Those who have seen Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” have likely taken plenty of pleasure in Mark Orton’s musical compositions in the film. The heartland plucking and bowing of strings throughout carries the narrative with a helping of nostalgia and a touch of levity and you might end up humming this or that tune on your way out of the theater. But what you might not know is that the music is not original to the film.
The most memorable elements of the score are actually selections from Orton’s work on Ali Selim’s 2005 festival hit “Sweet Land.” For those reasons alone, the score would not be eligible in the Best Original Score category at the Oscars this year. But HitFix has learned that Orton has opted out of submitting it for consideration regardless.
The studio hasn’t exactly hidden from this, by the way; Academy and critics group screeners of the film note “Music by Mark Orton” as opposed to “Best Original Score.” Apparently Payne was using “Sweet Land” tracks such as “Their Pie,” “Magna Carta” and “Brownie’s Pie” as temp music for the film when he was editing and he liked them so much, he called Orton in to re-record them.
“The music worked so well that over time, we looked at one another and said, ‘Why don’t we make this temp music perm?,'” Payne told Film Journal in November. “The one thing I knew I wanted was that you feel the personality of the players. It shouldn’t just be orchestral or studio musicians. I knew it had to feel handmade somehow, and I think Mark’s music does.”
On one hand this might feel a bit strange, like lifting the identity of one piece of art and layering it onto another. But any number of previously existing musical compositions have been used in films since the beginning of the medium’s existence. So even if the tracks were originally meant for another film, they work beautifully in the context of “Nebraska” that you can hardly fault Payne for using them.
More on the Best Original Score Oscar race in Thursday’s Tech Support column.