For many composers, the Holy Grail of film scoring programs – the place with legendary faculty, connections, and curriculum – is the University of Southern California's Department of Screen Scoring (previously the Scoring for Motion Picture and Television [SMPTV] program). With the class of 2020 recently graduated, I asked my buddy and newly USC alumnus, Michael Wilson, about his experiences in the program.
Nick Dolan: So, Michael, what was your first week at USC like?
Michael Wilson: My first week was quite a rush! Between the excitement of moving to LA and meeting my new classmates, it was quite thrilling. My undergrad was very small, so coming to a place like USC was quite a jump for me!
Nick: What does a normal day look like in the Screen Scoring program?
Michael: Besides going to class, the rest of your day will be filled with meetings with filmmakers and of course composing. Lots of it! One down side of this (besides losing sleep) is you won't have time for a part-time job during the school year. We also had many meetings with industry guests, which were announced with such short notice that trying to have any steady employment really isn't feasible.
Nick: What did the coursework consist of? How much time were you expected to spend on homework?
Michael: Most of our coursework consisted of many different scoring assignments. The faculty all have an area they specialize in, so we scored everything from comedy to video game action cues. In addition to our scoring work, we also had quite a few orchestration assignments. One of my favorite elements of our orchestration class was getting to meet Hollywood studio musicians from every section of the orchestra in class during the first semester. We also had assignments dealing with the tech side of things. This involved topics such as learning Logic Pro and Pro Tools key commands, mastering our notation software, creating Kontakt instruments, audio manipulation, and so much more. I would say most days I would work on homework anywhere from 2-8 hours – though this could vary quite a bit depending on the week. All of the scoring students are also required to work on a minimum of 5 student films/video games throughout the year in addition to the coursework.
Nick: Did you have to seek those student films out yourself or did your professors provide them for you?
Michael: We each had to find them ourselves. Although, at the beginning of each semester, we would have a pitch meeting with the student filmmakers. They would pitch their films to us, and then we would reach out to those we were interested in working with. I know there were also a few cases where the opposite happened, and the filmmakers actually approached some of us to score their films. This happened to me with one of the films I worked on.
Nick: Do you have any fun stories to share?
Michael: Some of my favorite memories from the year were our late night printing parties. Many of us would gather at a classmate's house to print and tape our parts and scores before our recording sessions. While this may seem boring, it was a great bonding experience for all of us, as food and drink was also usually involved!
Nick: As you were wrapping up at the end of the program, did the program help with job prospects at all? Do you have any leads or connections to turn to?
Michael: I have been recommended by the faculty for a few jobs. I am still waiting to hear back on them.
Nick: Now that you've graduated (congratulations, btw), what's the next step for you?
Michael: Aside from working on my own projects, I plan to find a job as a composer's assistant or work in the music department at a video game studio.
Thank you to Michael Wilson for sharing your experiences at USC's Department of Screen Scoring and congratulations to the graduated class of 2020!
Film | Music
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