor Paul Michael Glaser, Silvestri went along and scored three episodes of Glaser's hit show, Starsky & Hutch between 1978 and 1979.  It was this work that also led him to more television work on the second season of CHiPs (1978-1983).  His distinctive sound appeared in 100-plus episodes of the series.  Throughout his television work, Silvestri was already orchestrating and conducting his own scores.

Taking a chance with an almost unknown composer, beginning director Robert Zemeckis chose Silvestri to score their Indiana Jones-like action film Romancing the Stone (1984).  He began to show his action-scoring chops in several scenes, with light percussion and a contemporary pop sound.  Silvestri continued scoring a few films like Cat's Eye (1985) and Fandango (1985).                 

That same year, he was asked to compose a temporary score to Zemeckis' film Back to the Future (1985).  Producer Steven Spielberg was reluctant to have Silvestri take over the scoring duties, but Silvestri's demos won him over.  Recording with a 100+ piece orchestra, his vivacious action theme appears throughout the score, sprinkled in with his suspense and semi-magical cues.  He was nominated for two Grammy Awards (including Instrumental Composition) and cemented his relationship with Robert Zemeckis and the film score community.  

Silvestri continued his synthesizer scores with Flight of the Navigator (1986), The Delta Force (1986) and The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986).  Another one of his highlights was the tense, percussion-heavy action score for Predator (1987).  Silvestri reunited with Zemeckis for the live action/animated hit Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).  The frantic sound of Warner Bros/Disney cartoons was included with jazz and the 1940s noir sound.  The score was also nominated for two Grammy Awards.

With director James Cameron, Silvestri featured an atmospheric score and a majestically beautiful finale with choir for The Abyss (1989).  That same year he started the back-to-back sequels, Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future Part III (1990), both directed again by Zemeckis.  Around the same time, he composed other scores like Young Guns II (1990) and Predator 2 (1990).

He expanded his film scoring chops with comedies like Dutch (1991), Soapdish (1991) and the popular romantic comedy Father of the Bride (1991).  He scored the macabre Zemeckis film Death Becomes Her (1992) and working around the songs in the popular drama, The Bodyguard (1992).

After many films in 1993 and 1994, it was a reuniting with director Zemeckis for another highlight.  The score to Forrest Gump (1994) attached itself to the emotional film with the stunning orchestral score featuring the running theme and the popular feather theme.  The score captured the attention in award season, with Grammy, first Golden Globe and first Academy Award nominations.    

Continuing to score films quickly in the 1990s, Silvestri also changed styles for just about every score.  He scored films like the western The Quick and the Dead (1995), bombastic action for Judge Dredd (1995) and an electronic/orchestral mix for Eraser (1996).  His dynamic style of composing let itself to many films in 1997, including Volcano (1997), the emotional score to Zemeckis' Contact (1997) and the crazy antics Mouse Hunt (1997) with director Gore Verbinski.

Silvestri's light style and fun action naturally fit in Stuart Little (1999).  His music also appeared in the IMAX film Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box (1999).  Writer/director Nancy Meyers collaborated with Silvestri on The Parent Trap (1998) and continued their success with What Women Want (2000).  With Robert Zemeckis, they collaborated on the thriller What Lies Beneath (2000) and Cast Away (2000).  The latter with its sparse, minimal score won a Grammy for Instrumental Composition.     

2001 was another hit year for Silvestri, scoring Verbinski's The Mexican (2001), lighthearted score for Serendipity (2001) and teaming up with director Stephen Sommers for the action-packed The Mummy Returns (2001).  He worked again with Disney for the animated film Lilo & Stitch (2002), and continued his action scoring for Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003). 

Silvestri reunited with director Sommers for the exciting score to Van Helsing (2004).  That same year, he scored the magical Zemeckis Christmas film, The Polar Express (2004).  It was the original song "Believe" (with lyricist Glen Ballard) that was nominated for an Oscar, Golden Globe and even winning a Grammy.

Silvestri's unique match for action adventure scores worked well for the animated film The Wild (2006) and Night at the Museum (2006).  He collaborated again with Zemeckis for another CGI film, Beowulf (2007) with more pounding action.  2009 saw the sequel Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009), the next Stephen Sommers film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) and brought back the holiday charm with another Zemeckis film, A Christmas Carol (2009).             

Going back to his television roots, Silvestri scored the action reboot of The A-Team (2010).  His action scoring came again with the Marvel superhero film Captain America (2011).  Hitting another blockbuster, Silvestri scored the superhero mash-up, The Avengers (2012).  Similar to his sparse work for Cast Away, he scored Zemeckis' drama Flight (2012).  Back into animated films, Silvestri scored the Dreamworks film, The Croods (2013).                

Entering the film scoring business almost by accident, Silvestri has flourished since his debut.  His mix of genres is what makes him an easy go-to from pounding action scoring in Van Helsing and Back to the Future to lighthearted work in Mouse Hunt and Father of the Bride.

Silvestri has certainly had his fair share of blockbusters and a nice load of films considered some of the worst: Mac and Me (1988), Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1991), Super Mario Bros. (1993), and Holy Man (1998).  Thankfully the good outweighs the bad.  Like almost every film composer, Silvestri has been on both ends of rejected scores, being rejected or supplying the replacement score.  Some scores he didn't finish include Mission: Impossible (1996), Something's Gotta Give (2003) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).  

Silvestri also continues to be one of the few Hollywood composers that writes out his own sketches (on paper!).  From the beginning, he also continues to orchestrate and conduct most of his scores.  Silvestri's collaboration with Robert Zemeckis continues to strong, and remains one of the most famous in the business.  

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  1. Nice write-up for one of my favorite composers.

    Very versatile(as you said) and a master of action scoring.

    So many scores I love, but if I had to pick one...The Mummy Returns.

    ...And that Back to the Future theme is pretty decent too.