1) MIRIAM, YOU HAVE SCORED AND RECEIVED EMMY NOMINATIONS FOR SOME INCREDIBLE DOCUMENTARIES. HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE FASCINATING WORLD OF DOCUMENTARIES?
Starting in the mid 1980s, I made the transition from performer-songwriter to writer/producer, because I wanted something more. Now I was making a living– playing in bands, writing ,producing, and pitching songs, and eventually scoring low budget films, industrials, and circus. I was getting songs into movies and as the studio technology evolved from analog to digital, I made my project studio much more professional. Although things were going well and I was actually making a living, after about ten years I began to question my direction. I put my heart and soul into the music but too often the films weren’t good. I love making music but I wanted to serve some higher purpose.
The turning point came in 1997 when I met a filmmaker at one of my screenings who was making a film called: License To Kill . When he told me that he was going into prisons and interviewing men who had murdered gay men to find out why they thought that was ok, I was floored – I had to work on this film. He was a very respected documentary filmmaker and this was a project I could really be proud to be part of. We went to Sundance, and a whole new world opened up to me. The film won two awards, and I was introduced to this amazing community of passionate documentary filmmakers. I felt like I had finally found what I was looking for…
From then on I became very focused. I started meeting more people and I went to Sundance every year. I made it my goal to become part of the doc community, and I have. It’s the kind of work I’m inspired to do and I’ve worked on many award winning documentaries that I am proud of. The Sundance Institute has been a huge part of that. I go to the festival, I have films there, I’m a lab advisor, they include me in a lot of wonderful things which has led to many other amazing opportunities.
2) A LOT OF THE MUSIC YOU HAVE COMPOSED HAS A DISTINCT ETHNIC FLARE TO IT. WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS OF REACHING THAT HIGH LEVEL OF AUTHENTICITY?
I first became interested in world music as a teenager – I was an avid folk dancer and really resonated with music from other lands – especially when played by instruments I hadn’t heard anywhere else. As a clarinet player, Greek, Balkan, Russian, Israeli, music opened up to me and I performed with some folk dancing groups. This developed a feel for additional time signatures, modes, scales, and rhythms that I’ve continued to be drawn to all these years. I also studied Anthropology at UCLA and was able to participate in UCLA’s brilliant ethnomusicology programs. This helped me understand and recognize the elements/essence of the music of other cultures. I have the tools to incorporate exotic elements into a cinematic score. It’s also important to know when to call someone who really is of a particular place for help, inspiration, and to record.
3) HOW DO YOU THRIVE IN A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY? I BET THERE MUST BE NUMEROUS TIMES THAT YOU ARE THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM RIGHT?
Not as much nowadays, but certainly over the past 25-30 years that I’ve been a musician, songwriter, performer, composer, and producer, there were often scant other women. I always knew instinctively that I had to be completely undeniable in these arenas, or I would never get taken seriously. I just hunkered down and worked hard, always gave 1000%, and learned how to be “one of the boys” when necessary. But also how to use the fun parts of being a woman to good effect when appropriate.
We like to think that there’s no longer gender stereotypes or a glass ceiling but I recently read in the trades that “a woman has more of a chance of being hired as a coal miner than she does as a film director. Statistics don’t lie: 4% of the directors that release feature films are women, and 2% are woman composers. It’s the lowest of the low so the statistics tell us that there’s no diversity in terms of who’s getting the major opportunities in the composing field.
4) WHEN I WATCHED ‘THE HUNTING GROUND ‘ I WAS DEEPLY MOVED BY ITS MESSAGE AND THE WAY YOU SCORED IT. DO YOU GET EMOTIONALLY ATTACHED WHEN YOU WORK FOR SUCH PROFOUND PROJECTS?
I absolutely engage emotionally to any film I work on. It is crucial to access my own emotional response to the material, but this must be mediated by the agreed upon role of the music in the film. Music supports the story and provides an emotional story arc which must be carefully calibrated to forward the vision of the filmmaker. We must be telling the same story, or the power of the film will be diluted.
5) WHAT CAREER ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO AN ASPIRING FILM COMPOSER AND WOULD YOU ADVISE DIFFERENTLY DEPENDING ON HER/HIS GENDER?
You have to be very tough to succeed in this business…you need so many skill sets, talent, and determination, no matter what your gender. Think outside the box to envision a career path designed around who you are, your specific goals, talents, skills, and passions. Value your artistic satisfaction and nurture your inner artist – so that you don’t burn out. Figure out where to meet filmmakers doing work that resonates for you. Practice and strengthen how to present yourself and your music- online, in meetings, at professional events, etc. Learn ways to create an economically sustainable business model. In today’s rapidly evolving industry environment, you need to understand how to monetize your work so that you can keep doing it. Join and support The Society of Composers and Lyricists (www.thescl.com). There you will have access to so many resources, learning opportunities, community, potential colleagues.
For aspiring women composers: Now that there are statistics and studies available, we see how much the odds are stacked against women. Most importantly, women composers need to stop being invisible. That is a major goal of the Alliance for Women Film Composers (www.theawfc.com) – to provide a clearinghouse, support, and a visible presence for women composers – in our online directory, our social media, through concerts, participation on panels, to be included wherever composers are spotlighted. There are so many of us already out there working, but we didn’t even know about each other. That is all changing…and the wind is at our back for this change. Join and participate in the Alliance. You will find many opportunities for support and growth by becoming part of our community.
And the story continues…