Accomplished Film Scorer Thomas Newman Gives Seniors His Top Tips for Success

By 
Chandler Dalton
December 8, 2017
Composer Thomas Newman listens to students during a visit to Berklee.
Thomas Newman conducts a film scoring session at Berklee.
Students and faculty listen in as Newman guides them during a scoring session.
Students perform under Newman's direction.
Still from video produced by Kevin Greene
Still from video produced by Kevin Greene
Still from video produced by Kevin Greene
Still from video produced by Kevin Greene

When award-winning film composer Thomas Newman, known for timeless films such as American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, and Finding Nemo, visited Berklee’s film scoring seniors in November, he responded to students' nervous jokes about their fear of entering the "real world" with generous and practical advice on what it takes to break into the entertainment industry as an aspiring film scorer. Here are his top tips. 

Organization: The Secret Weapon

During your time at Berklee, you’ll be given multiple opportunities in the school year to build your portfolio based on classwork and collaborations with fellow classmates. So as you prepare all of your sample work and your resume, make sure to keep both updated every time you create something new. Keeping professional paperwork and audio files up-to-date will allow you to be able to present your work during networking events or last-minute interviews. Don't put off updates to the point that you are overhauling your computer to find that arranging final you did two years ago.

Location, Location, Location

Picking where to live as a film composer no longer means deciding whether or not you want to live in Los Angeles. Now that technology is so intertwined in all aspects of work, there is a way to work anywhere in the world in any aspect of the entertainment industry. And while you figure out where you want to live after college, know how to work from anywhere on a laptop. With video chats for interviews, phones for quick conversations, and email to send samples of work and schedule larger projects, you can travel around the world and find your home while actively pursuing your career.

Find Your People—and Keep Them

Networking is not only important to your professional life, but it can build your post-college friend group and make the transition much easier. Stay in contact with classmates from Berklee and fellow interns at internships, and get to know the people who are working on projects you admire. You might meet someone that you collaborate with perfectly, or someone who is looking for a film composer.

"Finding work and getting it done may not always be steady and perfect, but having the grit to keep going will make all the difference."—Thomas Newman

Budget Your Time and Then Re-Budget

Time-budgeting is especially hard after college, where the hours are more or less structured. So building a process that works for you is essential. Maybe it’s an hour a day of work, or setting aside a certain amount of time to build a melody and another block of time to write lyrics. It's also important to accept when a plan fails, which is just as important. Did you get into the zone and finish the work earlier than expected? Do you need another week to build a more complex melody than you planned? Be willing to work with changes, not against them.

Get Gritty

Finding work and getting it done may not always be steady and perfect, but having the grit to keep going will make all the difference. Writers’ blocks are inevitable in the lives of anyone constantly creating new work, but they pass. Sometimes you cannot stop creating, and sometimes it’s hard to pick up a pencil. But perseverance is key and it’s what can separate you from the rest in the industry. As long as you hold onto grit throughout the job search after college, you can have the career you want.

Watch Newman conduct a Berklee orchestra in a sight-read of a cue from his musical score for The Good German: