Steven Spielberg, Sandy DeCrescent, and John Williams on the scoring stage
Hit play below to listen to our extended Music for Moving Pictures interview featuring Sandy DeCrescent.
Welcome to the second episode of a new podcast, Music for Moving Pictures. Your host, Tim Greiving, will sit down with the composers who write for films and peel apart the musical craft and psychology and storytelling skills that go into what they do—and illustrate it with lots of great music. I hope you join me, as we study the modern court composers of Hollywood.
Sandy DeCrescent has been the go-to orchestra contractor in Hollywood for almost 50 years. When John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner or Henry Mancini were ready to record their latest film score, they called DeCrescent first. Based on the score’s specific needs, the composer’s preferences, the budget, and a number of other factors, DeCrescent would put together the crack ensembles who performed the now-immortal music for Jaws, Back to the Future, E.T., Schindler’s List, Titanic, and Toy Story—and hundreds and hundreds more.
A typical day at work for DeCrescent
She’s had an incredibly unique passenger seat in the moviemaking industry, watching hundreds of films—classics and clunkers alike—brought to life with the finishing touch of original music. She’s seen directors so angry they’ve thrown chairs in the control room, she’s seen musicians cry because the music was so beautiful. She’s seen—and heard—cinema history in the making.
DeCrescent joined the music team at Universal Television when she was only 20—and she became the first woman contractor in the business. She started out contracting live orchestras for TV shows like McMillan & Wife, The Bionic Woman, and Columbo.
Then she struck out on her own and started contracting for films—and before long she amassed a clientele of Hollywood’s top composers. She’s had a very special relationship with director Steven Spielberg—contracting his very first feature-length project, the TV movie Duel, with the composer Billy Goldenberg. When Spielberg made the fateful decision to hire John Williams on his next film, The Sugarland Express, DeCrescent was there—and she’s been there for most of the duo’s blockbusters and prestige films ever since, right up to The Post last year.
She’s now 79 and mostly retired, and she only makes exceptions for two clients: John Williams and Randy Newman. She’s seen the whole industry change, for good and for ill. When she started out, she was a lone woman in smoke-filled rooms filled with men—and pretty much right away she determined to fix that. Computers and digital technology radically changed the nature of recording and synchronizing film scores. During her heyday, DeCrescent was doing 55 to 65 scores a year on Los Angeles stages—but during the past two decades, a lot of the work has gone overseas, mainly to London but also to places like Prague and Bratislava, where it’s much cheaper. Still, the ensembles playing your favorite film music are now much more diverse thanks to her. And when John Williams needs an orchestra for his next film, Star Wars Episode VIII… it’ll be Sandy DeCrescent he calls.