ASMAC Luncheon: Dynamic Music Partners

Dynamic Music Partners

ASMAC Guests for February
by Jeannie Pool

Composers Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kris Carter, known as Dynamic Music Partners (DMP) were the guest speakers for ASMAC’s February 13, 2008 luncheon at Catalina’s Bar and Grill in Hollywood. They were introduced by ASMAC Board Secretary Charles Fernandez who has known DMP since they worked on the Shirley Walker crew for Warner Bros.. He marveled over their imagination, mastery of technology, and serious business acumen. He added that their partnership offered a model for how composers can work successfully in the current business climate. Between them, they have racked up 17 Emmy nominations and two wins, among other accolades. Since 1991, they have contributed to every DC animated series including “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Superman: The Animated Series,” “Batman Beyond,””Justice League,” and “Teen Titans.”  Alongside their work in animation, DMP recently completed the score for the live-action feature film “Broke Sky”, which premiered at the 2007 SXSW Film Festival.

Lolita Ritmanis is an eight time Emmy Award- nominated composer, having won this award  in 2002 for her work on the animated series “Batman Beyond.”  She has been an orchestrator on more than 100 films, mini-series, and television programs including “Lethal Weapon 4” and “X-Files Movie.” Lolita is currently working on the Warner Brothers series “Legion of Super-Heroes” and has begun work on a new musical, set to premiere in fall 2008 in Ventura, California.

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Lolita Ritmanis began her remarks by mention her teacher, composer-orchestrator Mauro Bruno, who had served for many years on the ASMAC Board. She grew up in Portland, Oregon, in the Latvian culture, and started composing as a teenager. Next she attended the Dick Grove School of Music in the early 1980s where she studied with Grove, Mancini and Schifrin, and was “thrown in the deep end.” Her first job was proofreading for Suki Fideles at Disney. She attended California State University Northridge and became Joe Franklin’s assistant at Warner Bros. where she did some ghostwriting, orchestrating, and helped other composers. She began working with Shirley Walker on the Batman animated series.

Also an Emmy-winning composer, Michael McCuistion was nominated for eight Emmy Awards and two Annie Awards. He grew up in Missouri, where he was involved in choral music, musical theatre, acting, and played woodwind instruments. He also tried chemistry and architecture along the way before focusing on music as a profession. He attended a David Raksin concert in Houston and Dallas, while a student at University of North Texas, and called Raksin at his hotel and asked for advice. Raksin recommended he go to the USC Film Scoring Program where he worked with Raksin and Buddy Baker. There he was introduced to keyboardist Mike Lang and became Lang’s assistance for three years after graduating from USC. Michael credits Mike Lang with showing him how to be organized and deal with computers. He met Shirley Walker through her husband, Don. In addition to his work with DMP, Michael McCuistion composed and conducted the music for the Oscar-winning short “My Mother Dreams” and “The Satan’s Disciples” Activision’s “Spider-Man: The Movie Game” and “Spider-Man 2: The Game.”
Kristopher Carter grew up in Texas, the son of a Methodist minister and a psychologist, and was very involved in church music, playing the piano at age 4 and starting to compose in elementary school. His high school orchestra teacher introduced him to an orchestration book and encouraged him to write for orchestra by playing his music. He also attended University of North Texas where he majored in composition and played double bass. There he met one of Shirley Walker’s sons, who eventually introduced him to Shirley, who then hired Kris as her assistant in 1994. Carter composed the main title theme for “Batman Beyond.” He has also received Emmy and Annie Award nominations for WB’s “Teen Titans” and “The Zeta Project.”  In 1999, Carter won a fellowship to the prestigious Composers Lab at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute.  In November 1998, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) and for the past four summers he has served as a special consultant to the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra on their Film Music Nights.

Lolita Ritmanis, Harvey Cohen and Michael McQuistion worked for Shirley for about four years before Kris Carter joined the team, and altogether for 17 years. They said that Shirley always gave them full screen credit and cue sheet credit for their work. With Shirley’s company, Underscore Music, they worked on the “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Superman: The Animated Series” and “Batman Beyond.” Altogether Shirley brought on board some 35 composers. Lolita said that Shirley fostered a team spirit and eventually “pushed them out of the nest” and have them their own series to do. They all agreed that Shirley Walker was remarkable as a composer, but also as a mentor.

In describing the way the work today, they said that of course, they have to “demo” all their music, with a full preview, before the music is recorded. Most shows are created by committee, making the negotiations more complicated. Lolita said, “There is safety in numbers,” and Michael remarked that they basically don’t tell the producers who wrote what, so that if there is a problem, no one is singled out, but a solution is devised. They have learned that producers need and like to have feedback about their work. Michael remarked that one of the reasons Dynamic Partners works so well is that they have similar dramatic instincts, yet different musical styles and producers like the variety.

In this town, where composers often do not personally know (or respect) one another and feel they are in intense competition with one another, with their agents pitching them against one other for gigs, it is refreshing to hear from this younger generation that there may be other ways for composers to work together to create effective and imaginative music for television and film, while providing support and assistance to one other. All members of Broadcast Music, Inc., they maintain their own separate publishing companies. Their story and on-going relationships is a true tribute to the remarkable Shirley Walker who died in 2006, at the age of 61. All of us felt her presence at this panel discussion and she is missed.

ASMAC has its monthly luncheon on the third Wednesday of the month. On April 16, composer Mark Isham will be the guest speaker.