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ASCAP Workshop Spotlights Future Film Composers

Are these the faces of the future of film scoring?

Earlier this month, 12 young composers each got the chance to stand on the 20th Century Fox scoring stage, conducting a 65-piece orchestra playing their own music. It was the culmination of their participation in the ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop, a four-week immersion into the high-pressure, high-profile world of movie music.

As participant John Carey put it: “It was like getting to jump ahead 20 or 30 years in your career for a night, to a mock scenario where you would be scoring a major blockbuster film. Imagine being a quarterback in high school and suddenly getting to be in the NFL for a day; it’s just surreal.

“And after stepping off the podium my first thought was, ‘I have to figure out how to come back here and do this again.’”

Carey was one of four Americans chosen from among 300 applicants for this year’s program. Their fellow students hailed from Italy, Germany, Australia, Israel, Argentina, Wales, and Poland. Carey graduated from the USC scoring program, and has been working as an assistant to composer Brian Tyler, best known for his work with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the “Fast and Furious” franchise.

“If you can score for orchestra, you can score for electronics or anything else.”
Richard Bellis

Now in its 28th year, the workshop is produced by Mike Todd, ASCAP’s senior director for film and TV, and overseen by Emmy-winning composer Richard Bellis, author of the standard film-music text “The Emerging Film Composer.”

Bellis, now in his 19th year as mentor and coach, explains the concept of the program: “There is a level of sophistication to our profession that belies electronics and gear. There are skill sets, and pinnacle of those is scoring for orchestra. If you can score for orchestra, you can score for electronics or anything else.”

He refers to the commonplace practice, especially in TV, of using synthesizers and samples instead of real musicians, which was the accepted way of scoring films and TV until the mid-’80s. That’s when electronics became fashionable; the technology eventually became so good that some producers couldn’t tell the difference between live musicians and samples.

During the four weeks, students learn about music editing, the specifics of writing for various instruments, the business side involving lawyers and agents, orchestration and conducting, recording and mixing music.

Participants who have gone on to film and TV success include Mateo Messina (“Juno”), Joe Trapanese (“Straight Outta Compton”), Trevor Morris (“The Borgias”), Matthew Margeson (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”), Jim Dooley (“Pushing Daisies”), Rob Duncan (“Castle”) and Brian Byrne (“Albert Nobbs”).

The ASCAP Foundation underwrites the cost of the program. It’s free for all participants. From ASCAP’s point of view, says Todd, “it’s about getting to know a composer early in their career, and hopefully they’ll get to know us and what we can do for them. But it’s also about setting them up with the tools they need to compete in this environment.

“Let’s hope this is the future of film music,” says Todd, “one that can maintain the art and craft of writing for live musicians and not just pushing buttons.”

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