The Film Scoring Five: Chatting to NYC’s Up-and-Coming Film Scorers

Meet our five young talents: Mikhaila Smith (South Africa), Aurélie Webb (UK), Juan Dussán (Colombia), Silvio Buchmeier (Switzerland), and Eric Smith (USA)…that’s quite a globally diverse group we have, right? We don’t want to boast, but the Tonemamas run with an international crowd *eats croissant while folding origami and listening to Afropop*.  

How did these five happen to meet? Well, at the hub of all international activity of course, the prestigious New York University which has students flocking from over 130 countries to its classrooms. And the film scoring classroom is no exception,

Tonemamas: Hey gang! First question, why NYU?

Film scoring gang looks around awkwardly waiting for someone to answer.

Juan: Aurélie, you go!

Aurélie shakes her head with a knowing smile.
You know what, here’s my first piece of advice – never go to any networking event with Juan, because he’ll always nominate you as a first person.

Laughs sheepishly.

In every gang you always need the cheerleader! And Juan seems to be our designated cheerleader. Aurélie sighs and takes up the cue.

Aurélie: Well partly to live abroad, and of course the flexibility of the program, but mainly it was a chance to completely immerse myself in film music and the music of New York.

NYU, Greenwich Village, NYC (Source: Steinhardt)

Tonemamas: Everyone else?

Silvio: NYU had the most comprehensive set of classes, it was for me the obvious best choice.

Juan: I wanted to leave my country to find opportunities and of course the opportunity to live in New York.

Mikhaila: I found a school that was suited to my creative goals as a composer and I found it in the very city that has my heart.

Tonemamas: Eric?

Eric: I should have probably thought of an answer while you guys were talking…but I was listening to all of your answers.

Gang laughs appreciatively.

Eric: People were very friendly, it’s not like people were secretly hoping you were going to suck…plus a professor told me every musician should get a chance to live and work in New York City.

NYU Film Scoring Department (Source: Steinhardt)

Tonemamas: Well, now most of you have graduated, so here’s the million dollar question (or more accurately, the 70,000 tuition question)…was it worth it?

Eric: I think so…you never get a 100% of what you want in anything, right?

Eric seems to be the realist of the group. Or is it the pessimist? We’re not quite sure. 

Juan: For me, I learned something new every day. Also, they encouraged us to collaborate a lot with filmmakers from NYU and from other places.

Aurélie: Yes, but you really have to do your part – you’ve got to say yes to every opportunity, you’ve got to sign up for all the networking.

Aurélie Webb

Silvio: I came at it very strategically, in terms of how to budget and stay in the US and in that way I could make it totally worth it.

Mikhaila: I am still studying, but I can say without a doubt that every bit of it is worth it for me. There is always so much to learn and being in an academic space has truly helped me grow as an artist and a person in more ways than one.

Gang collectively agrees NYU was mostly worth it…well, considering astronomical tuition and notoriously tough city conditions that’s a feather in the NYU film scoring department’s cap.

Tonemamas: Now that you’ve graduated, you guys are qualified film scorers…what’s the process been like of trying to find work?

Juan: Well, it’s so weird with the current world situation.

Juan Dussán

For our readers-living-under-a-rock, he is referring to the global pandemic currently taking place.

Juan: But that’s why I’m grateful for the relationships I’ve built at NYU.

Silvio: For me, I wanted to come to L.A so I slowly built up a network over there…I started cold emailing people essentially, and once you start following up, people might start noticing you. You can have a coffee meeting, and they’ll realize you’re not a murderer.

Are film scorers at risk of becoming murderers? This seems like an interesting film plot…*writes down idea for a film scorer-turned-serial-killer-turned-religious-inmate*…and we have five people to score the film!

Eric: It’s interesting because people that you couldn’t necessarily get a meeting with before, you can now with Zoom and Facetime…it’s become more acceptable as a way to do business and meet people.

Aurélie: A lot of doors closed, but then others opened…I’ve been hitting the online networking pretty hard and that’s been pretty successful, in some ways it’s almost easier.

Tonemamas: You bunch seem like a resourceful lot…what kind of personality do you think you need to become a film scorer?

Aurélie: You’ve got to be very proactive – it’s a very solitary profession, so you’ve also got to be okay with submerging yourself in your work while being alone. But of course one of the most important things is you need to have an overwhelming love of music and the movies!’

This lady was prepared for the pandemic. 

Eric: It would definitely be more of a struggle if I had a problem with being by myself a lot…but it’s less about being an extrovert or introvert and just being self-aware of your workflow, mentality, and how you work.

Eric Smith

We don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound like a social folk, yet they seem to be the best networkers we’ve met. Strange world we’re living in! 

Silvio: You have to be able to work alone for a long period of time and be able to organize yourself not only on the technical side but also as a sole proprietor of your own business.

Juan: Well you have to be able to work alone but also be able to collaborate because you are going to spend a lot of time with the same people…you cannot succeed in this business if you don’t know how to work in teams.

Mikhaila: We’re all so different and each personality type has something unique and beautiful to offer the art form, so I wouldn’t be able to tie it to a single personality. I definitely agree with everyone else’s sentiments about having the ability to work alone and also with other artists; that balance is important – and that extends into having an openness to ideas, communication and learning from those around you. Film is a hybrid art form with so many languages that need to come together. It’s also important to know who you are and what your purpose is as an artist in the midst of that.

Tonemamas: *only heard the part about being alone a lot* Remind us to not ever invite you guys to a hangout! Moving on…tell us about you guys work in terms of understanding music visually?

Eric: I like reading the script before watching the movie – I’m always fascinated about how music exits and enters. Reading the story really helps me.

Juan: I have a background in photography, so I can connect with the visual medium very easily. Contrary to Eric, I don’t get inspired by reading scripts. I get inspired by visuals and also by talking about stuff that’s not necessarily in the story like the background info of the characters, or what happens ten years before or after the story.

Silvio: I think about, what should the audience feel or think at any given point? In terms of your relationship with the story and the creators I’m asking, “What do you want?”, “What do you want to say?”, “What do you want to express here?”

Silvio Buchmeier

Mikhaila: I love engaging with the script, exploring characters and the narrative, and reacting to my own instincts and responses while watching the film the first few times. Immersing myself in the picture is important before I step away from it for a few moments and develop my musical ideas. I think as creatives we are very in tune with our senses, so I have to trust my instincts as I respond to scenes, characters and colours and translate that musically.

Mikhaila Smith

Aurelie: I agree, I like to get a handle on the script as a part of my process. I also find it invaluable to have a conversation with the filmmaker about their own visual and musical influences so that I can get a good idea of where they’re coming from and where they’re taking their story. The more conversations you have, the more the world of the film gets shaped and developed.

Tonemamas: Lastly, what do you guys bring to table as composers?

Awkward silence as no one wants to compliment themselves. Tonemamas don’t let up, and let the awkward silence grow thicker and thicker. Finally, Eric saves the gang:

Eric: I wouldn’t say this if it was bullshit, but I think everyone here has something identifiable, something unique – they each have something to say…and that’s always way more interesting.

Gang breathes a sigh of relief; self-complimenting has successfully been avoided.

If you’d like to hire any of these talents to work on your project, find their details here below!


Mikhaila Smith

Mikhaila Alyssa Smith is a Cape Town-born composer, orchestrator and pianist based in New York. She  studied composition and orchestration with Hendrik Hofmeyr at the University of Cape Town where she obtained a Bachelor of Music degree in composition in 2017. During her studies, she was selected to spend a semester abroad at the University of California Los Angeles where she studied music theory, composition and orchestration with professors Ian Krouse and David Lefkowitz. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in film scoring at New York University Steinhardt under the tutelage of Grammy Award-winning composer and orchestrator Michael Patterson. 

Her  works, both concert and film, have been performed in Cape Town, Los Angeles and New York. Her most recent film, “An Invitation to Tea” by Desiree Abeyta, premiered at the Charlotte Film Festival this year, winning the Audience Award. She is currently working as orchestrator on the stage performance of Kyle Shepherd’s “Fiela se Kind” score which will be performed by the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra under the baton of Brandon Phillips next year.

Mikhaila’s  artistic world involves collaborating with other artists, storytelling and immersing herself in worlds beyond this one through the expressive  and powerful medium of film music. 

Check out Mikhaila’s work here!

Eric Smith:

Eric Smith is a young musician from Metro-Detroit, Michigan, USA. From a young age, Eric submerged  himself in all things music, beginning with the church choir. Not long after, he learned to play the piano,  drums, and guitar. By age 11, he had begun writing songs on the piano, morphing into a songwriting  obsession. Since that time, he has written many pieces that include orchestral pieces; jazz, folk, rock, funk,  pop songs; percussion pieces; and has arranged for ensembles ranging in size from piano trio to jazz big  band to marching band.  

Smith graduated as a Jazz Studies – Piano major (Class of 2017) at Michigan State University (MSU) under  program director and world-renowned bassist Rodney Whitaker. Smith is drawn to jazz for both the  intellectual challenge as well as the pursuit of expression. That attraction to jazz has developed into a love  for this American art form as well as many other styles of music. At MSU, Eric studied jazz piano with Xavier  Davis and Reginald Thomas. As the pianist for an MSU jazz orchestra, he was able to perform with  GRAMMY-winners Christian McBride, Brian Lynch, Robin Eubanks, and others. Smith has previously studied  with Dennis Tini, Steve Taylor, and singer/songwriter/producer Herschel Boone. 

In 2018, Smith began studying at New York University as a graduate candidate for a Masters in Music  Theory and Composition: Screen Scoring under the tutelage of greats such as Chris Hajian, Irwin Fisch, Ira  Newborn, Suzana Peric, Janice Pendarvis, and David Wolfert. Smith completed the degree in May 2020. 

In addition to multiple independent films currently in production, some of his most recent works are his double-sided single Magic in the Night / Red White Blue (2019) and his percussion ensemble piece “In  Place”, premiered in New York City by the NYU Percussion Ensemble in December 2019.

Check out Eric’s work here!

Aurelie Webb:

Aurélie Webb is a British composer based in London and New York. Specialising in scores for film and live performance, her work bears the influence of music as wide-ranging as American minimalism and Ralph Vaughan Williams, Radiohead and David Bowie.

Aurélie has worked with filmmakers and artists from across the world, branching into animation, documentaries and literature-inspired concert music as well as experimental dance. Drawing on her classical background, Aurélie’s style has been variously characterised as having foundations of ‘formidable skill and imagination’, ‘a beautiful modern melodic sense’, ‘lyric spontaneity’ and also as ‘neo-Baroque’. She often combines traditional string techniques with experimental electronics in her exploration of cinematic styles both traditional and modern.

She is honoured to have been selected for the 2020 ASCAP Columbia University Film Scoring Workshop and the BMI Composing for the Screen Workshop. Aurélie holds an MMus in Scoring for Film and Multimedia from New York University and a BA (Hons) from the University of Bristol, UK.

Check out Aurélie’s work here!

Silvio Buchmeier

Known for his deep sense of lyricism and understanding of storytelling, Silvio Buchmeier is a Swiss composer based in Los Angeles. His award-winning compositions span works for documentaries, short films and narrative features.

In 2020 he was featured in the ASCAP/Columbia University Composer Spotlight initiative

His music for Yerania del Orbe celebrated short film La Santera won the honor of Best original Score at the 2020 New York Cinematography Awards. That same year saw the release of Andrew McCardle’s feature film It’s Always Been You. Silvio co-wrote the eclectic score with genre-defining electronic artist and the duo went to win the award for Best Music Score in a Feature Film at the Global Nonviolent Film Festival 2020.

He collaborated with New York Times best selling author Jonathan Hennessey on his feature documentary You Don’t Understand the Second Amendment. His credits further include three feature length films which all have been released theatrically in Switzerland. The most recent one was Monte Iato – The Story of an Excavation directed by his long-time collaborator Andreas Elsener. 

Silvio is a passionate cyclist and avid follower of world affairs. In May 2020 he graduated from NYU with a Masters degree in Screen Scoring on a Fulbright scholarship.

Check out Silvio’s work here!

Juan Dussán:

 Based in New York, his sound is an organic mix of emotional and modern orchestral scapes, infused with expressive electronic textures. This sound world gravitates towards drama and thriller narratives, with a psychological, sci-fi, or fantasy twist. Juan’s collaborations with film-makers are key to better tell stories through music. A recipient of the Alan Menken Award, Juan completed his composition studies at the NYU Screen Scoring graduate program, and participated at the ASCAP / Columbia Film Scoring Workshops.

Juan’s debut album “VOYAGE” (2020) has had international recognition. Highlights of his film work include “The Merge,” (dir. Simon Gill) “Amálie,” (dir. Megan Mathieson), all official selections at major film festivals in the US. Juanʼs wide collaborative scope has allowed him to record with musicians around the world, including symphonic orchestras from New York, Prague, and Sydney. Juan’s collaborations with other composers include assisting Dr. Ron Sadoff for his score for the animated short film “Hands.” (Dir. John Canemaker)

Check out Juan’s work here!

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