WFTV Members Taking Part in Concert to Make Noise For Female Composers
The stats about female composers in film and TV speak for themselves: between 2007 and 2017, women comprised just 1% of composers hired on the top 100 fiction films at the US box office. And here in the UK, women account for just 4.43% of all music composer credits on British films produced between 1911 and 2017.
These figures, whilst shocking, have prompted positive action. In 2018, a global database of women composers was established on freethebid.com, and in the UK a Women Composers’ Forum was set up to enable composers to support and empower each other.
Next month, The ComposHER concert will take place in Hackney (London), and will showcase works by 12 talented female composers, including WFTV members Nainita Desai, Jessica Jones and Anne Nikitin (pictured above). We caught up with the three of them, along with Ruby Wasmuth and Jenna Fentimen from management agency Manners McDade (who have organised the concert) to find out about their own experiences composing for film and TV, and to dig deeper into how we can create positive change going forward…
“My biggest challenge was convincing people to take me seriously as a composer… I’ve fought hard to avoid being stereotyped with race and gender”
“As any freelancer will tell you, it’s difficult to turn down jobs,” Anne says. “You might really love the project; or you’re afraid to lose the relationships you’ve built up with certain directors and editors; or you worry things will dry up. But if you don’t say no, you can easily find yourself taking on too much, and when projects overlap the pressure really kicks in.”
Anne, Nainita and Jessica share common challenges and fears which will be familiar to anyone in a freelance role within the industry:
“Starting out was quite scary as there’s always the worry that a job won’t come in or you won’t be able to make it work…” says Jessica. “I’m very lucky that I had friends who were also starting their careers in the industry at the same time, as I know this job can be quite isolating for many.”
On top of those common challenges, there are also others more specific to being a woman and, for Nainita, a person of colour:
“My biggest challenge was convincing people to take me seriously as a composer. And for people to not see the colour of my skin first and think that I only write ‘Indian’ based music. I’ve fought hard to avoid being stereotyped with race and gender, and to therefore write in many different musical genres as well as varied TV and film genres. I think subconscious gender stereotyping and bias is ingrained in all of us from a young age.”
The three composers all work across both film and TV, however opportunities in film – especially where it comes to blockbuster movies – seem harder to come by. “I’m starting to see a lot more women composers working in TV – I think there are less women in film, and certainly very few doing any of the big studio films” says Anne. “Things are starting to change, which is very exciting, but we still have a very long way to go in terms of breaking down the blockbuster movie barriers.”
“The regular networking sessions WFTV hosts are a great way to meet other women in the industry in an informal way and have really allowed new relationships to flourish”
When asked how this imbalance might best be addressed, she adds “Big studios need to take a leap of faith and start hiring women. Established (male) composers, especially in Hollywood, should hire more women as additional music writers and help nurture their careers. I’m not saying women should be hired just because they’re women – but there’s certainly enough talent out there for women to be given these considerations and opportunities… women directors are starting to break down these barriers – now composers have to do the same.”
Ruby Wasmuth and Jenna Fentimen, from Manners McDade management agency, also feel the industry should be doing more: “As agents, we work hard to generate and create opportunities for our clients, and the industry needs to provide those opportunities for a diverse crew… with regards to directors, many companies have pledged that in a triple bid system, at least one of those directors will be a woman. The industry should look at similar pledges when it comes to considering composers. This way, composers are winning jobs through merit, having been given the opportunity to prove themselves.”
Nainita adds: “There are BFI guidelines which are now being adopted by others but in TV we could do a similar thing where criteria are put into place to make it a level playing field… It also has to come from the top down… more female commissioners, execs, directors as well as female led stories with different voices.”
Opportunities to meet with other industry professionals, such as at WFTV events, provide important spaces for making connections, with other composers but also potential new creative collaborators. “WFTV feels like a very special community where there’s incredible support,” says Anne. “When I joined, I was amazed to see so many female composers on one website. It was very encouraging.”
“The regular networking sessions WFTV hosts are a great way to meet other women in the industry in an informal way and have really allowed new relationships to flourish” says Jessica. “I’ve met editors, cinematographers and so many more women I wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise.”
“I love the members events and networking opportunities. It has allowed me to feel part of a community of professionals that encourage each other and feel we can be ourselves – it’s like a safe ‘professional’ space without the power dynamics of the male / female kind interfering” adds Nainita.
The relatively new Women Composers’ Forum also provides a vital space specifically for women composers to “meet to explore the challenges they face and unite as a collective to improve upon those challenges” say Harriet and Jenna.
“It can be quite depressing when you read the stats, but that should only make us more determined!”
A commonly used phrase to highlight the importance of female role models is “If she can’t see it, she can’t be it.” And like in other areas of film and TV, this is identified by our composers as one of the key reasons why there are still so few women working in the field today:
“When I started in the industry I had almost no female role models, therefore one feels it is a profession that women simply feel is not for them” says Nainita. “I was the only female in my year doing a Composition degree at university” Anne adds. “I boil it down to the lack of role models, which creates a vicious circle.”
That’s why concerts like the one happening in June are so crucial, because they provide an opportunity to showcase female composers working today and the chance for their work to be experienced by a new audience. Ruby and Jenna are “hopeful that providing role models to young musicians via the ComposHER concert will lead to an increase” in the number of women working in this area of the industry.
Jessica thinks so too: “Concerts like this are so fantastic as they showcase the work of so many women and I’m sure really encourage anyone starting out. Mentorship schemes are also really good – anything that gives you the chance to work with and learn from other women.”
So should we be optimistic about the future for women in film and TV composing? “Absolutely” say Ruby and Jenna, “…forward thinking production companies are aware and engaged with the issue, as well as agencies such as Manners McDade. Whilst there are many elements to be improved upon, we feel very optimistic about a more diverse range of musical voices from all genders, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.”
“It can be quite depressing when you read the stats, but that should only make us more determined!” Says Anne. She wants to see “a future where there’s a more equal balance of women and male composers, and where women are simply referred to as ‘composers’.”
And what about advice for any girls or women thinking about a career as a composer for film and TV? Jessica sums it up: “Go for it! It can be amazingly rewarding and very much a ‘real’ job!”
Book tickets to the ComposeHER concert
The ComposeHER concert takes place at 7:00pm on Wednesday 12 June, at EartH Hackney. As well as Nainita, Anne and Jessica, the featured composers are: Jessica Curry, Imogen Heap, Alev Lenz, Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, Carly Paradis, Jocelyn Pook, Kate Simko, Claire M Singer and Amelia Warner. Their works will be performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra and will include compositions for film, TV, theatre and video games. Many of the performances will be introduced or accompanied by the composers.
To find out more and book tickets, click here.
WFTV would like to thank Anne, Jessica, Nainita, Ruby and Jenna for taking the time to answer our questions.