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ASCAP delivers keys to the kingdom

Workshop opens doors for aspiring composers

When film and TV music comes to mind, some are hard pressed to think beyond strings for sad moments and saxophones for people about to make out. However, there’s an elite group who want to make timpani thunder when Kong approaches the villagers, think a single viola is the perfect counterpoint to a child being ripped from Meryl Streep’s arms or are convinced that when the ark went down a city street in “Evan Almighty,” it should have been backed by a brass quartet with a French horn solo.

These are the aspiring composers who clamor for the chance to become one of the 12 participants in ASCAP’s Television & Film Scoring Workshop. Now in its 20th year, ASCAP sifts through hundreds of applications and chooses a dozen would-be composers who, temporarily, receive the keys to the kingdom.

For the month of July, they will hear lectures from veteran composers and musicians, take field trips to studios and soundstages and then get the shot to do it themselves. Each participant is responsible for putting his or her musical stamp on existing pieces of film. The original soundtrack is removed and the tyro tunesmiths score a big-budget Hollywood movie scene recorded on the Fox soundstage, using many of the same musicians who supplied the film’s original music.

By the end of the workshop, each has the equivalent of a $20,000 demo, a wealth of contacts and possibility of a career. (Rob Duncan, class of 2001, is the composer for David Mamet’s CBS drama “The Unit;” Mateo Messina, class of 2005, went directly into writing the original music for a little indie movie, “Juno.”)

“It really sets out to cover every aspect of what a composer faces in the real world,” says Michael Todd, ASCAP’s senior director of film & TV music. “It’s the only program that affords the participants to use to the same elements that an A-list composer gets. At the same time, we are exposing them to all industry pros they would face in their career. Agents. Studio execs.”

Variety will take you through the entire process, with fly-on-the-wall posts from a reporter who’s “embedded” in the workshop (that would be me) as the participants move through almost a “reality-show” reality that Duncan likens to “becoming John Williams.”

To get this opportunity, more than 300 contestants submitted 15 minutes of music that demonstrated their ability write in a specific style — dramatic, comedic or romantic. The samples were sent to a group of industry vets and ASCAP execs for judging.

This year’s winners are: Marc Baril (Vancouver, Canada), Eric Hachikian (New York), Jaebon Hwang (New York), Jeff Kryka (Los Angeles), Adam Langston (London), Patrick Murray (Austin), Sascha Peres (Vienna, Austria), Anna Rice (Dublin, Ireland), Luke Richards (London), Tilman Ritter (Berlin), Austin Wintory (Los Angeles) and Gerrit Wunder (Vienna).

The workshop is guided by Emmy-winning composer Richard Bellis, who gives the low down on cues, sketching, orchestra technique, podium procedure, legal, union, mixing tips and music prep. All of this culminates in the actual scoring date itself, which plays out in a final showing of their work on the Directors Guild of America’s big screen.

This process goes until the end of July with three monetary awards being handed out – $5,000 $3,000 and $1,000, to be used at each composer’s discretion. As many of the participants are still in college or grad school, these come in handy.

Tonight (July 8) is the opening session, to be held at the DGA. I’ll be there and will report back on tonight’s topic: Pricing Your Work. As the workshop continues throughout the month of July, look for more reports on all things composing.

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