Tuning In to ComposersLab: LA

Our first-ever one-day ComposersLab: LA was held Saturday, May 21, at the Downtown Independent theatre with aspiring composers, film and music students, and Composers Lab alumni (Kim Carroll, Lili Haydn, Vivek Maddala, David Poe, and Rani Sharone) gathering to gain insight into the development of film music.

The day began at 9:30 a.m. with registration and opening remarks, and, mindful that  the end of the world was imminent, participants were assured a full refund if the Rapture took place before noon.

Composer Thomas Newman at Downtown Independent theatre for ComposersLab: LA. Photo by Jonathan Leibson.

At 10 a.m., we jumped into the first of several one-hour advisor presentations. George S. Clinton led by showing clips from several of his movies with special attention paid to spotting. This was followed by a discussion with Thomas Newman and myself. Tom showed several clips and spoke at length about his process, how he approaches scoring a film, and the pitfalls and challenges he encounters. At noon, Scott Johnson gave a very concise account of the function of the music editor, the intricacies of temp music, how cue sheets work, and other topics. This was followed by a question and answer period with music supervisor and head of music at Lionsgate, our friend Tracy McKnight.

After a one-hour lunch break, we had a very frank and honest discussion with two film music agents, Seth Kaplan and Cheryl Tiano, joined by BMI’s Doreen Ringer Ross. While not discouraging, the conversation provided some reality about the difficulty of having a career as a film composer. The panelists discussed what the attendees needed to know about both when and how to get an agent, as well as what an agent can and can’t do. In short, a sobering but necessary conversation for many in the audience.

Tracy McKnight, head of music at Lionsgate, at ComposersLab: LA. Photo by Jonathan Leibson.

Composer Edward Shearmur presented next, and he alternated excerpts from his own work with some revealing clips by Jerry Goldsmith and others. This was followed by a sardonic and witty conversation with orchestrator Conrad Pope. One of the top people in the field, he is, among others, John Williams’ main orchestrator. Conrad provided some amusing historical perspective on the business of film music and urged composers to think beyond the typical walking that their fingers do through the computer and to go for true musical possibilities. We concluded with a brilliant and well-ordered presentation by composer Christopher Young, who showed clips and talked about the different categories of film scoring.

The day moved quickly, and since the world did not come to an end, we had a cocktail party at 6 p.m. After mixing and mingling on the roof of the Downtown Independent, participants were treated to a live performance by a quintet of Lab alums, and then returned to the roof for more drinks and talk.

It was a concentrated, diverse, and inspiring day. All of the participants seemed appreciative, and it was gratifying to not only supply some needed public programming, but also to tap into and create a community of film music practitioners.

Lead photo: