In This Section

Composers Lab

Sundance Music And Sound Design Labs At Skywalker Sound

Applications open: Feb 10, 2014
Application close: April 4, 2014

apply now
read more about applying

Each summer, Sundance Institute holds two Labs for composers, one focusing on feature film, the other on documentaries. Both Labs provide a group of talented composers with valuable first-hand experience composing for film. By pairing participating composers with emerging filmmakers supported by the Institute's Feature Film Program and Documentary Film Program, the Lab's two segments aim to enhance the role of music in independent film. Held at Skywalker Sound, each filmmaker/composer pair also work closely with an in-house Sound Designer. Music and sound design are treated as integrated aspects of the overall sound world of the film. With leading film composers, directors, music editors, and music supervisors serving as Creative Advisors, Lab Fellows work closely with filmmakers in a supportive atmosphere designed to promote experimentation and collaboration.

Selection of Fellows

Each year, the Film Music Program selects a small number of composers to participate in the Labs. Four fellows are invited to the Music And Sound Design Lab: Documentary and an additional six are invited to the Music And Sound Design Lab: Feature Film. The Program is focused on supporting accomplished composers from a wide range of musical backgrounds, which may include composers with previous experience writing for film as well as accomplished composers working outside of film whose work is suitable for film scoring.


In addition to the creative support that Lab Fellows receive, Sundance Institute covers all the costs associated with attending the lab including: airline travel, accommodations, and meals onsite for each Lab Fellow for the duration of the Lab.

Sundance Music And Sound Design Lab: Feature Film

In the summer of 1998, Sundance Institute launched the Composers Lab, building upon earlier work done by composers at Sundance (1986-89) and extending the Institute's commitment to music in independent film.

The Lab has a dual purpose:

  • To provide a group of talented composers with valuable first-hand experience composing for film
  • To enhance the musical understanding of independent filmmakers participating in the Institute's Feature Film Program.

Composers have little opportunity to gain first-hand experience working with filmmakers, which is a key ingredient in doing quality work and having a successful career as a film composer. By bringing composers, filmmakers, and sound designers together in an atmosphere of experimentation and collaboration, we hope to fill a gap in the training of talented emerging composers. Those who are awarded Fellowships will be accomplished composers, but will not necessarily have had extensive experience creating film music. As with the other Sundance Institute programs, we are primarily interested in identifying and supporting artists who have an original voice and in assembling a group that reflects stylistic and cultural diversity.

It is very common in independent filmmaking that the music is considered very late in the process. Filmmakers often operate with an eleventh-hour mindset: depleted funds accompanied by a lack of knowledge of musical options. Our goal is that by working directly with emerging composers in a Lab setting with an emphasis on process, the filmmakers from the Feature Film Program will gain the tools with which to approach music as integral to their overall creative process. Likewise, it is typical that music and sound are dealt with as separate parts of the post-production process; often sound designers and composers do not interact until the final mix of a film. We are passionate about advocating for an early collaboration between filmmaker, composer, and sound designer with the result being a film that has an integration of all sound elements. In addition, by holding the Lab at the Skywalker Sound, we will be able to make use of the sound stage for live recording of certain cues.

While Lab schedules change from year to year, the following is a rough idea of what goes on at the Music and Sound Design Lab: Feature Film:

Week One - Composers work individually, each in their own workstations. A film is chosen as a case study and the Fellows are given three scenes to score. After the completion of each scene, one of our Advisors (who typically scored the film under discussion) leads a critique of the cue. Most importantly, each composer has an opportunity to see and hear what their colleagues have done with the same scene. The Advisor also leads a seminar in which they show examples of their own work and discuss their process.

Week Two - Each composer is paired with a director from the Feature Film Program and a Sound Designer from the Skywalker staff. The groups meet to decide which scenes will be scored, which sections might benefit from music and which from sound, and, as the week progresses, they meet several more times to discuss the music and sound as they progress. An established Composer/Director pair is on hand as Advisors, guiding and offering insights, and showing examples of their own work. The week ends with a day of discussions with music supervisors, film music agents, and music executives regarding the practical matters of navigating a career in film music.

Sundance Music And Sound Design Lab: Documentary

Working from the realization that documentary filmmakers were increasingly incorporating music as one of their storytelling tools and the knowledge that composers for documentaries face unique challenges, the Composers Lab: Documentary was established in 2005 to provide a small group of talented composers with valuable first-hand experience composing for documentary film and to enhance the musical understanding of independent filmmakers supported by the Institute's Documentary Film Program.

During the week of the Lab, composers are paired with documentary filmmakers and sound designers, and each group decides on a section of the film to score. There are director and composer Advisors present to help guide the process and to show examples of their own work and process. In addition to the Advisor presentations, there are group discussions of issues such as spotting and the special concerns in scoring a documentary.

2014 Music And Sound Design Lab Dates

Music And Sound Design Lab – Feature Film: July 8-22, 2014
Music And Sound Design Lab – Documentary: September 15-23, 2014 


If you have additional questions about how to prepare your application, click here for our FAQ.

Special Thanks

Sundance Institute gratefully acknowledges the following organizations who have generously provided assistance in supporting the Film Music Program.

Express Shuttle
Native Instruments

Ola Loa “Fizzy” Vitamins
Skywalker Sound