This last Sunday I was proud to accept the position of President of the Alliance for Women Film Composers. Today Variety posted an except of my speech, and I would love to share the whole thing with you.
I want to thank the AWFC membership, board and leadership team for appointing me President of the Alliance for Women Film Composers. It is truly an honor and I will do my best to represent you well and continue the mission of this organization: to support and celebrate the work of women composers through advocacy and education.
For those of you who don’t know me: I am Catherine Joy. I am originally from Tasmania, Australia but have been living in the States for the last 23 years and in LA for the last 9 (which is why my accent is so faint). I am a composer and a score producer. If you want to hear my music I have a few films out right now. The documentary Naughty Books on Hulu, the supernatural faith-based horror The Parish on VOD and my most recent feature Potato Dreams of America just premiered at SXSW and will be virtually screening at SIFF in April. I also have a String Quartet EP called Her Evensong coming out on April 15th.
In addition to composing on my own projects, I also am the founder of Joy Music House where I lead a team of composers in supporting fellow composers on their scoring projects. Most recently we score-produced Minari for composer Emile Mosseri which last week received the Oscar nomination for Best Score, along with 5 other nominations. We have had the pleasure of supporting many AWFC composers including Miriam Cutler, Chanda Dancy, Sharon Farber, Diana Salier, Cindy O’Conner & Penka Kouneva to name a few.
I have always been a musician, following in the footsteps of my mum, Roslyn, who is a concert pianist and choral director. But my journey in music has NOT been straight forward. It took me a long time to figure out where I fit. I started off as a classical singer and violinist. Then I moved into Jazz singing which is why I came to the States. During my undergrad as a jazz singer at Cornish College of the Arts I discovered composition and absolutely loved it. But then I ended up going into teaching, while still trying to perform, and doing my Masters of music education at Boston University. While I was teaching elementary school music, finishing my masters, and still feeling lost in the world of music, I realized that the ONLY time I felt fulfilled was when I was composing. It was around this time that I received an email about a one-night-a-week film scoring program run by Hummie Mann (now a Masters program). I signed up and during the first session, as Hummie was explaining exactly what it meant to be a film composer, I realized I was home. I had finally found my place in the music world. I was 31 years old when this happened. So never judge the day of so-called “late starts”.
My first experience with the AWFC was right at the beginning in 2016 when founders Laura, Lolita, Miriam, Chandler and co were organizing our coming-out event: the Women Who Score concert at Grand Performances. Laura asked me to be the assistant music librarian. But by the time we got to the downbeat I had worn many hats, and spent the concert sitting right next to the mix engineer, latest version of the score in hand, helping produce the live performance. After the show Laura asked me to come on as Executive Director. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but it has been an amazing time. I was in the ED role for her Presidency, and for Lolita Ritmanis’ Presidency and then when Starr was elected I became co-Vice President with Sharon Farber. It has been a privilege being part of the leadership of this organization as we have grown from a small group of women and supporting members into what we are today: over 600 (what is this number) skilled and talented members who create amazing music for beautiful and cutting edge film from all around the world.
During 2020, an extremely challenging year, I feel like the AWFC was able to thrive, turning that very difficult period into an opportunity to more deeply connect with members all over the world through our Inside Sessions, and make sure we were taking advantage of all the tools we have at our disposal to educate, advocate and amplify – our directory is much improved and landing women composers work, we have a fantastic YouTube channel, and our social media is reaching more people than ever.
It was during the beginning of the pandemic, during the uprising when protests were happening all around LA and the world, I started asking the question: how can I best serve my community? We’ve made progress, but we still have so much work ahead of us before we see inclusivity and equality become a real part of our industry. Kathryn Bostic (who was Vice President 2017-19) had approached me in February about taking on the role of president, and Starr had asked me to consider it as well. The reason I ended up saying yes was because I want to be an active part of the solution. We’ve made progress, but we still have so much work ahead of us before we see inclusivity and equality become a real part of our industry. We need to see more women scoring studio films, more women scoring TV shows, more women’s music being recognized on the award circuit, played on the radio, featured on playlists.
We need to NORMALIZE women composers. What do I mean by that? We have gotten to a place where if there is a panel of composers there will be one woman. This is a vast improvement to no women, which we were often seeing before the AWFC came into place, but it still reeks of tokenism. A friend of mine who has been on a lot of these panels recently commented that he found it ironic how they would have the one “requisite” woman on the panel, yet he felt her music was some of the best of the group. I want to see us move to a point where an inclusive composer panel with a mix of women and men is normal. A composer panel featuring only women is called (wait for it) a composer panel. (To be clear: not a WOMAN composer panel). When the Oscar Best Score shortlist comes out, we see more than one woman on there and the same goes for the Oscar nominations! When hiring a woman composer, or a woman director, or a woman DP, isn’t something to celebrate, it is just something that is done, business as usual. This is normalizing. But how do we get there?
It is surprising to me how often I still hear filmmakers say they are not sure how to find women composers. During the next two years I want to partner with as many established filmmaker organizations as possible to build relationships and collaborate on events. In addition to social media I want to find more ways of spreading awareness about the AWFC and its members.
We are not asking them to blindly hire women composers out of some sense of duty. We are simply asking that they let us pitch. Listening to 5 guy composers? Listen to 5 women as well. Want to take it a step further? How about a blind pitch? There are plenty of women composers to choose from. Make sure we have a seat at the table.
Streaming media is leading the way when it comes to new and exciting content. I also want to find creative ways to partner with the streaming studios to feature women composers and their projects on these platforms. So many of our members have scored extremely successful streaming projects on Apple, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and other platforms. The more we can bring that to people’s attention, the more we normalize the work of women composers.
The reality is there are so many of us. We are working in all aspects of film scoring, whether it be animation or documentaries or narrative. Studio or Indie. Video games and VR. And we’re not new. We have been doing this work for decades. To see that you just need to look at the credits of Wendy and Lisa, Starr, Lolita, Julie Bernstein, and the numerous now dressed up Emmys of Laura Karpman, and these are just a few examples. My goal is to continually find new and creative ways to represent this FACT to our community, to our industry.
We are Regulars, not outliers. We are already hired, already doing great work. We have the credits. We’ve won the awards. We are a proven choice. A safe bet and reliable element. It’s time to hire more of us.
Thank you again for allowing me to represent you. I love this community and I am really excited about what we can achieve in the next two years.