Shattering Ceilings and Blazing Trails for Women in Film Scoring

Spirit Untamed composer Amie Doherty M.M. ’13 reflects on making history as the first woman to score a DreamWorks Animation feature film.

April 4, 2022

Berklee Now's Keyed In series features Berklee experts sounding off on the latest news and trends from the music world and beyond.

For decades, Berklee artists have been breaking down barriers and challenging the limits of what can be achieved by following creative passions. Enter Amie Doherty M.M. ’13, one the newest members of an elite group of history-making alumni. An Irish composer based in Los Angeles, Doherty has scored multiple high-level film, TV, and music projects since graduating from Berklee's campus in Valencia, Spain, with a Master of Music in scoring for film, television, and video games. Her résumé includes Sony/Hulu’s Yuletide hit Happiest Season, Focus Features' The High Note, Amazon Prime’s critically acclaimed series Undone, the Jurassic World short film Battle at Big Rock, and Lady Gaga's Grammy-nominated 2020 album, Chromatica.

Doherty become the first woman to score a DreamWorks Animation feature film with the release of Spirit Untamed last summer. The experience allowed her to work with a cast of stars including Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, and Isabela Merced, and the music she wrote for the film has earned her nominations from the International Film Critics Association and the Hollywood Music in Media Awards.

In recognition of National Film Score Day, Berklee's Media Relations team had the honor of speaking with Doherty about Spirit Untamed and her place as a pioneer for women in the industry.

Spirit Untamed represents a milestone both in your career and in your industry, as you are now the first woman to score a DreamWorks Animation feature film. Can you put in perspective what that achievement means to you personally as you reflect on your professional journey?

I feel very honored to mark this milestone for women composers. When I first dreamt of being a film composer, the ultimate dream was to score a studio film with a huge orchestra. For Spirit Untamed, we recorded an 80-piece orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London for nine days back in February 2021. Hearing my music being played in one of the most iconic recording studios in the world was magical. I was actually a few months into work on the film before I learned that I was the first woman to score a DreamWorks Animation feature film. It was a really incredible surprise. I hope that somewhere a young woman or girl sees my name at the end of the film and realizes that if I can do it, then so can she! It definitely feels like a shift is happening in our industry, and that women are being recognized for their talent. My hope is that we can just lose the term "women" or "female" before "composer," because at the end of the day, we’re all just composers doing what we love.

Young women looking to succeed as composers can now look to you as a source of inspiration. Did you ever envision yourself as a pioneer for aspiring female composers, and how significant were the role models you looked up to in the early stages of your path to success?

Honestly, I can't say I ever envisioned myself as a pioneer for aspiring female composers. In my early career, I was just focused on building relationships and doing good work like anyone else. Yes, this is a very heavily male-dominated industry and there are definitely obstacles navigating it as a woman, but I’ve never let that get in my way. I find it super inspiring that we are seeing womens’ names in the "music by" credit at the end of the film more and more. There are so many pioneering women breaking down boundaries, such as Germaine Franco, who recently became the first woman to score a Disney Animation feature with Encanto, and Hildur Guðnadóttir, who won the Academy Award for Best Score for Joker. I’m just chuffed to be thought of as someone who is also breaking glass ceilings and hopefully creating more spaces for women. 

You’ve amassed an impressive résumé since graduating from Berklee Valencia with a master's degree in scoring for film, television, and video games. How do your experiences with that program influence how you approach high-profile projects?

I loved my time at Berklee Valencia. It felt like Disneyland to me. Film music was something I was deeply passionate about, and I had finally found like-minded people to discuss it all with. The education we got there was fantastic and gave us a great foundation for entering the industry. I learned a lot at Berklee, in particular on the technology side, which is very important for the day-to-day life of any composer. From the professors at Berklee, as well as the guest speakers, we got a view into many different aspects of scoring—working on independent films versus studio films, orchestration, conducting and copying, recording sessions, and how a score goes from a DAW to the final product—a lot of very practical and helpful experience for our future careers.

The range of projects you’ve been involved with stands out, from TV shows like Happiest Season and The Highest Note and dramas and documentary films to working with major artists like 50 Cent and Lady Gaga. Is there a general mindset you bring to your work that is consistent across projects or do you come to every job with a completely open mind?

I just try to come to every project with a wide-open mind and a great attitude. I think attitude is extremely important, especially in such a collaborative field. With any of the projects I’ve worked on, be it working with directors or producers on film or TV, or working with artists, I constantly remind myself that they have hired me to help realize their vision for the project, and that we’re a team. Sometimes they have very defined ideas of how they would like the score to function in the film, and sometimes they are open to suggestions from me. Both have made for really rewarding collaborations!

Watch a video of Amie Doherty discussing some of her recent projects:


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