ASCAP bows in Los Angeles

Workshop offers composers helpful sanctuary

Today’s film and TV composers face stiffer competition amid tougher circumstances than ever. Despite the daunting odds, the mood was optimistic at the opening night of the 21st annual ASCAP Television & Film Scoring Workshop July 7.

Comprised of 12 eager and young composers, the workshop members gathered around a conference table at ASCAP’s Sunset Blvd. headquarters to hear what was in store for them over the next three weeks.

“This is a very strange time to be involved in [composing],” said Emmy-award winning composer/arranger and ASCAP board member Richard Bellis.

Struggles include too many composers vying for too few jobs. Meanwhile, competition and economics have driven down music budgets for many productions. In 1999, a film’s budget range was often $55,000-$60,000; today, it may be less than $14,000.

“You’re embarking in a business right now that is in cattle-call mode,” Bellis said. The composer, who is leading the seminar for the 12th time, said the workshop is designed to teach aspiring composers how to be “spotted in the herd.”

The workshop’s participants, who were chosen from hundreds of applicants from all over the world, will write and score a three-minute cue complete with orchestration between now and July 31. Toward the end of the free workshop, which includes hands-on sessions with top composers, arrangers, editors, orchestrators and copyists, the dozen will each conduct their score with a 60-piece orchestra on the Clint Eastwood Scoring Stage on the Warner Bros. lot.

Many of the composers come to the workshop with experience scoring documentaries, indie films, video games and television programs. Rhett Nelson, who had applied three times previously, scored the trailer for Will Ferrell’s “Land of the Lost” and composes for the Disney series “Aaron Stone,” but is hoping to increase his activity in Hollywood. “Right now I work everywhere but Los Angeles,” said the Texas native. The Los Angeles resident added that he is “close” to being able to make a living from his composing.

While Bellis and his colleagues will teach musical skills to the participants, they will also pass on practical tips. For example, Bellis pointed out the value of a little detective work. If you’re hoping to work with a particular director, Bellis advised, find out his or her age. That way, the initial meeting could include discussion of the music that ushered them through puberty – the music, Bellis said, that would likely remain sacred in their lives. He also suggested modeling the director’s clothing style.

While this might seem to be stalkerish behavior, Bellis said it was “creating comfort zones.” Composers, he said, must learn how to speak to directors in their own language. “You have to be in the film business,” he said. “The director is not going to be in the music business.”

The success of the program can be measured in the work its graduates garner, Bellis says. Alumni include Emmy-winning composers Trevor Morris and Jim Dooley and Oscar-nominated scorer Mateo Messina.

ASCAP’s Mike Todd and Jennifer Harmon also help facilitate the workshop. Sponsors include Avid, Ole Music, Screen Actors Guild, Recording Musicians Assn. and the ASCAP Foundation.

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