Broadcast Music, Inc. welcomed an enthusiastic group of more than 20 women for a first-ever luncheon and discussion on female composers working in film and television at the BMI Los Angeles office on August 20. BMI Vice President, Film/TV relations Doreen Ringer-Ross hosted the event, with BMI’s Lisa Feldman, Senior Director, Film/TV Relations and Anne Cecere, Director, Film/TV Relations in attendance, among other women staffers.
Ringer-Ross welcomed attendees and said in her opening remarks that this was “a celebration of progress” – of how many female composers there are now in the business. “Trust me, you’re not even all of them,” added Ringer-Ross, ” you’re as many as could fit at this table.”
Miriam Cutler kicked off the conversation by saying that, in an industry with an obvious gender gap, it’s time to learn how to answer the recurrent, and at times bothersome, question – “What’s it like to be a woman composer?” – productively.
Wendy Melvoin, who was in attendance with musical partner Lisa Kanclerz Coleman, explained that even though there is an overall power structure in the film industry, when it comes to gender in Hollywood, there is an Arctic Circle that is finally breaking and there are increasingly more women working as composers. Key to this, she said, was understanding the different roles that each power player holds, depending on the project – whether it’s a music supervisor, an editor, an executive producer or a director.
Pinar Toprak, 32, is among that new crop of working-women composers in Hollywood. She moved to the United States at 19 from Istanbul, Turkey, and saluted Bulgarian composer Penka Kouneva for having come such a long way from Hollywood and accomplishing so much here. Toprak added that her role as a mother is equally important to her career. “I never apologize to my daughter for working crazy hours,” she said. “I always give her advice and tell her, ‘I love what I do and when you grow up, I hope you do, too.’”
Lili Haydn brought up the notion of courage and how it’s the “right time to put the pressure on” female studio executives to make choices that empower other women. Andrea Saparoff jokingly brought up Madeleine Albright’s famous quote, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” which elicited laughs from the room. Saparoff added that film and TV are behind advertising, which is more conscious of the need for diversity and has implemented many initiatives to that end. “We need to look at those changes and figure out how to apply them to film and TV,” she said.
The Angel shared her experience as the second woman ever to score a show on Fox and more recently, TNT’s Hawthorne, for which she took the reins from Snuffy Walden. She spoke about competing not just with men for jobs but with “old relationships that came before us.” The Angel went on to talk about the importance of being fearless in the approach to forming new relationships with people in the business.
Penka Kouneva, who serves as lead orchestrator on the summer blockbuster Elysium, spoke about her love for mentoring other BMI composers, iZLER and Tree Adams, and said she really enjoyed hearing from her own role models, Lolita Ritmanis and Laura Karpman, who were also in attendance at Tuesday’s luncheon.
Karpman, who revealed she’s been told in the past that her music isn’t “masculine enough,” suggested that more mentorships for young women composers must be developed and the gender gap must also be addressed in the institutions mentoring and training musicians.
Ritmanis, who is known for her Emmy-winning work on animated series such as Batman Beyond, among many others, added that, “As a woman, it’s been a path of finding confidence in what I’m doing…it’s been hard but times are changing.”
In her closing remarks, Ringer-Ross said, “You all have such an incredible legacy and body of work to share and this event today was about making a statement.” She added that she hopes to make this event an ongoing one, an idea which the ladies in the room seemed excited about.