Composers reflect on ASCAP workshop

Participants look back on 'fantastic' experience

Three weeks of their lives came down to this: For the final session of the 21st annual ASCAP Television and Film Scoring Workshop on July 31, the composers sat in a Sony Studios screening room, watching the movie clips they’d scored earlier in the week.

It was a scene they all hope to repeat for years to come.

“It was quite overwhelmingly fantastic,” said Dan Baker, who attended the workshop from Sydney. For Baker, part of the appeal was the scope of the Hollywood composing scene. “I was excited at the possibility of standing in front of an orchestra with a huge screen in front of me.”

For Rhett Nelson, who was accepted to the program after applying three times previously, the workshop left him with the resolve to “set my sights higher,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re working on your career and you’re down in the trenches, you lose sight and you lose vision of what the goal is.”

As soon as London-based Maurizio Malagnini landed in Los Angeles for the workshop, he learned that he’d won a BBC commission to score a 26-episode series starting in September. “The composers helped you to improve your approach with the producer, director, production company and the networks,” he said. “That was even more useful for me knowing I’m going to do it.”

For Miles Hankins, the dose of business reality mixed with the musical lessons was refreshing. “I’m glad [workshop leader] Richard [Bellis] is so candid, especially with regard to the financial state of composers and the idea that music budgets are shrinking,” he said. “You expect to hear that this is all going to be idyllic, but it was very real and very honest.”

Bellis, who conducted the workshop for the 12th time, considers his work done if the participants remember that music comes from the heart and mind, and not a soulless computer. “I told them at the onset, you need to put a period of time between viewing the film [you’re scoring] and going to the computer in which the only thing you can do is something you can do with your eyes closed: You have to imagine. Then go to the toolbox and get out the tools you need.”

And perhaps not surprisingly, Bellis ended up learning something, too. “I get energized and I get a fresh view and fresh ideas” from the students, he said. “It’s natural for us old timers to get jaded about the state of the industry. No matter how difficult the challenges are for [the participants], it doesn’t seem to faze them. It’s a good lesson.”

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