ASCAP's Television & Film Scoring Workshop Preps Next Crop of Composers

Paul Williams
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Paul Williams attends the 31st Annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards at The Ray Dolby Ballroom at the Hollywood & Highland Center on April 23, 2014 in Hollywood, California.  

It’s the stage where the scores for The King and I, Hello Dolly, The Sound of Music and The Day the Earth Stood Still were recorded, but on Monday (Aug. 3) night, the Newman Scoring Stage on the Fox Studio lot in Los Angeles turned into a field of dreams.

That’s when the students in ASCAP’s 27th annual Television & Film Scoring Workshop recorded their three-minute scores, standing on the podium previously frequented by legendary composer Alfred Newman while conducting a 64-piece professional orchestra.

The scoring session is the highlight of the month-long free workshop that brings the participants face-to-face with top composers such as John Powell and Bear McCreary -- not to mention orchestrators, sound mixers, music editors and other scoring professionals -- and prepares them both musically and practically for a life of composing.

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“We want them to walk away with access to all the resources here available in Hollywood because it’s still the premier place to come,” says ASCAP senior director of film & TV Mike Todd, who coordinates the program with ASCAP director of film & TV Jennifer Harmon and composer Richard Bellis.

The prestigious program, which accepts only 12 composers from more than 300 applicants yearly, has spawned an impressive alumni roster, including double Emmy winner Trevor Morris (The Tudors, The Borgias), Atli Örvarsson (Chicago Fire, Chicago PD), Emmy winner Jim Dooley (Pushing Daisies), 64th Prime Time Emmy Awards co-musical director Michael Bearden, Golden Globe nominee Brian Byrne (Albert Nobbs), and Mateo Messina (Juno, Butter, Young Adult).

“The best of the best emerge here,” says ASCAP chairman and president Paul Williams. Walking onto a recording stage with a large orchestra is still a thrill for any composer, Williams notes, but for those just starting out, “It’s a rare thing to be able to experience your craft with the finest musicians at the finest recording facility and a chance to really prove you have it.”

The workshop students have 10 days to compose three minutes of cues from one of four selected films. This year’s selections were How to Train Your Dragon Two, Rango, Mission: Impossible lll, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. “The most challenging part is we’re starting with absolutely nothing," says participant Toby Sherriff. “We don’t know what the director wants, don’t have any melodies or themes. We have to start from absolutely nothing and work our way up.”

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Participant Rebecca Dale, who came from London (other students this year traveled from Spain, Germany and Ireland), calls the program “the pinnacle of all workshops that as an emerging composer you can hope to go through.”

She compares the experience to finishing school: “They said to us the idea is to put the finishing touches on our training and send us out into the industry like a crack team of Navy Seals.” 

Composer Bruce Broughton, who is nominated for an Emmy this year for his work on Texas Rising and who recorded the scores for Silverado and the television series Dallas on the Newman stage, agrees. “Most of them, if not all of them, could go directly from here to a film,” he said as he prepared to watch this year’s participants.

“It’s not to say it would be the easiest thing in the world, but they would have enough under their belt that they would do well. A lot of people who do movies aren’t this prepared, frankly, to be blunt about it. I would say the next step after this is find something you can do that you can make money on.”


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