Leveling the Score: Alliance for Women Film Composers celebrates & advocates for female artists

AWFC collage

by Linda A. Rapka

Composer Laura Karpman never envisioned she would be participating in an organization like the Alliance for Women Film Composers, let alone serving as its president.

“I had hoped that my career, plus the careers of a few of my contemporaries and those who have come before us, would create myriad opportunities, equal opportunities for everyone,” Karpman said.

However, a need was seen to level the score for women in the current composing climate, and last September the Alliance for Women Film Composers came to life. The brainchild of AFM Local 47 members Karpman and Lolita Ritmanis and former member Miriam Cutler, the AWFC aims to increase the visibility of women composers active in media scoring through advocacy, support and education initiatives.

“It’s not a feminist movement per se, it’s about awareness and equal time, to make producers aware that there are these choices,” said Ritmanis, who was brought on to the Alliance not only for her own accomplishments but also because she was mentored by the late Shirley Walker, a trailblazer for women working in the film music industry from the late 1970s up to her passing in 2006. “There’s this idea that there aren’t that many of us out there, but there really are a lot. To gain that visibility, especially for people who don’t have agents and publicists, you have to let people know what you’re doing. That’s another thing that the Alliance can do really well, is be a good advocate.”

“It’s saying something that’s also politically important: that we exist, that we’re fabulous composers, that we are working, that we have tremendous opportunities and deserve more opportunities,” Karpman said. “In the current climate of everything and a lot of activism that’s going on right now in Hollywood, I think it’s beautifully timed. Our aim for the Alliance is in five years to grow larger than anyone could possibly imagine, and in 10 years, become utterly unnecessary.”

With a membership of over 100 and growing, the AWFC strives to realize this goal through initiatives, meetings and gatherings to address issues of career development, networking, representation, and opportunities. Members also actively lobby for the inclusion of women composers in studies and research about women in media, and advocates for inclusion in performances, broadcasts, festivals, grants and awards.

The Alliance kicks off its first major public event on Aug. 19, when the works of women composers will be highlighted at the popular Grand Performances free summer concert series with The Women Who Score: Soundtracks Live. Music by an eclectic group of female film, TV and video game composers will be celebrated and performed live by a 45-piece orchestra, covered under a new collective bargaining agreement with AFM Local 47.

“It’s great the union is giving us such an opportunity to be able to hire more musicians,” Ritmanis said. “This is also about raising the awareness of the fact that you can do things union. It is possible! It is possible for us to work with our musicians union and get everybody working.”

The concert is also presented in association with The Film Music Society. “Hollywood has a rich history of music written by women,” said producing director Marilee Bradford. “This concert will draw long-overdue attention to women composers’ important contributions to film scoring and will help further the legacy of the art form.”

“These film music concerts today, if we’re lucky, feature one woman, and more frequently feature none,” Karpman said. “We have a tremendous sisterhood, and that’s a beautiful thing. But ultimately we want to be wrapped into the fabric of our community and not have to do a female-only concert in contrast to all the other concerts. We want to stop thinking about this just like we want to stop thinking about sexism, racism, homophobia. We want all of these things, the ‘-obias’ and the ‘-isms,’ to be gone. And this is a first step in that.”

The program includes works by late Emmy winner Shirley Walker, Academy Award winner Rachel Portman, four-time Emmy winner Laura Karpman, Emmy winners Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, Emmy winner Lolita Ritmanis, Kathryn Bostic, and Emmy nominated Miriam Cutler.

“We could put on 10 of these concerts and have them be fabulous, all with different people,” Karpman said. “And that’s our hope, to do this every year and have a completely new crew of people.”

AFM Local 47 is proud to serve as concert co-sponsor along with 20th Century Fox, A Muse Management, ASCAP, APM Music, Berklee College of Music, BMI, Fortress Talent Management, The Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency, K-Mozart, KPFK, Kraft-Engel Management, Music Fund of Los Angeles, Peter Rotter Music Services, Recording Musicians Association, Sony Pictures, The Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros. Entertainment, and White Bear PR. The venue became secured with the help of Tony Scudellari, senior vice president of Sony Pictures Television Music.

“I’m very passionate about greater diversity in the hiring of composers for our TV shows,” he said, “and I was surprised to learn that there has not been a concert showcasing women who compose for film, TV, video games and other media. I have been a fan of the work of Grand Performances for presenting artists and music highlighting the diversity from around the world and bringing it all free to an audience in Los Angeles.” When Scudellari proposed the idea to Grand Performances executive director Michael Alexander, he was “immediately supportive. From those conversations I was able to hook up Grand Performances and the Alliance, and the response and support from those in the music community has been tremendous.”

“There are a lot of people who have their eyes on what we’re doing here,” Ritmanis said. “It’s not just executives and producers, it’s little kids. It’s little girls that look up and say, ‘Wow. There’s a girl’s name on the screen. Maybe I can be a composer, too.’ It’s an important thing to lead by example. In five years or in 10 years hopefully we won’t need this, but right now it’s a good thing to have.”

To learn more and join the AWFC, visit theawfc.com.