On facing the scoring stage: 'Just shoot me now.'
The ASCAP Workshop process began months ago, when more than 300 applicants submitted their scores. Today, it was down to the dozen who would face a 60-piece orchestra on Fox Studios’ Newman scoring stage. They are charged with conducting their three-minutes of movie music; to accomplish this, each has just 16 minutes at the podium.
In the green room, you can hear the orchestra warming up as workshop composer Richard Bellis gives everyone their last instructions. “First thing to ask the orchestra is, ‘Any questions at all? Any suggestions?'”
“Three minutes, guys,” says Mike Todd, ASCAP’s senior director of music for film. The composers walk onto the stage; the orchestra is taking its last looks at music they have just received and will play for the first time.
Eric V. Hachikian is the night’s first composer. He takes the podium, baton in hand, and calls for the orchestra to tune to A. This accomplished, he counts them down into his score while the “Dreamer” scene screens above them. Suddenly, there’s live music accompanying the on-screen horse race, including an oom-pah-pah horn section inspired by actor Luis Guzman bobbing up and down as he roots for his horse.
I catch Anna Rice just before she goes on. “I’ve had technical problems with my computer,” she says. “I haven’t been able to hear the score enough.” Time seems to drag for her as she waits her turn; she mutters, “Just shoot me already.” However, she delivers when her podium time comes with a piece that includes a fun salsa section scored to the thugs-on-the-run from “Bruce Almighty.”
Rice’s playful theme is a good example of the composers’ personalities playing out in their music. In Sascha Peres’ take on “The Incredibles,” we see a precise, economical and confident score. He lets the tuba carry much of the melody, utilizing strings for tension.
Meanwhile, the musicians — veterans of so many A-list Hollywood sessions — are wholeheartedly enjoying themselves, smiling during tricky string parts and clapping heartily after each work. “I love doing this stuff, giving back, and am totally impressed with the level of the composers,” says principal viola player Brian Dembow. “They get better and better every year.”
Luke Richards is ready to go up when a union-mandated break pushes back the clock. “My body was like, ‘Let’s dooooooo this,’ ” Richards says. “I’ve never done any conducting before. This is a baptism by fire.”
Workshop alum Matteo Messina (“Juno”), who came to observe the session, recounts a similar experience. “I remember being scared in a good way. I had never conducted before, despite writing seven symphonies,” he says. “Life has a series of moments, great moments, and this was one for me.”
Current participant Patrick Murray echoes the sentiment. “It was an incredible experience, even if I had crashed and burned.” He did not; the Texan turned in a lush, wide-open melodic score for the horses-running-free ending to “Hildalgo,” using string hits (“spacatta”) and getting the orchestra to generate low rumbles reminiscent of a Dr. Dre bass line.
I had watched Austin Wintory labor over the logistics for “Dreamer” at JoAnn Kane and, while the language of composition was incomprehensible, the orchestra’s actualization is clear. He creates a sonic groundswell beneath the horses’ thundering hooves, ending with a somber horn as they cross the finish line.
It was 10:45 when the last composer, Jeff Kryka, reached the podium; everyone was tired. However, his “Hildago” score revived the room with an Appalachian-esque violin solo by session concert master Endre Granat.
Afterward, music editor Michael Ryan is ebullient. “The preparedness on your part is the best I’ve seen in all the years I’ve done this,” he tells the group.
“When you score a motion picture, you are learning what the composer has to say,” Granat says. “Here, every person is a motion picture unto themselves, their styles, writing. Every single cue is almost doing a whole motion picture. Difficult, but rewarding.
“I’ve met 12 tremendously talented people, marquee names of the future. It’s nice to know the future.”