“Just Be A Composer”

Natasa Paulberg is an Australian/Irish composer, performer and conductor. She writes for film, TV, games and concerts, attended the UCLA Film Scoring Program in L.A. and teaches film scoring in Dublin.

How did you become a music composer?
I started playing music as a kid, maybe when I was five or six with the usual piano and singing. Later I went on to play cello and flute, but music wasn’t something I ever thought of as a career when I was growing up. I was also very good at science, one of those kids who do well with maths and music. At some point I did think about working in music, but my parents were like: “get a real job” as a lot of parents would do. So I went on to a completely different direction and became an osteopath, but at the same time I started performing and then writing my own music. Soon after college, I decided to leave Australia and go backpacking through Europe. I ended up staying in Ireland where I did the Music and Media Technology. During that time I finally realised I’m actually a composer. At the beginning I wrote for the concert world, but I always liked film. Then a friend of mine became a director and asked me if I wanted to do music for one of his films. So this is when I realised that, oh my gosh, I really enjoy this! So I started to do more and more films. 

Do you ever think you would have saved time if you focused on music from the start?
I look back now and I think that if I went straight from high school into music I would have struggled, especially in L.A. because you have to be pretty confident and strong there. I was a little bit older and I had a little bit more experience, I knew how to deal with people and I think that really helped. It took me a long time to figure out where I actually fit in and that composing is my passion, but the universe has a way to shape you. It doesn’t matter how long you take because all experiences are helpful. 

What was the moment you realised you loved film scoring?
When I was a teenager I remember watching “The Piano” and the music by Michael Nyman just blew me away. I was studying composition in high school, but it was oriented towards orchestral and classical music. The score of “The Piano” which was more contemporary, really made me realise that this was the sound, this is what I loved. It took me until I did my Masters to fully embrace it, but the seed of film was there waiting for me since then.

What’s your favourite part of the process of composing?
My favourite bit is about halfway through composing the film. That’s when I start to really enjoy it. It’s a funny thing. We use the word “passion”, but think of the “passion of Christ”!  The whole concept of passion is rooted in the idea of suffering. The suffering involved in creation. I actually suffer for the first half of the film, it feels painful in a creative way. Then when I get to halfway and I can see the whole film taking shape in front of me, I know what I’m gonna do. I come out with all my feelings and ideas, I have the whole film in my head and that’s when I get really excited. 

And your least favourite part?
Starting is generally the toughest part. But it depends. Sometimes I get into a film and I know exactly what I’m gonna do. Other times I have no idea and the director doesn’t know either. That’s hard. Sometimes directors don’t have a clear idea of what they want and that’s fine, but that puts me under pressure because it’s harder to know where to start. I think directors have in their heads what they’re looking for but it’s hard for them to explain it and they only know it when they hear it. I love to be given directions but also to have the flexibility to create something that is special for that particular film. 

What are your music influences?
I listen to a lot of ambient and electronic music. I also love post minimalist musicians like Olafur Arnalds and experimental composers. I love composers like Michael Nyman and Philip Glass who did the score for “The Hours” and of course I listen to a lot of concert music.

Is there any part of composing for film that you feel is misunderstood?
At times I think there’s a romanticism attached to the work of musicians, performers, composers. The fact that we just sit there and wait for inspiration, that it’s a relaxed job and life must be easy. Definitely the most hard working people I’ve met are musicians, songwriters and composers. Because it’s a 24/7 job. I work until 4 in the morning to meet deadlines, and it’s wonderful but it takes a lot of time and hard work. I’m not sure people understand how that works. Sometimes you just sit there and it happens, but sometimes you’re tearing your hair out and you have to write something five times before you get it. There is absolute joy but you work super super hard.

What’s your experience of being a female composer in film and TV?
I never even thought of myself as female when I went into music. I never thought women wouldn’t do this. Perhaps it’s because I was oblivious or I didn’t care, or because I was brought up this way. It took for people to actually start commenting: “oh you’re a FEMALE composer” for me to become aware and realise that this might be an issue. I never thought about it, ever. To me, I was just a composer. However, the longer I’m in this industry the more I realise this is an issue. I have the suspicion that I am discriminated against sometimes because film composition is a male dominated industry. Some men don’t do it on purpose, they’re just oblivious. They don’t even see you as a composer because all their “mates” who are composers are male. It’s a filter, a blindness they’re not aware of. However I think it’s important not to focus on that, keep working hard and keep doing what you’re doing. I would recommend to anyone not to get into their head this thing of being a “female” composer. Just be a composer. And think of yourself: “I’m a composer”.

What would be your advice to someone wanting to get into composing for film?
The most important thing is to socialise and to network. People want to see your face and get to know you. You must be a social butterfly, go to events and meet people who make films, then send them your music. It’s very hard to get people to listen to your music if they have no idea of who you are. Everything is about human connections, so always put that first. I’m friends first with whoever I work with. It’s friendship first and then it’s work after that. Because you will work with these people very closely, so you have to get along well and like each other. Network, be really social, put friendships first, be a good person, and then everything else will follow. 

Find Natasa’s music online at: soundcloud.com/natasa-patersonpaulberg and http://www.freethebid.com/composers/natasa-paulberg


Words: Chiara Viale

Image: Natasa Paulberg 


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