Carter Burwell

Carter Benedict Burwell (born November 18, 1954) is an American composer of film scores. He has consistently collaborated with the Coen brothers, having scored 16 of their films, including Blood Simple, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, and, most recently, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Burwell has also scored three of Todd Haynes' films and all the films of director Martin McDonagh. He has received Oscar nominations for Best Original Score for Haynes' Carol (2015) and McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017).

Carter Burwell
Birth nameCarter Benedict Burwell[1]
Born (1954-11-18) November 18, 1954
New York City, New York, United States
Occupation(s)Film composer
Years active1984—present

Other notable film scores include the Spike Jonze films Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), and Where the Wild Things Are (2009), David O. Russell's Three Kings (1999), Lisa Cholodenko's Olive Kitteridge (2014), and Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa (2015).

Early life and education

Burwell was born in New York City, the son of Natalie (née Benedict), a math teacher, and Charles Burwell, who founded Thaibok Fabrics, Ltd.[1] He graduated from King School in Stamford, Connecticut[2] with George Hofecker and other notables and Harvard College, where he was a cartoonist for The Harvard Lampoon.


As a film composer, Burwell has had a long-working relationship with the Coen brothers, providing music for every film they have made (except for O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Inside Llewyn Davis, which had folk music soundtracks produced by T-Bone Burnett). He enjoys working with left-field directors, such as Spike Jonze. Among his best known film scores are Miller's Crossing (1990), And the Band Played On (1993), Conspiracy Theory (1997), Hamlet (2000), The Spanish Prisoner (1997), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), In Bruges (2008), Twilight (2008), Where the Wild Things Are (2009), The Blind Side (2009), and Breaking Dawn Part 1 (2011). Burwell wrote and recorded the original score for the film The Bourne Identity, but his version was replaced by director Doug Liman for one by John Powell.[3]

Ultimately the ethos of the punk rock movement gave Burwell the impetus to start performing. He performed in New York with several bands, notably The Same, Thick Pigeon, and Radiante. Burwell played in Thick Pigeon with Stanton Miranda; the group released two albums, Too Crazy Cowboys (Factory) and tracks on Miranda Dali (Crepuscule), originally released as a Miranda solo project but later reissued as a Thick Pigeon release. On Burwell's soundtrack for Psycho III, Miranda was a featured singer.

By 1986 he had composed the music for a dance piece, RAB, which premiered at the Avignon Festival. At the same time, he was touring worldwide with The Harmonic Choir, David Hykes' experimental vocal group, which specialized in overtone singing.

Burwell used the country music genre as the basis for his score for the Coens' Raising Arizona in 1987. From 1982 to 1987 he worked at the New York Institute of Technology.[4][5]

His work has alternated between live performance, dance and theater commissions, and film scoring. His chamber opera, The Celestial Alphabet Event, was presented in New York in 1991, and other theater pieces include Mother (1994) and Lucia's Chapters (2007), both with the experimental theater group Mabou Mines.

In April 2005 Burwell composed and conducted music performed by The Parabola Ensemble for the plays Sawbones, written and directed by the Coen brothers, Hope Leaves the Theater, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, and Anomalisa, written and directed by Kaufman as Francis Fregoli. This was a segment of the sound-only production "Theater of the New Ear", which debuted at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, with support from Sirius Satellite Radio.[6][7][8] It was also performed at the Royal Festival Hall in London, England, in May 2005, and at Royce Hall in Los Angeles, California, in September 2005, as part of the UCLA Live Festival.

In 2009, Burwell was the recipient of the ASCAP Henry Mancini Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.[9] In 2010, he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for Where the Wild Things Are.[10]

In 2015, he received the Distinguished Film Composer award from the Middleburg Film Festival,[11] and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for Best Music Score for Anomalisa and Carol.[12][13] He was nominated for the Annie Award for Music in an Animated Feature Production for Anomalisa[14] and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for Carol.[15] In 2016, he received the Satellite Award for Best Original Score and the Best Score award by the International Cinephile Society for Carol.[16][17] Burwell was awarded Film Composer of the Year by the World Soundtrack Awards, and the score for Carol received the Public Choice Award for the Best Score of the Year.[18][19]

Burwell received his first Academy Award for Best Original Score nomination for Carol,[20][21] and his second for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Personal life

Burwell married Christine Sciulli in 1999.[22]



Year Title Director Notes
1984 Blood Simple Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
1st collaboration with Coen brothers
1985 A Hero of Our Time Michael Almereyda Short film
R.A.B.L. Patrice M. Regnier
1986 Psycho III Anthony Perkins Psycho themes by Bernard Herrmann
1987 Raising Arizona Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
2nd collaboration with Coen brothers
1988 Pass the Ammo David Beaird N/A
The Beat Paul Mones N/A
It Takes Two David Beaird N/A
1989 Checking Out David Leland N/A
1990 Miller's Crossing Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
3rd collaboration with Coen brothers
1991 Barton Fink 4th collaboration with Coen brothers
Doc Hollywood Michael Caton-Jones N/A
Scorchers David Beaird N/A
1992 Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fran Rubel Kuzui N/A
Waterland Stephen Gyllenhaal N/A
Storyville Mark Frost N/A
1993 This Boy's Life Michael Caton-Jones N/A
Kalifornia Dominic Sena N/A
A Dangerous Woman Stephen Gyllenhaal N/A
Wayne's World 2 Stephen Surjik N/A
1994 The Hudsucker Proxy Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
5th collaboration with Coen brothers
It Could Happen to You Andrew Bergman N/A
Airheads Michael Lehmann Replaced David Newman
1995 Bad Company Damian Harris N/A
A Goofy Movie Kevin Lima Composed with Don Davis
Rob Roy Michael Caton-Jones N/A
The Celluloid Closet Rob Epstein
Jeffrey Friedman
Documentary film
Two Bits James Foley N/A
1996 Fargo Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
6th collaboration with Coen brothers
Fear James Foley N/A
Joe's Apartment John Payson N/A
The Chamber James Foley N/A
1997 Picture Perfect Glenn Gordon Caron N/A
Assassin(s) Mathieu Kassovitz
Conspiracy Theory Richard Donner N/A
The Locusts John Patrick Kelley N/A
The Spanish Prisoner David Mamet N/A
Girls Night Out Myra Paci Short film
The Jackal Michael Caton-Jones N/A
1998 Gods and Monsters Bill Condon 1st collaboration with Condon
Mercury Rising Harold Becker Composed with John Barry
The Big Lebowski Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
7th collaboration with Coen brothers
Velvet Goldmine Todd Haynes N/A
The Hi-Lo Country Stephen Frears N/A
1999 The Corruptor James Foley N/A
The General's Daughter Simon West N/A
Being John Malkovich Spike Jonze N/A
Three Kings David O. Russell N/A
Mystery, Alaska Jay Roach N/A
2000 Hamlet Michael Almereyda N/A
What Planet Are You From? Mike Nichols N/A
Before Night Falls Julian Schnabel N/A
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 Joe Berlinger N/A
2001 A Knight's Tale Brian Helgeland N/A
The Man Who Wasn't There Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
8th collaboration with Coen brothers

Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Film Music

2002 The Rookie John Lee Hancock N/A
Searching for Paradise Myra Paci N/A
Simone Andrew Niccol N/A
The Bourne Identity Doug Liman Rejected score

Replaced by John Powell

Adaptation. Spike Jonze N/A
2003 Intolerable Cruelty Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
9th collaboration with Coen brothers
2004 The Ladykillers Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
10th collaboration with Coen brothers
The Alamo John Lee Hancock N/A
Kinsey Bill Condon 2nd collaboration with Condon
2006 Fur Steven Shainberg N/A
The Hoax Lasse Hallström N/A
2007 No Country for Old Men Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
11th collaboration with Coen brothers
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Sidney Lumet N/A
2008 In Bruges Martin McDonagh N/A
Burn After Reading Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
12th collaboration with Coen brothers
Twilight Catherine Hardwicke N/A
2009 A Serious Man Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
13th collaboration with Coen brothers
Where the Wild Things Are Spike Jonze Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score
The Blind Side John Lee Hancock N/A
2010 Howl Rob Epstein
Jeffrey Friedman
The Kids Are All Right Lisa Cholodenko Composed with Nathan Larson & Craig Wedren
True Grit Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
14th collaboration with Coen brothers
2011 Midnight Run Neil Shelley Short film
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 Bill Condon 3rd collaboration with Condon
2012 Seven Psychopaths Martin McDonagh N/A
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 Bill Condon 4th collaboration with Condon
2013 The Fifth Estate 5th collaboration with Condon
2015 Mr. Holmes 6th collaboration with Condon
Carol Todd Haynes Satellite Award for Best Original Score
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Original Score
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score
The Family Fang Jason Bateman N/A
Legend Brian Helgeland N/A
Anomalisa Charlie Kaufman
Duke Johnson
2016 The Finest Hours Craig Gillespie N/A
Hail, Caesar! Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
15th collaboration with Coen brothers
The Founder John Lee Hancock N/A
2017 Wonderstruck Todd Haynes Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Music
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Martin McDonagh Nominated—Academy Award for Best Original Score
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score
Goodbye Christopher Robin Simon Curtis N/A
2018 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
16th collaboration with Coen brothers
2019 Missing Link Chris Butler N/A
The Good Liar Bill Condon 7th collaboration with Condon


Year Title Network Notes
1990-91 Clash! Ha! / Comedy Central Main title theme
1993 And the Band Played On HBO Television film
2011 Mildred Pierce Miniseries; 5 episodes

Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Theme Music

2011 Enlightened Episode: “Pilot”
2014 Olive Kitteridge[23] Miniseries; 4 episodes


  1. "Natalie Benedict Burwell Obituary: View Natalie Burwell's Obituary by Northern Virginia Daily". February 24, 2010. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
  2. "Carter Burwell Biography - Yahoo! Movies". Archived from the original on November 7, 2011. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
  3. Walker, Tim (June 1, 2014). "John Powell interview: 'I sold myself to the Devil, just a bit'". The Independent. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
  4. "Carter Burwell - Biography". Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  5. "Love The Music Of Coen Brothers Films? You Can Thank Carter Burwell". NPR. February 7, 2016. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  6. "Carter Burwell to score "Theater of the New Ear" with Coen Brothers and Charlie Kaufman". March 3, 2005. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  7. Schillinger, Liesl (April 10, 2005). "Celebrities Opt to Be Heard Rather Than Seen". The New York Times. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  8. Learmonth, Michael (May 8, 2005). "Theater tunes 'Ear'". Variety. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  9. Burlingame, Jon (May 14, 2009). "Carter Burwell Receives ASCAP Mancini Award". The Film Music Society. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  10. "Golden Globes nominations: the 2010 list in full". The Guardian. December 15, 2009. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  11. Shoukri, Tarek (September 2, 2015). "Middleburg Film Festival to Honor Composer Carter Burwell and Cinematographer Dante Spinotti". IndieWire. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  12. "41st Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. December 2015. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  13. Tapley, Kristopher (December 6, 2015). "Los Angeles Film Critics Name 'Spotlight' Best Film of the Year". Variety. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  14. "Nominations for 43rd Annie Awards Announced". Film Music Reporter. December 1, 2015. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  15. The Golden Globes (December 10, 2015). "2016 Nominations Announced!". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  16. "Satellite Awards 2015". International Press Academy. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  17. "'Carol' Named Best Picture by Intl. Cinephile Society". Variety. February 21, 2016. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  18. World Soundtrack Awards (October 19, 2016). "Winners of the 16th World Soundtrack Awards". World Soundtrack Academy. Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  19. "Carter Burwell Named Film Composer of the Year at World Soundtrack Awards". Film Music Reporter. October 19, 2016. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  20. "Oscar Nominations: The Complete List". The Hollywood Reporter. January 14, 2016. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  21. Heigl, Alex (February 27, 2016). "Where You've Heard First-Time Oscar Nominee Carter Burwell's Scores Before". People. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  22. "Notes on Hamlet Soundtrack". Retrieved March 6, 2017.
  23. "Carter Burwell to Score HBO's 'Olive Kitteridge' - Film Music Reporter". Retrieved July 10, 2017.
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