ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop Celebrates 30 Years of Training Young Composers

Joseph Trapanese
Rebecca Morellato

Joseph Trapanese

What do the composers for The Greatest Showman, upcoming release Blue Night and Kingsman: The Golden Circle have in common? 

Joseph Trapanese, Amie Doherty and Matthew Margeson, respectively, are all graduates of ASCAP’s Film Scoring Workshop who have gone on to become leading screen composers.  

The workshop celebrates its 30th anniversary this summer with the month-long program concluding this week. This year’s class, mentored by Emmy Award-winning composer Richard Bellis, totals 12 participants from six countries, selected from nearly 400 applicants.

Among the program’s other famous alumni are Kevin Lax (The First Purge); Joseph Bishara (Insidious 1-4); Daniel James Chan (Legends of Tomorrow); Sherri Chung (Riverdale); Jim Dooley (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events); Rob Duncan (S.W.A.T.); Maurizio Malagnini (Call the Midwife); Cliff Martinez (Drive); Mateo Messina (Superstore); Layla Minoui (Vampirina); Trevor Morris (Olympus Has Fallen); Julia Newmann (Doubt); Atli Örvarsson (Chicago Fire); Didier Rachou (Deadliest Catch); Erica Weis (American Housewife); and Austin Wintory (The Banner Saga 1-3). 

The Los Angeles program, produced by ASCAP Film & TV executives Michael Todd and Jennifer Harmon, connects the burgeoning composers with agents, music supervisors, leading composers, attorneys and studio executives, and culminates with each participant conducting a 64-piece orchestra on the Newman Scoring Stage at Fox Studios to a cue they wrote.

Photo credit: Lester Cohen
ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop participants, ASCAP executives and musicians gathered on the Newman Scoring Stage at Fox Studios in Los Angeles on July 31, 2018.

The experience often proves invaluable. For Trapanese, who participated in the 2009 scoring workshop after applying for five years, the networking paid off immediately. “One of the music supervisor guests needed a young composer to tackle a low budget feature,” he recalls. “I was asked to meet the filmmakers, and it became my first studio project.” 

Margeson, who was in the 2007 workshop, remains “regularly in contact and work with or have worked with many of the people involved in conducting the workshop when I was a participant,” he says.

Doherty was in the class of 2013, straight from graduating with her masters in film scoring from Berklee. Perhaps reflective of the male-dominated state of scoring, she was the only female participant her year, “which I definitely found intimidating before beginning the program,” she says. “But I realized on day one that, to everyone involved, I was just another composer, not the female composer, and was treated with the same respect and care as all of the guys.” This year, two of the participants were female.

For each of the composers, their workshop highlight was the recording session. “I scored a scene from How To Train Your Dragon,” Doherty recalls. “I distinctly remember the absolute silence right before we began recording, and trying to stop my hand from shaking as I stood on the podium waiting for the clicks. It was the most incredible, terrifying, addictive high…I hadn't done a whole lot of conducting before the workshop. Richard devoted a lot of time to conducting and gave us lots of tips on how to really get what we were looking for from the orchestra. These days, aside from composing, I work a lot as an orchestrator on Star Trek: Discovery, Fargo, Counterpart, etc. and am lucky enough to conduct sessions and work with many of the musicians who played on my ASCAP session that day.”

Similarly, for Trapanese, time spent on the scoring stage was a high point. “To lead an orchestra of the finest musicians in Los Angeles while also interacting with engineers, orchestrators, and a whole scoring team is a rarefied experience, something I did not take lightly,” Trapanese says. “After dreaming of conducting original music on a Hollywood scoring stage, it was actually happening - and I was good at it.  All the years of study and preparation, followed by weeks of mentorship from Richard Bellis and ASCAP’s guest artists, led to this one moment in time. The encouragement I received from that experience continues to fuel my excitement for what I do.”

Margeson took away lessons from his time on the podium that he still uses more than a decade later. “It definitely gave perspective on how precise your scores have to be, and how clear your dialogue with the orchestra has to be when giving them notes/direction.”

The composers, all of whom have returned to the film scoring workshop as guest speakers, also took away invaluable skills about how to manage the non-musical side of the business. “The most tangible way the workshop helped me seems subtle, but it really is a key to operating on a professional level in the industry,” Trapanese says. “The workshop prepared me to be a better collaborator with the group of people I have to work with on a daily basis - the filmmakers, executives, music supervisors, orchestrators, engineers, musicians - even fellow composers.  It illuminated how to operate on a high functioning level within our specialized industry and how to maximize the strengths of my collaborators.”  

Or as Margeson sums up, “I’d say when entering the real world of working as a composer -- always remember that there is a huge pool of talent out there. Always try to be a team player. Sometimes the difference between the person who gets the gig and the person who doesn’t has nothing to do with music." 

Five years later, Doherty, who is still reaping the benefits from her workshop experience, has some words of wisdom for future participants: “My advice would be to give it everything you have for those few short weeks. Be proud of being accepted to such a legendary workshop, and don't waste one second of it. The possibilities are endless. So much work that I have done in the past few years has stemmed directly from the ASCAP workshop.”