Say yes a lot, do your homework on projects in development and think twice about starting out as an assistant.
Those were some of the pro tips shared at the fourth installment of the REBOOT women’s empowerment workshop series hosted by Pulse Music Group.
During the recent two-hour panel, Kara Foley, senior director, film & TV for Pulse, spoke with a group that included composer, producer and songwriter Morgan Kibby; Pulse Music Group President, head of creative Maria Egan; Universal Pictures Executive Vice President of film music Rachel Levy; STARZ VP of music, business, and creative affairs Janine Scalise Boyd; and Rochelle Holguin, vp of creative music strategy for Viacom Brands. The team discussed their biggest challenges as women in music and dished out advice for those looking to break into the TV and film world.
Here are some of the highlights:
Camp Pays Off
Pulse Music recently teamed up with STARZ to host an all-female songwriting camp that featured mainly Latina songwriters, producers and engineers. During the two-day event, participants pitched tracks for specific scenes the television show Vida‘s second season. Foley and Boyd shared the results: “We had seven songs created and four out of the seven are being used,” said Boyd.
Holguin said that she’s benefited greatly from being her own champion, “especially when you are leading a team and you are a woman and you want to give credit to you team but also stand up for yourself and say, ‘No. I brought that and I led it.'” The executive also admitted that throughout the years, she’s personally found it hard as a female to try and take credit for her own work. “Since we are fueled by emotion, we have a tendency to want to spread the love; versus with a man, they don’t tend to think that way. As a woman, you think of other females and how it will be received and discount yourself in some respect,” she said.
Kibby said her biggest challenge has been to be taken seriously. “If you think it’s bad for female producers, it is so much worse than female composers,” she said.
Fighting the Snowball Effect
“I think there is a subconscious cultural assumption that we just don’t operate on the technical side of that profession,” Kibby added, noting that trying to break in without any credits is a catch-22. “If I don’t have the credit, I can’t get the studio film but then how do I get the credit? It snowballs and then you find yourself in a situation where you have been working for years and sometimes you can’t get over that lip of getting to the next level.”
Kibby suggested finding the females in power willing to take a chance on you. She raved about the Alliance for Female Composers, which has been instrumental in championing the work of herself and her female colleagues in the composing space. “They are very vocal about the fact that we can make noise: ‘Hi! There are female composers and here is a list of them.’ They have a wonderful directory you can go through,” she explained.
Beware of Assisting
Another issue that Kibby has seen is that women in her field are often relegated to being assistants. “And once you start assisting — which is a big reason why I decided not to go that route — you kind of get stuck in that role and there is no upward mobility because you kind of get categorized as, ‘Oh, the orchestrator,’ or, ‘Oh, she does additional music,'” she explained.
Still, for new composers, Kibby said it’s important to initially say yes a lot. “I knew that switching from the pop world to composition was a really big leap for me. And there was no reason for anybody to take me seriously. But I said yes to everything, every tiny demo, every commercial, every short film and then since I’ve been in the business for so long, it was actually one of my oldest friends who is a director who ended up hiring me for my first film. But that comes with saying yes to everything and being curious and being ambitious in the sense of just really throwing yourself into the work,” she explained.
Giving Newbies a Chance
A discussion broke out about how female executives need to find the balance between hiring someone already on their go to list and giving new talent a chance:
“For us at a big studio, it’s all about risk assessment,” said Levy. She added that there are absolutely opportunities in her company for up and coming females; however, it has to be the right project. “As talented as someone may be, we wouldn’t give a first timer Jurassic Park,” she said.
Holguin revealed that Viacom recently created a diversity initiative program in an attempt to give more exposure to people that don’t necessary get to meet people in the studio system. She also stressed the importance of building relationships in order to break through.
Kibby agreed. “There is no right or wrong way to go about it. In terms of experience, there is kind of this staircase that you have to walk. I don’t expect to get Aquaman, but maybe 5 or 10 years from now. But it’s really just being in your community, meeting people, developing relationships,” she said.
Keep Tabs on What Companies Are Doing, Tailor Your Pitches Accordingly
Boyd stressed the importance of being up to date on what studios are doing. “Educate yourself on what STARZ is working on. ‘Oh I hear STARZ has a Vida show that is employing all Latin composers and Latin DPs and directors for the upcoming season. Maybe I can make my intro through that,'” she said, as an example. “Or is there an African-American show and they are looking for all African-American directors,” she added. “Knowing that and knowing what Hulu is doing and all the different facets and all the different studios are working on and how you can swivel your way into that place can be priceless.”
Holguin said mastering the concept of emotional intelligence could take you far: “I would encourage you to read books about that or go to therapy. Understanding yourself and understanding other people will help you in this business — as well as being authentic to yourself and bringing your full self into anything you want to do.”