A ten-time Emmy-winner, prolific composer Bruce Broughton began his career as a music supervisor at CBS providing underscoring to such series as Gunsmoke, Hawaii Five-O and Dallas. Broughton next segued to the big screen, garnering attention with his Oscar-nominated score for Lawrence Kasdan’s Silverado and later with his complex and eclectic work on Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985.
This year, one Oscar nominee stood out from the rest in the Original Song Category: “Alone Yet Not Alone” from the faith-based film of the same name. SSN spoke with Broughton, a former Academy governor of the music branch, on how his grassroots efforts on behalf of the song turned a small film into a contender on the year’s biggest awards show.
SSN: How did you get involved with the film?
Broughton: Ken Wales was producer on the first feature I worked [on]. About 30 years ago, when he was working on the Billy Graham show, The Prodigal, found me through my agent. I knew Dennis [Spiegel], my songwriting partner, and brought him on as the lyricist. Thirty years later, Ken is working on Alone Yet Not Alone and gave me a call. I wrote the song before it was shot because it had to be used in the production. The film really revolves around that song and how it’s used.
SSN: How important is it for the song to be integral to the film to be nominated?
Broughton: One of the conditions of the best song is it is written in collaboration with the director as part of the film. It has to be written for the film. If this song had pre-existed the film, it wouldn’t be eligible at all. This particular case, there were conversations with the director about the kind of song that was needed and would work. The song itself is modeled after “Amazing Grace,” in a style that could’ve been in place when the story was told. The film’s based on a true history of the executive producer’s family.
SSN: What inspired the song?
Broughton: Any music that goes into a film, whether it’s a song or background, is there to help tell the story, and the story inspired me. It involves an immigrant family that comes to the colonies around 1750 in the middle of the French and Indian war. They’re out in the middle of nowhere, it’s a dangerous time, in a dangerous land and the mother sings this hymn to the children to give them some comfort. When the girls are kidnapped, they sing this to each other. At the very end, the mother finds her missing child [who’s] been gone for eight years by singing this song so the girl can remember.
SSN: What was your process for composing “Alone Yet Not Alone”?
Broughton: You think about styles and the kinds of songs they may have sung, of a melody that is strong enough that doesn’t need chords … something that will stick in your ears with strong words and lyrics that give you a lot of hope and faith that help get you through your situation. Then I gave the melody to Dennis Spiegel, who wrote the lyrics. Where we got lucky is that they gave it to Joni Erickson Tada to sing in the end credits. Joni is an extraordinary person who has shown that courage and strength for her personal journey. Her performance is so lovely, strong, serene and confident. By the end credits, the song’s an old friend because you’ve heard it all the way through the film.
Every year there’s some off-the-wall nomination that happens-
and this year it was me! I’m glad I wasn’t chair of the music branch this year.
SSN: You were a governor for the Academy in the past. Can you describe that position?
Broughton: I’ve been a governor on the Academy a couple of times. I’ve served two complete nine-year terms, which I say proudly because you’re voted in by the members of the branch based on your reputation. For the last four years of my term, I was chair of the music branch.
SSN: What were some of your responsibilities as an Academy governor?
Broughton: While I was chair of the music branch, I [had] to take all the phone calls of ‘Why did that get nominated? How come my client didn’t get nominated?’ I would get verbally pounded on by agents, by disappointed songwriters and composers, by fans demanding a recount, you can’t imagine the stuff that goes on. And if there’s a song or score that’s suspicious, you have to run it down because you can’t let something mar the awards process. We take the Oscars very seriously. I was saying to a friend the day before the Oscars came up, you know every year there’s some off-the-wall nomination that happens- and this year it was me! I’m glad I wasn’t chair of the music branch this year.
SSN: So, the big question how did “Alone Yet Not Alone” land on Oscar ballots?
Broughton: It really was grassroots. There was no campaign. Our release had been very limited. It doesn’t go wide until the middle of this year, so the chance of it being overlooked was pretty high because a lot of high profile movies from major studios are in competition.
At the Academy, every branch votes for its own nominations. In the music branch, it has a couple hundred people [who] come up with the top five songs. The music branch gives all the eligible songs on a DVD to their members so they can choose the ones they like. The DVD is a fair way of getting everything out there, if people will take the time and listen. It’s a daunting experience to sit there and go through all 75 songs. Songs in films not seen very much, run the risk of being passed over because they don’t have the marketing, publicity, or financial ability to get the song forward.
I knew people wouldn’t know what the film was so, I wrote a letter to people that I personally knew and thought were a member of the branch to ask them to look for the song, to be aware that there’s a song there. I didn’t ask for anyone to vote for it, I just didn’t want the song to be bypassed.
SSN: There’s definitely been some strong reactions to this song securing a nomination. Can you speak to that?
Broughton: I had a definite eye on the Academy rules [and] was respectful of the conditions. The other songs were pretty much in the public consciousness and ours was definitely not. I think that the surprise was so great that it caused a reaction a little stronger than I was anticipating.
Everybody works the system—certainly the major marketing machines do. I told people there was a song out there but didn’t ask anyone to vote and didn’t make any phone calls or a marketing campaign. It’s sort of taken my breath away to see some of the things that have been written. Nobody can force anyone to vote for their song. Really you just hope for the best.
SSN: What do you hope people take away from “Alone Yet Not Alone”?
Broughton: Whatever happens at the Oscars … we hope people will get to know the song and use it themselves to find strength because it’s mostly all biblically based. We hope the song will have a life.
Addendum: This interview was conducted at 2pm PST on January 28th, before the decision was made by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences to disqualify the nomination that night. Click here for AMPAS’ official statement.