Kathriyn Bostic and Miriam Cutler Talk About the Alliance of Women Film Composers — Liz Whittemore Interviews

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AWFC_logo_B_on_W_400x85I had the wonderful opportunity to interview two board members of the Alliance of Women Film Composers (AWFC), a group I consider to be sister to AWFJ. AWFC’s mission statement is as follows:

Through advocacy, support and education, the Alliance for Women Film Composers aims to increase the visibility of women composers active in media scoring. The AFWC advocates for the inclusion of women composers within industry events; supports filmmakers, game developers and studios in their inclusion of women composers; and educates, mentors and inspires emerging women composers.
I spoke with Kathryn Bostic and Miriam Cutler about the challenges and advantages of this unique group of women in the industry. Read more…

Here we are in the year 2016 and we still need to create these memberships because we exist and work in an industry where the news and accolades mainly revolve around our male colleagues. As a board member of the Alliance for Women Film Journalists myself, I can clearly see the necessity of your organization. For someone not in the know of gender politics in the industry, tell us what inspired you to start AWFC and what you hope top achieve in its collaboration.

KATHRYN:
I was invited to be on the Board of the AWFC after it launched and was very encouraged by it’s Mission Statement to increase visibility and participation of women composers in all areas of media scoring. The lack of representation of women composers in the film industry is staggering, less than 1%. So by being a member of the AWFC, we are providing a resource for other women composers to know of, and support each other but even more importantly, reveal that there is indeed a resource of talented and award winning women composers who can and should be hired. Many times I have had conversations with producers and directors who don’t even have us on their radar, the perception isn’t there and therefore there is not an intention to change that or there is a reluctance to change that perception. AWFC is actively changing this by providing a platform for women media composers and those who support our endeavors. Membership to AWFC is not exclusive to women or women composers, we welcome anyone who supports our cause.
MIRIAM:
As you may know, I’ve been scoring films for almost 25 years. I always noticed that I didn’t see many other women working in my field. I was only aware of Shirley Walker, and later Rachel Portman and Nan Schwartz. I think because I’m a baby boomer and grew up during a time of strong gender roles, I always expected to have to be twice as good and never complain in order to be accepted as a musician. It never even occurred to me that I could one day become a film composer. I basically fell into it while writing songs and working as a musician. I knew from the start that my work and work ethic had to be undeniable. In the last 5 years or so, as I’ve achieved many of my professional and artistic goals, and I’ve been interviewed and been on panels many, many times. The question is always asked – “So…what’s it like to be a woman composer?” Like many of my female colleagues, I tried to fluff it off, talk around it, deny any issues existed because of my gender. No composer wants to spend their interview talking about gender. Imagine if we did that to the guys!…. But a few years ago, I was on a panel at the Cordoba Film Music Festival…Doreen Ringer Ross, executive at BMI, put together a panel of women with me, Rachel Portman, Beth Bobo Krakower….and all the usual questions came up. This time, I decided I should have something interesting to say. And so we took on the subject. As expected, we all had experiences to share about the ways being a women composer is different. When I got home, my wonderful colleague, fellow composer Laura Karpman and I continued the discussion, circled back to Doreen. She hosted our first get together at BMI, and wa-la – The AWFC was born.
What have been the most surprising things to come from AWFC?
KATHRYN:
The AWFC has galvanized women media composers and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how large and active this community is. We’re usually so isolated as composers so to realize that there is a growing and successful community of talented women artists is fantastic. This is creating a vast resource of networking and mentoring opportunities for those who are more established and those just starting their career.
MIRIAM:
The most amazing thing has been the incredible response and support we have gotten from colleagues, the industry, and the press, right out of the gate. Our first get-together at BMI, we had a photo taken and it was enthusiastically liked on FB by hundreds. We hosted a brunch at Sundance and we got a mention in Variety…and so on. Our timing coincided with the self-examination and public criticism of our industry’s lack of diversity. We showed up on the scene – offering something specific that they can support which addresses the issue.
How do we encourage young women and girls to enter into the industry without fear of “playing the woman card”, to use a phrase that makes my skin crawl, but has been so prevalent in the news lately. I look forward to the time when this is a non-issue, all these “cards” that are seemingly played.
KATHRYN:
I’ve always believed to do what you love to do and for me that is music. I focus on this and as a result, I’m provided with huge creative momentum in my life on many levels. I am not dismissive of the “isms” …sexism, racism, etc. because unfortunately they exist, but these are social constructs that I will not allow to disable the creative intent I have to write and perform music. My activism comes through doing what I love and having this resonate with people. I encourage young women and girls to revel in the exceptional and unique gift of who they are fundamentally and creatively. Surround yourself with people who support you and make you aim higher than what you may think and feel about yourself. Women are now in the forefront of great strides of achievement and recognition, definitely much needed and long overdue, the foundation of which is individual self acceptance and perseverance.
MIRIAM:
We believe that the most important way to encourage and support up-and-coming women composers is to offer visible role models who are working successfully in all facets of media. That is why we have created an online directory and do all we can to shine a spotlight on working women composers. Our goal is to make it impossible for someone to say, “I don’t know of any women composers – where are they?” We can tell them specifically where to go to see many, many options.
Where can we interact with some of your members in the near future?
KATHRYN:
The AWFC is hosting a fabulous free event in Los Angeles at the Grand Plaza in downtown Los Angeles on August 19th. It is an evening of women media composers performing their work with an orchestra. I’ll be performing alongside other women composers presenting a wide variety of score compositions and many people from the media scoring community will attend. It’s going to be a terrific night!
MIRIAM:
We are endeavoring to create more events to bring members together…but realistically….composers generally have very little free time. If we are working, we are on tough deadlines. If we aren’t working, we’re out pounding the pavement getting work, updating gear, or wood-shedding our skills. Some of the events in the works are more concerts featuring our scores (like the Soundtracks Live Grand Performances concert 8/19/16), workshops, social events, mentoring, offering assistant positions, etc.
What have been some of the challenges of organizing?
KATHRYN:
We want to have greater outreach beyond women media composers so I want to re-emphasize that we are not exclusive to women, or women media composers for support.
MIRIAM:
Honestly – the only challenge has been keeping up with the demand for more events and services. Like I said, we all maintain super challenging schedules. Everything else is falling into place…
Is this a job that you can walk away from when you arrive home? I know, for me, I oftentimes struggle to fully enjoy a television series or film because I am predicting what happens next or how I would have written a particular scene. Do you find yourselves composing as you watch or during your daily lives doing mundane tasks?
KATHRYN:
Sometimes this is the case because music runs through my veins 24/7 LOL! So yes, sometimes I’m inspired to spontaneously create or respond to what I’m hearing and sometimes I’m just appreciating it for what I’m hearing in that moment. The good and the bad, it’s all insightful for me in some way.
MIRIAM:
Can you hear me laughing? This is a 24/7 job that takes everything I have to do well. The workload is astonishing – especially because I am committed to working with live musicians. Once I’m on a project, every day up until I deliver is usually a work day. To do a high quality score, every detail must be worked and reworked – from composition, adjusting to constant picture changes, staying on time and on budget through recording and mixing. So – no – I don’t leave it at home (although my studio is at home). Ironically, while I prefer to work on documentaries, to escape I love movies full of mahem and destruction. Ha! If the score is doing it’s job I don’t focus on it. Unless it is musically outstanding. I also notice bland and disappointing scores…and try to learn from that.
Can you talk a little bit about work/life balance. As a mid-30′s woman with a now 6 month old, I have seen a major shift in my attention and abilities to produce work on the same level as I was pre-baby. How has family obligations, or perhaps lack there of, impacted members careers?
KATHRYN:
I think this is an individual dynamic and you find your way to make it work. I’ve been in relationships where there were blurred lines with the career and personal because my boyfriend at the time was also my music producing partner so there were times when that was extremely helpful and times when we’d differ creatively. All in all I think that’s what life is, finding balance.
MIRIAM:
That’s the million dollar question. I started on this career path in my 30’s. I was devoted, obsessed, and undaunted by anything. Here I am, some 25 years down the road. As you can imagine, my priorities and needs are changing. One thing I can stress, is that I have not found the way to balance my life while on a deadline. That’s probably why my favorite part of the process is composing the score. It’s peaceful, private, inspiring, and I can control my day – do the things that make me feel good and balanced. I collaborate with my filmmakers, and then go back to working alone. As the deadline gets closer, the fear sets in…and I start counting back from when it’s due, how many more picture changes there will be, how much music, how much time I need to record and mix…there are numerous moving parts out of my control that affect all this. Musician schedules, amount of music to record, music prep, engineer and outside studio availability – all must be coordinated carefully and updated constantly. To deliver a score that I am proud of, I must intricately plan the allocation of time and money. There is no room for error. Any mistakes cost me dearly. So yes, at this point in my career I am constantly searching for improvements to the way I work. Some of my younger colleagues are great at utilizing technologies to improve workflow efficiency. So the short answer to your question is – this is not a career path for people who aren’t willing to make it their priority. I think there is a certain A personality that is suited to this line of work.
When working on new projects, do you utilize the membership for feedback?
KATHRYN:
I think support and feedback is one of the biggest gifts of being in the AWFC. I’ve been made aware of situations and ideas I hadn’t even known about by being a member of the AWFC. There really is power in numbers and this organization effectively demonstrates how coming together to promote our cause for hiring and visibility can be a constructive game changer. I’m inspired and encouraged by the ongoing success of so many of our members and believe this is just the beginning. The AWFC is part of a larger picture that involves greater participation and leadership of women in areas that have primarily been male dominated. We are in the zeitgeist of an extraordinary and transforming time of history.
MIRIAM:
We have not yet developed that kind of process, although it would be great. It’s interesting to me that I rarely discuss my music with other composers. It’s between me and my filmmakers.
Ladies, I want to sincerely Thank You both for taking the time to chat with me. We all know how important it is to build each other up rather than tear each other down. I know that the Alliance For Women Film Journalists looks forward to supporting The Alliance For Women Film Composers for many, many years to come!

KathrynBosticKathryn Bostic is a Sundance Film Composer Fellow and an accomplished singer,songwriter and pianist. She has also written for Broadway and received numerous awards and nominations for her original music and soundscape textures. She composed the score for several award winning films including Sundance winners “Dear White People” (2014) Justin Simien-Best Breakthrough Talent and “Middle of Nowhere” (2012) Best Director-Ava DuVernay. She has also created the score for several award winning documentaries for PBS and ITVS.

Miriam-Cutler-150x225Emmy nominated Composer, Miriam Cutler has an extensive background scoring for independent film & TV projects, as well as two circuses. Her passion for documentary film has led to a focus in non-fiction and working on many award winning films for HBO, PBS, OWN, CNN and more. She is a long- time Society of Composers and Lyricists Board Member, and Sundance Institute Documentary Composers Lab Advisor. In June, 2013, Miriam invited by her peers to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a member of the Documentary Branch. In 2014 she was also invited to represent Documentary Film abroad for the US State Department’s Program, American Film Showcase. See website for credits.

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