As we learned with Penka Kouneva, 2% of film composers are female. Laura Karpman is one of that 2%. Last week, she visited Berklee for a few days, and Women's Film Initiative wasted no time taking advantage of the opportunity to speak with her! Also a presenter at Athena Film Festival, which WFI attended in February, we were excited to finally speak with her more personally at our own school. Among her many presentations, WFI collected as much information as possible to share with you all.
There was one concept that spanned all three presentations, which was finding your own voice and enjoying what you do. Many students worry about writing music that stands out, separating themselves from the abundant amount composers in the industry, and branding themselves. Laura responded to our concerns with "you are you no matter you go." Though she did tell us it was important to develop ourselves as artists and know who we are, she also noted that it's impossible for us to get away from ourselves, and that we needn't try so hard to find our sound. It develops naturally, and we should enjoy the process.
Since WFI had attended Athena Film Festival, we had some great networking practice, but Laura shed some new light on the tough skill. One of our members, Perrine Virgile, was struck by her approach to attending festivals. You don't always have to have something to promote. She reminded us that, "if I can meet only one person, it is a success"
Laura Karpman also gave an absolutely invaluable presentation on making the most of your budget. When she was given the opportunity to do a Steven Spielberg sci-fi miniseries called Taken, certain problems arose -- They wanted a John Williams score on sci-fi miniseries budget. Most people would say "it can't be done!" but Laura got creative and made the best of their 30-40 piece orchestra. She came up with clever, problem-solving tricks. Things that wouldn't seem obvious like, recording a small orchestra in a large space can give it a fuller sound; saving time by starting hard meter and tempo changes in the percussion; using both low and high registers; avoiding divisi strings, which can cause a thinner sound in a smaller orchestra; using woodwinds in a solositic way can add fuller texture; trying unconventional doublings of brass and strings for a bit of a heavier sound; the use of piano can go a long way in creating thickness in an orchestra; and, above all, giving yourself the opportunity to enjoy your music! When everyone is enjoying the music, the session will go a long way.
She worked with NO budget on a smaller movie called The Naked Option. Luckily, Laura is a master of technology, which is often an aspect of the job that women are criticized for. The film featured african women chanting, so Laura got inventive and sampled the chanting and singing in the film and used it to create the score combinbing the sampled voices with one guitarist, one vocalist, and many percussion samples.
One of the last subjects she touched upon was her most recent project which was a documentary. One of the questions from a student in our class was "How do you stay unbiased in a documentary?" Because often the point of documentaries is to remain unbiased. Laura's response was that music will always make a point, whatever that point is. Don't be afraid to have a point and purpose with your music, even in the context of documentaries.
Until next time,
Jess Disraeli & Zoe Lustri