One of the most significant developments in the music community this year has been the advancement of women composers active in the visual media. For the lead story in this week’s special Contenders edition of Variety, I interviewed four composers with films opening in the last quarter — Anne Dudley (Elle), Lesley Barber (Manchester by the Sea), Mica Levi (Jackie) and Heather McIntosh (Rainbow Time), at least two of whom may well be up for honors during the coming awards season. I also report the shocking statistics about female composers scoring studio films; and interviewed composer and new Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences governor Laura Karpman and leading music supervisor Tracy McKnight about the strides being made, and what still needs to be accomplished in order to even out the playing field.
The music of On the Waterfront and Casablanca were the subject of “Upbeat Live” talks I moderated on Friday and Sunday prior to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s first-ever live-to-picture concerts of both scores at Disney Hall. David Newman, who conducted both, was on hand to offer musical insights into the classic Leonard Bernstein and Max Steiner scores. On Friday we were also joined by composer Laura Karpman, and on Sunday our guest was composer Charles Bernstein. Both Karpman and Bernstein are current governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences; this past weekend’s concerts marked the first of several events in the new three-year partnership of the Phil and the Academy. I also contributed the program notes for both films (Casablanca is here; On the Waterfront is here).
Over the years, I’ve written a number of stories about women composers and why they aren’t hired more often for studio films. Despite the grim statistics, things are changing, partly because of the creation of the Alliance for Women Film Composers, but also due to the Academy’s diversity push (which led to a boost in female members of the music branch this year) and the election of Laura Karpman as the first woman governor representing music on the Academy board. I examine all of these developments in the lead story for this week’s Music for Screens issue of Variety. Related story: Friday’s landmark concert in downtown Los Angeles featuring 20 women film and TV composers. Also in the current Variety: a story about the ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop for young composers.
I’ve known composer Laura Karpman for something like 20 years now. Her versatility is astonishing, shifting effortlessly from concert works (“Ask Your Mama”) to film/TV (Taken) to video games (EverQuest). Last year she, along with other distinguished composers, formed the Alliance for Women Film Composers and it’s starting to make a difference for its members. Variety asked me to profile Laura for this week’s “Music for Screens” issue.
The fact that at least 15 films at Sundance this year have been scored by female composers, and that the newly formed Alliance for Women Film Composers is celebrating there, was the reason for this story in the Sundance section of this week’s Variety. Among those interviewed: prime movers Laura Karpman and Miriam Cutler. At left is a photo from the original event (Aug. 20, 2013) that started it all — a who’s-who of women composers active in film, TV and games gathered together by BMI’s Doreen Ringer Ross.