Amie Doherty is an Irish composer based in Los Angeles. Her music can be heard across a range of genres in both film and TV. She recently made history as the first female composer to score a DreamWorks Animated feature film, the 2021 summer release Spirit Untamed, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Eiza Gonzalez & Isabela Merced. Other recent scores include Sony/Hulu’s Yuletide hit Happiest Season by director Clea DuVall, starring Kristen Stewart, Dan Levy, Alison Brie and Aubrey Plaza; Focus Features’ The High Note by director Nisha Ganatra, starring Tracee Ellis Ross and Dakota Johnson; Amazon Prime’s critically acclaimed series Undone; the Jurassic World short film Battle At Big Rock, directed by Colin Trevorrow; DreamWorks Animation’s short film Marooned, for which she won the ‘Best Score for an Animated Short’ award at the 2019 Hollywood Music in Media awards; Emmy-nominated documentary Light In The Water (available on Hulu!); and Here and Now starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Renée Zellweger.
As an orchestrator and conductor, Amie worked on Lady Gaga’s Grammy-nominated 2020 album Chromatica, working with her close friend and arranger, Morgan Kibby. In 2018 she performed with 50 Cent at Radio City Music Hall in New York, conducting the orchestra and choir at the Power Season 5 premiere. Other recent orchestration and conducting work includes CBS’s acclaimed series Picard, and Star Trek: Discovery, Emmy and Golden Globe winners Fargo and The Night Of, as well as Netflix’s Altered Carbon and The Umbrella Academy, to name a few. My thanks to Amie for taking the time to answer my questions.
When you started work on Spirit Untamed, did you realize that you would be the first female composer to work for Dream works?
I didn’t! That was a big surprise, I didn’t learn that until I had been on the project a few month’s and someone mentioned it in an email.
Was the original Spirit movie a source of inspiration to you at all?
Yes, absolutely. I had seen it a bunch of times as a kid and then when Spirit Untamed came up as a potential project, I rewatched it and cried me eyes out. It’s such a beautiful film and the score is phenomenal, so I knew I had big shoes to fill!
Your score for Spirit Untamed encompasses many styles and even has a homage to the Italian western score within it,(whistling, solo trumpet, grunting male choir and Soprano) was this something that the producers of the movie were keen to have and did they have suggestions to how the score should sound when you first went to see the movie?
The director, co-director and producer of Spirit were incredible collaborators, and we really did have such a brilliant time working together. When we first met, we both agreed that score should be grounded in that traditional orchestral score with some western elements for sure, but on top of that, it needed something modern on top. While reading the script, I had this idea to incorporate some contemporary American indie folk voices into the orchestral palette, and as a big fan of the Fleet Foxes, I had their sound in mind.
When I mentioned this to Elaine Bogan, our director, she mentioned that she had also been thinking of the Fleet Foxes for some of the source music spots, so it was safe to say we were on the same page from day one. In the end, Robin Pecknold, the lead singer of the Fleet Foxes, actually came on board to record the vocals on the score, which was totally surreal.
Did you grow up in musical environment, as in were any of your family musicians?
I grew up in a very musical environment. I have a pretty huge Irish family, and music was always front and centre in our house. My mother and uncle run the local town band back home in our small town in the West of Ireland, and they’re very involved in music in the community. I have cousins who are music teachers, performers, and touring managers. So I grew up surrounded by music, which I’m very grateful for.
What composers would you say have influenced you at all or inspired you to follow a career as a film music composer?
I mean, it’s hardly a surprise but John Williams was and continues to be a huge inspiration for me. His music was often playing in our house, and I remember realizing as I got a little older that so many of the scores that I had loved from various films were written by this one man, and sort of starting thinking about how writing music for films is an actual job. I was also very inspired by James Horner, I find his harmonic language can really pierce your heart, I think his scores are incredible. Alan Silvestri was a huge influence too, as well as James Horner, Hans Zimmer, all the greats, really. It was those gorgeous orchestral adventure scores of the 80’s and 90’s that really sucked me in.
What size orchestra did you use for Spirit Untamed?
We had a pretty huge orchestra, in my opinion, for Spirit. I think all in all it was about 80 musicians. We recorded it during the thick of the pandemic, so we couldn’t go to Abbey Road, but we did it all virtually. The strings, woodwinds, and brass all had to be recorded separately due to Covid restrictions, so we did 9 whole days of recording and pieced it all together afterwards.
Do you think that orchestration is an extension of the composing process, and do you like to work on your own orchestrations if it is possible?
I do! I think being knowledgeable about orchestration is such an important tool for any composer. I was very lucky to get to work as an orchestrator for a number of years, and so I got to experience sessions and learn how to run them, learn how the players like things written, how to get the best sound, etc. I have orchestrated a lot of my own projects in the past, and I love to do it when I get the time.
She Hulk Attorney at Law is one of your recent assignments, how does scoring an episodic series compare with writing music for a feature film?
They’re definitely different processes, but equally fun, and it’s refreshing to jump from a film to a series. The best difference with a series, for me, is just having that extra time and runway to develop themes throughout the season, as opposed to a 90 min movie. The turnaround on TV can be very quick, and there’s a lot more music to be written, but in many ways the process is the same, too.
When working on a series such as She Hulk, do you score the episodes in the order that they will be aired, or do you work on them in no particular order?
Airing order, usually.
The same question, but regarding feature films, do you like to score these in an order of the action, or is this not possible due to scheduling at times, so do you score from main title to end title, or maybe you prefer to tackle smaller cues first?
I like to tackle the big, thematic areas first. The director and I will go through the film and choose some areas where the score is important and focus on those first. I find that once the themes and palette are established and approved, the rest falls into place pretty quickly.
There is a lot of music in the She Hulk series, and there are now two volumes of music available on digital platforms, do you have any input into what music will be released to represent your scores and how much music did you compose for the series?
I do have input on the soundtrack, yes. I take all of the cues from the series and piece them together and work with our mix engineer, Alvin Wee, to make sure they flow, etc. It then all goes off to the mastering engineer and they keep me in the loop and I give notes, etc. I’m not sure how much I composed for the whole series, to be honest!
Your scores are very thematic, what is your opinion of the increased use of the soundscape or drone approach to scoring movies?
I think I just gravitate towards melody when writing. I want something for my ear to catch on to, and I guess that’s just my style. But there are lots of other styles, such as the soundscape approach, and I think when those are done right, they are absolutely genius. At the end of the day, the function of the score is to help tell the story on screen and to get the emotional intention of the filmmakers across to the audience, so if that’s via a melody or a more atmospheric soundscape, I guess it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s reaching the audience.
I love your music for Undone, how did you become involved on the project?
Thank you! I have so much love and admiration for that show and everyone involved in it. I met the team back in 2018 and it was just a straight up pitch from my agent and they liked my reel. I wrote a short demo to picture and sort of took a swing at the fences because I felt like this show was very, very special and needed a ‘different’ score.
What is your preferred way of realizing your musical ideas, keyboard, straight to manuscript or by more contemporary means?
I write almost everything straight into Pro Tools. At the very beginning of a project, I’ll sit at a real piano and work out themes and stuff, but then I find a lot of the writing, harmony, rhythm, really comes about when playing with different instruments within the DAW.
Was it difficult to break into scoring movies and TV?
Sometimes I feel like I still haven’t really broken in, but yes. It definitely didn’t happen overnight for me, but I also feel like I’ve been incredibly fortunate and have met some really amazing people and collaborators that gave me an opportunity to get my career off the ground.