ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop Guides the Next Generation of Composers

Forrest Gray performs in 2016
Lester Cohen/Getty Images for ASCAP

Forrest Gray performs during the ASCAP 2016 Film Scoring Workshop on the Newman Scoring Stage at Fox Studio Lot on Aug. 1, 2016 in Century City, Calif.

“The orchestral score is not going anywhere. It’s not outdated. It’s timeless and it will always be part of the industry vocabulary. It’s a very important core skill set,” says composer Richard Bellis. “We know that there is wonderful work done with electronic sound, but if you have this skill, you can do whatever else you want.”

As mentor for ASCAP’s Film Scoring Workshop for the past 19 years, that’s one of the messages Bellis hopes to impart to the 12 young composers who take part in the month-long prestigious program.

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On Monday night, the participants each took their turn on the podium at the legendary Newman Scoring Stage at Los Angeles’ Fox Studios and conducted a 64-piece orchestra through three-minute cues they have spent the past two weeks writing. The four-week program guides the composers through all stages of the scoring process both creatively and professionally, including meeting with agents, lawyers, top composers, editors, orchestrators, arrangers and orchestra contractors.

“It’s important to put people on the right path,” says Jennifer Harmon, ASCAP director of creative services, visual media, who runs the program with ASCAP’s senior director of film & TV/visual media Mike Todd. “They already have the talent, they already have some level of education, and now we’ve introduced them to people who will be useful to them in building the next steps in their career.”

The participants, who come from all over the world, including Italy, Wales and Poland this year, pay their own expenses, but the program is free, courtesy of the ASCAP Foundation.  “This is a craft that we want to keep alive,” Todd says. “By meeting talented composers early in their career, we can establish loyalty and let them know who ASCAP is.”

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It’s an investment that has paid off. Now in its 28th year, the Film Scoring Workshop has such prestigious alumni as Matthew Margeson (Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Skyline, Kick-Ass 2), Joe Trapanese (Straight Outta Compton, Insurgent, Oblivion) and Emmy winners James Dooley (Pushing Daisies) and Trevor Morris (The Tudors, The Borgias).

Forrest Gray, 23, hopes to join those vaunted ranks. At 16, Gray scored the end-title scene for Steven Soderbergh’s And Everything Is Fine, a documentary about his late father, Spalding Gray. He went on to attend Berklee College of Music and the University of Southern California’s film scoring graduate program and looks at the workshop as “an extension of grad school. … The greatest lesson I’ve learned is [to ask] ‘Does the scene need music?’ I knew it intellectually, but I never knew it on a visceral level.” On a more practical side, he’s also learned, “It’s really about who you know in this industry.”

Though many of the participants are already working as library composers, arrangers or assistants to some of the top names, including one participant who works with eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken, Bellis stresses the workshop can provide a top-level experience that is unheard of at their pay grade. “For one month, we give them everything that James Newton Howard would have for one cue: a state-of-the-art crew, music editor, scoring mixer, contractor, copyist, orchestra.”

Where the composers go from here is up to them, but they walk away with knowledge, experience and a demo -- played, recorded and mixed by the best in the business -- that rivals the quality of any top composer. “It’s like giving them the key to the Ferarri,” Todd says.