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ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop Celebrates 30 Years

An international group of young composers gathered for a session on the Newman stage at 20th Century Fox.

The Newman scoring stage at 20th Century-Fox was overflowing with people – and good will – as ASCAP last night celebrated the 30th anniversary of its Film Scoring Workshop with a studio recording session for the 12 lucky young composers chosen to participate.

“This is like a window into the time continuum, where you can look into the future and see those who are going to make a real contribution to film music,” ASCAP president and chairman Paul Williams said. “It’s a cultural gift in one sense, but on another level it’s a really smart business investment.”

The performing-rights society sponsors this four-week event for emerging film and TV composers every summer, with Emmy winner Richard Bellis at the helm. ASCAP arranges meetings with agents, lawyers, studio executives and experienced composers; this year’s field trips included visits to the studios of Junkie XL (“Mad Max Fury Road”), Matthew Margeson (the “Kingsman” movies) and Benjamin Wallfisch (“It”).

The high point is the recording session, where each participant gets 16 minutes on the podium to rehearse and conduct a 64-piece orchestra in their own music. This year they rescored clips from “Cinderella,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “A Cure for Wellness.”

Kyle Laporte, one of this year’s participants, called the workshop “a life-changing experience,” adding, “I couldn’t possibly have asked for a more exciting group of people to learn from – hearing their different perspectives, seeing their process, their way of thinking about picture and dialogue, how they see the business.”

Laporte is one of five American composers in the group. Three more are from the U.K., with others hailing from South Africa, Australia, Norway and Finland. Two of the 12 are women. It is free for those chosen.

Bellis, author of “The Emerging Film Composer” who is marking his 21st year as mentor for the group, says that the composers are “much more musically sophisticated” than in decades past, and that his own approach to the material and the participants has changed.

“When Fred Karlin started the workshop, it was more about synchronization [of music with image],” he said. “When I started in the ’90s it was how to value your work. Now we’re into non-musical aspects – your attitude, relationships, preparing for meetings, diagnosing a scene, being able to disagree with a filmmaker without acrimony.”

A number of past workshop participants have gone on to industry success including Stephen Endelman (“Madoff”), Cliff Martinez (“Drive”), Mateo Messina (“Juno”), Atli Orvarsson (“Chicago Fire”), Joseph Trapanese (“Straight Outta Compton”), Lynn Kowal (“Homicide”), Sherri Chung (“Riverdale”), Jim Dooley (“Pushing Daisies”) and Austin Wintory (“Journey” videogame).

Toronto-born Robert Duncan (“Castle,” “S.W.A.T.”) recalled his experiences in the 2001 workshop: “I got off the plane, went to the ASCAP workshop and never looked back. It was a mini-crash course in Hollywood and set my wheels in motion. It revealed the landscape of the industry to a newcomer. The contacts I made there have remained important to my career.”

Emmy winner Trevor Morris (“The Tudors,” “The Borgias”), another Canadian participant (from 1999), called it “a very important and prestigious chance to get inside Hollywood and learn more about how it worked. Getting to conduct on the podium with the finest musicians in Los Angeles was a game-changing moment. I knew right then I would move from Canada to Hollywood. It all started at the ASCAP scoring workshop.”

ASCAP Scoring Workshop-2018
CREDIT: Lester Cohen

Workshop producer Michael Todd reflected on the changes over the years. “When we started this, we were waiting for the tape to rewind,” Todd said with a laugh. “Submissions were on cassettes, and then on CDs.” Nearly 400 composers applied for the 12 available spots this year.

Co-producer Jennifer Harmon noted that the essential structure of the workshop has not changed. Participants spent an entire day with Junkie XL, she said: “That was very instructive, not only in the information he was sharing, but getting a glimpse into his studio life and how he handles himself with filmmakers.”

Both pointed out that the workshop has gained a reputation as a key starting point for talented composers.

ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews, also on hand for last night’s four-hour session, called it “one of my favorite events of the whole year.” She noted: “It’s core to the mission of ASCAP to help educate young creators, songwriters and composers, to help turn their hobby into a sustainable livelihood, an actual profession.”

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