Future Film-Scoring Stars Take the Stage Through ASCAP Workshop

Richard Bellis awarded for mentoring composers in the ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop in Los Angeles.
Lester Cohen 

Richard Bellis awarded for mentoring composers in the ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop in Los Angeles.

Scoring a snippet of a major Hollywood film for an audience full of film-scoring veterans is not the easiest assignment. But for 12 composers early in their careers who took the stage Monday night in Los Angeles, it was a dream come true.

"I was told to expect the unexpected," said Ana Kasrashvili, 30, a native of Rustavi, Georgia, who took part in the ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop, where participants wrote original music for three-minute film scenes and had a 64-piece orchestra present their results to the crowd on Fox’s Newman Scoring Stage. "It was challenging, but I'm proud of it and it's going to be a key part of my portfolio."

Kasrashvili, who scored part of director Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange, and the other participants competed with a pool of more than 300 applicants for a chance to be part of the four-week program, now in its 29th year. The workshop culminates this week with field trips, feedback and the task of scoring part of a major feature film.

Richard Bellis, the program's mentor for 20 years, says the workshop gives composers exposure to the industry that a university course cannot.

"We look for an ability to write for the orchestra and a knowledge for the orchestra," said Bellis, who this week was given an award by his colleagues for his dedication to the program. "It's not just about the ranges of the instruments, but what is playable by a human being who is subject to fatigue and attitude and all of that stuff."

The program is practical, but also a good way to build contacts and reputation, said Joseph Trapanese, who participated in 2009 and is now working on major shows and films as a composer, including the upcoming Sony feature Only the Brave starring Josh Brolin, Miles Teller and Jennifer Connelly.

"We have an extremely difficult job, and standing in front of 60 musicians can be really intimidating," said Trapanese, who showed up this week to support the new class of participants. "Everyone is there to help you succeed, and that is truly inspiring and I look forward to it every time I get to make music and work with an orchestra."

ASCAP Film and TV membership executive Michael Todd told Billboard that industry veterans scout talent in the program to see who they want to work with next.

"At the end of the day, this is a people business and you have to play well with others," said Todd. "This program is an acknowledgement of your ability to write successfully and puts you a leg above when people see this on a résumé."

ASCAP’s Jennifer Harmon agrees, adding that the program also exposes the 12 composers to contracts, agents, attorneys and things that will help guide a composer into his or her career as they began circulating their work and book projects.

"We like to have that bridge between the director experience and the composer experience," Harmon said. "Alumni often come back and give back because of that positive experience."

This year, the program included 10 men and two women whose work was heard in a "blind" application process. Even though the ratio between the men and women isn't balanced, Harmon said many people behind the scenes are working to encourage more women to apply.

"It is a white male community that dominates the composer world," Harmon acknowledged. "There are advocacy groups for female composers, and through a separate program through ASCAP, we work to introduce [female] composers to filmmakers, typically a group of diverse people."

For Kasrashvili, who began writing music when she was 6 years old, the program will allow her to expand her choices as a composer, and while she returns to Eastern Europe, she hopes to be back soon to work as a composer.

"I got to make many new connections through this program, and that's so valuable," Kasrashvili said. "In Georgia, it's much harder to do this kind of work, so that's why this program is so important."