Once in a while my editors at Variety will commission an essay on a topic of current interest. They asked for two in December, and I found both fascinating: A long piece looking at the progress, or lack thereof, that women composers have been making in film and TV music; and a second, somewhat lighter in tone, about the current popularity of television themes — mostly on the streaming services — and how they seem to be more memorable lately.
Wow, two great Variety assignments in a row! First, writing about the year’s first stunning score, John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. And now, the chance to preview Pinar Toprak’s memorable music for Captain Marvel, which opens Friday. It’s a landmark moment not only because Toprak is the first woman to score a Marvel film, but its likely box-office success will shine new light on the unfortunate statistics about gender bias in film scoring. And the film’s huge opening weekend instantly made her the most successful female composer, box-office-wise, in American movie history. I used that statistic as a jumping-off point for a discussion of what this may mean for other women in film music.
I am proud to say that I have been writing about female film composers for decades (from Shirley Walker to Rachel Portman to Anne Dudley to Lolita Ritmanis and many others along the way). I have waited for many years for a woman to score a big-budget franchise film, and now it’s finally happened. Pinar Toprak, the Istanbul-born, super-talented composer of TV’s Krypton, has been signed to compose the music for Captain Marvel, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was delighted to announce it in this Variety story.
A year ago, in August 2016, a unique and important concert happened in downtown Los Angeles: A 55-piece orchestra and 30-voice choir performed the music of 20 leading film, TV and game composers — all of whom happened to be female. Sponsored by the Alliance for Women Film Composers to call attention to their underrated but wildly talented membership, it was filmed by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Sara Nesson, who has turned the experience into a 12-minute short. For this piece in Variety, I interviewed Nesson and two of the composers showcased on that concert, Lolita Ritmanis (Young Justice) and Germaine Franco (Coco).
It was a pleasure to moderate a panel at Friday’s ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. The topic was “Women in Film Music” and the panelists included composers Lesley Barber (Manchester by the Sea), Stephanie Economou (The Zookeeper’s Wife), Carly Paradis (Line of Duty) and Pinar Toprak (The Lightkeepers). ASCAP’s Rachel Perkins also introduced Lolita Ritmanis of the Alliance for Women Film Composers and Tracy McKnight of Women in Film, who kicked off the discussion about the expanding profile of female composers for film, TV and games. It was a stimulating hour with these thoughtful, remarkable women and I was honored to be on stage with them.
British experimental-pop musician Mica Levi is only the fourth woman to be nominated for “original score” at the Academy Awards. Her music for Jackie, bold and even startling as applied by director Pablo Larrain, has won attention throughout this awards season. I interviewed her while she was on tour with her band in Europe, and Variety published the Q&A in this week’s Contenders Extra Edition.
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.
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.