1) STEPHANIE, A FEW YEARS AGO YOU PARTICIPATED IN THE COVETED ‘SUNDANCE INSTITUTE’S MUSIC AND SOUND LABS’. CAN YOU PLEASE ELABORATE ON THAT EXPERIENCE?
Participating in the Sundance Music and Sound Design Lab in 2015 was one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences I have ever had. You’re fully immersed in an environment with like-minded professionals who are all striving for innovation and attempting to re-invent the traditional landscape of the collaborative process. A mentor up at Skywalker said to me on my first day “Don’t do what’s expected of you. Don’t approach your work here like you would working on an industry film. Be experimental, break out of the box. Fail. Try to fail.” They have sculpted this beautifully liberating and safe space for you to dive into unchartered territory, which as we all know, is a complete impossibility in the professional world. I made a concerted effort to go up to the lab without any of the key components of my usual setup (i.e. no template, limited selection of only the most necessary plug-ins and libraries), which blew open my entire process, forcing me to get more creative and exploratory with my workflow. It was this, coupled with the immensely nurturing and supportive atmosphere created by the other fellows, mentors, and administrators, that allowed me to grow and thrive as a writer and a collaborator.
2) YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING ALONGSIDE AN A LIST COMPOSER. BESIDES COLLECTING SOME AWESOME CREDITS, WHAT ARE SOME OTHER BENEFITS OF SUCH A COLLABORATION?
Working with Harry Gregson-Williams has allowed me the rare ability to work on high profile films while still being relatively new to the business. I’m in the room with directors, editors, producers, and studio executives from spotting to scoring, and that kind of exposure has enabled me to establish a strong rapport with potential future collaborators. Aside from those invaluable professional connections, one of the biggest benefits to working with him would be the mentorship he offers. Harry started out as a music educator at a young age, and I feel as though that teaching gene dictates our working relationship. To him, everything is an opportunity to impart wisdom–whether it’s deconstructing one of my sequences track by track, or throwing me up on the scoring stage podium unplanned to conduct a cue. He uses every endeavor as a window to train, hone, and test my skills. Harry is tough and demands the highest standards of perfection (which speaks to his continued success), but is also nurturing and knows how to prepare me for every possible situation, which at this stage of my career, I find to be wholly essential.
3) YOU ARE THRIVING IN A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY. WHAT IS THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE FILM INDUSTRY AND WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING FEMALE COMPOSERS?
I think the ideology that women fulfill a specific “role” in the film industry almost perpetuates the idea that we have to fit within the pre-existing confines established for us, which are outdated and archaic, and speaks volumes to why there is such a comparatively low representation of us, particularly in film music. I think our “role” is to be the best versions of ourselves, as composers and fellow humans, and hopefully offer a unique and individualized stamp on the creative world. However, because women are a marginalized sect of the film music population, I do feel like we express a different voice, which allows us to shift and re-invent the storytelling process. This refreshing perspective I think is one of the cornerstones of innovation in art. When we don’t allow for the presence of diverse voices, we’re severely hampering and limiting our view of the world. My advice to aspiring female composers would be to never let anyone tell you what your limitations are, and never feel like you have to act a certain way because you’re a woman in a room full of men. As women, everything we do or say (or for that matter, don’t do or say) is significantly more scrutinized. Being driven/focused is mistaken for being aggressive/unapproachable. Being quiet/reflective is mistaken for being uninterested/aloof. While it’s important to have an awareness of these disparities, never allow it to defeat you; let it fuel you. Be loud, be a force, break down walls. Make a positive impression on everyone you meet, but most importantly (and this goes for everyone), remember that modesty and humility are the most attractive traits of all.
4) BESIDES COMPOSING, YOU ARE ALSO A VIOLINIST AND A CONDUCTOR. HOW ARE THOSE ATTRIBUTES HELPING YOU IN YOUR SCORING CAREER?
I think being trained as a violinist has been an extremely beneficial tool in my career so far. I’ve played in orchestras and ensembles my entire life, and have gained an intimate understanding of string writing techniques, which has been an important foundation and heavily influenced my compositional style. I would only qualify myself as a “conductor” in the loosest way imaginable. I have so much respect for the amount of complexity and color a trained conductor can coax out of instrumentalists, and think that title of “conductor” is something that is earned through rigorous practice and study. But from my limited amateur experience, conducting is the most rewarding part of the composing process. So often, we’re crafting and programming music on a screen in a lonely windowless room, manipulating sounds that are the best approximation of the live performance experience. It’s easy to get derailed from that innately humanistic core which holds the entire musical process together. When scoring day rolls around, stepping on that podium and hearing a group of people breathe life and energy into the notes always feels like an awakening, and is the best reminder possible of why I pursued music to begin with.
5) ACADEMIA HAS PLAYED A LARGE PART IN YOUR MUSICAL GROWTH. DO YOU THINK THAT IN THE CURRENT INDUSTRY CLIMATE, IT’S ALMOST A PRE REQUISITE?
Certainly not. I think those who are approaching film scoring from a non-academic background, i.e. from pop or rock, bring with them a distinctive musical attitude and understanding, which wouldn’t otherwise have been nurtured or invented with a grounding in academia. There are no pre-conceptions of how form or harmony “should” function, and I think that provides for some very rich and colorful possibilities. I even find when such composers take on orchestral music, there can be some incredibly imaginative results, allowing for a more immersive and multi-dimensional listening experience. I do think, however, being classically trained and having a well-tuned ear is the most indispensable foundation to have as an apprentice to a decorated composer. I’ve been thrown into really high-pressure and time-sensitive situations where I’ve had to transcribe complex harmony and melody without the use of an instrument (and to my misfortune, without the benefit of perfect pitch). Having a rigorous education in theory, composition and orchestration has allowed me to keep my cool in circumstances such as those, and afforded me a certain level of confidence which can oftentimes be the most important skill of all. But I find most often I’m inspired by composers who have approached this industry from a drastically different path than I have. I think that’s the beauty of film scoring really–it’s through this collaborative medium that we can enhance the storytelling experience, while simultaneously telling a story of our own.