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ASCAP Music Cafe offers Screen Time conversations with composers and filmmakers

Jan. 24 discussion will include Emmy-nominated Sharon Farber

Four-time Emmy Award-nominated composer Sharon Farber will participate in an ASCAP Music Cafe Screen Time discussion on Jan. 24.
Photo by Alex Zam

Four-time Emmy Award-nominated composer Sharon Farber is looking forward to participating in the ASCAP Music Cafe Screen Time program during the Sundance Film Festival.

Instead of performing a solo set, Farber, the winner of the 2013 Society of Composers and Lyricists Award for “Outstanding Work in the Art of Film Music,” will join a two-part virtual panel on Jan. 24 with filmmaker Nina Menkes, composer Isabella “The Machine” Summers and director Phyllis Nagy.

ASCAP Music Cafe will also present another Screen Time discussion with singer-songwriter Saul Williams, filmmaker Anisia Uzeyman and musician Este Haim and director Christopher Stracey on Jan. 23.



Farber and Menkes worked together on the documentary “Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power,” which examines how filmmakers have consciously or unconsciously disempowered women in how they’ve framed and represented them in film throughout history.

“The subject matter, as a woman in this industry, as a mom to a young girl, really spoke to me,” Farber said. “It’s not a bombastic statement. Nina just points out these things, but I think once you see this film, you won’t watch movies in the same way.”



During Screen Time, Farber will discuss how she works with filmmakers like Menkes, who, in some cases, haven’t worked with outside composers before.

“When you write music for film you are a tool, and I say that in a good way, to bring the director’s vision to life,” Farber said. “You can’t have an ego. You have to come from a place of respect and understand that you are an integral part of the movie. You are there to be a problem solver and not a problem maker.”

Farber’s first rule of collaboration is to trust the director.

“I find, in general, comments from directors usually make my music better, and that works better within the film,” she said. “I listen closely, but sometimes I do ask if they would be open to a different idea. But I always remember that at the end of the day it’s the director’s vision that I need to fulfill.”

The secret of knowing how a good score works is when the audience doesn’t notice when it enters and exits a scene, according to Faber.

“It has to be an integral part of the film that doesn’t take away from the dialogue,” she said.

Farber remembers the earliest piece of music she created for the film.

“The first cue of the film is about four minutes, and when I finished it, I sent it to Nina,” Farber said. “She was so happy, and after that she trusted that I would do a great job for her, which made things so much easier. We worked so well together, and both of us are pleased with the score, which was mixed brilliantly by Michael Stern.”

Farber, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music, also remembers an especially tough but enjoyable challenge creating a score for “Brainwashed.”

“When she was editing the film, Nina put on a temporary score to help her make cuts,” she said. “These temp scores also give me a sense of what the vibe and instrumentation will be.”

The temporary score that Farber’s music would replace was “Vertigo” by Bernard Herman, a pioneer in movie soundtrack compositions.

“Bernard Herman was a genius, and this was one of my beloved scores,” Farber said. “So there I was having to make music that would bring in the vibe of one of the greatest film composers ever, while keeping my own voice and integrity, and make it work with the film.”

In addition to coming up with a score that caught Herman’s vibe, Farber faced another challenge — “Brainwashed” includes scenes of famous movies that contain snippets of music created by the original composers.

“Some of those scenes are very short, so what I needed to do was find ways where my own music would go in and out of these cues in a seamless way,” she said. “So, I would score the scene in the same key as the music of the clip.”

Farber knew she was on the right track when Menke stopped and asked if the music she was hearing was by Farber or the scene’s original composers.

“That was great to hear,” Farber said.

Farber, the vice president of the Alliance of Women Composers, an organization that strives to support and celebrate the work of female composers through advocacy and education, was introduced to Menke by the one of the documentary’s producers, Summer Xinlei Yang, and the project seemed to be a continuation of a string of other projects that had come her way.

“I’ve scored features, TV and documentaries, and interestingly enough, in the past few years, a lot of social subjects have come into my life as a composer,” said Farber, who participated in a video and Grammy-nominated album called “Women Warriors: The Voices of Change” conceived by conductor Amy Anderson.

“Women Warriors: Voices of Change” was created to honor those who are fighting for social justice around the world.

“Amy commissioned female composers to score short videos that are all on social issues,” Farber said. “And it was the last thing that I did before I came to this project.”

With “Brainwashed,” Farber was able to reflect on the challenges she has faced as a woman in the music and film industry.

“Women composers are only 5% of the industry, and I can’t tell you how many times studio executives have told me that I’d be scoring some of the biggest films if I was a man,” she said. “I always think, why does that matter? If I’m good enough and you like my music, then hire me. It’s getting better, but we still have a long way to go.”

ASCAP Music Cafe Screen Time with Sharon Farber, Nina Menkes, Isabella “The Machine” Summers and Phyllis Nagy


ASCAP Music Cafe 2022 logo

When: 3-4 p.m., Monday, Jan. 24

Where: Online

Web: festival.sundance.org/village/#panel-view/61df2aa3373a50a37cb265d8


Sundance 2022 logo

Nina Menkes’ “Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power,” part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, will be available for virtual on-demand screening from 12:15-3:15 p.m on Jan. 22. The film will be available to stream for 24 hours starting at 8 a.m. on Jan. 24.

Web: festival.sundance.org

 


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