equality factor: an empowered woman amplifying other unheard voices
the last album: Haven't Found It
musical heroines: Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, a.o
based in: Brooklyn, New York
With her inherent desire to tell stories, a passionate musical background, and her having been raised in a family of music enthusiasts, it appears that she was born to create film scores: Elizabeth Phillipson-Weiner is a composer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist born just outside of Philadelphia. She was raised in a house where films and music offered a way of being understood and feeling represented, from a very young age. In a beautiful interview, we talk to Elizabeth about her life, her big goals and distinctions as a composer, as well as her empowering work as the founder of "Teddy Tracker Entertainment", her film and music production company, focused on fostering diversity and "EQUALITY".
What does music mean to you?
Music is so important to me. Music is my way of connecting to the deepest parts of myself and the world around me. Music helps me better understand myself. It’s in my heart and soul and it’s also incredibly therapeutic.
When did you realize that you wanted to dedicate your life to music?
I don’t remember making a conscious decision about this. I started playing the trombone when I was 10 and just fell in love. The path to composing was pretty meandering for me and I did doubt it at times but there came a point in my early 20s when I realized I could live without a lot of things but making music wasn’t one of them.
Which artist has inspired and influenced you?
So many! I really admire artists from a variety of genres but I think the common thread is that they’re all expert storytellers. In the songwriting world, I’ve been heavily influenced by Jackson Browne, CSNY, Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, and Glen Campbell. In the film scoring world, Thomas Newman is a huge inspiration. Each one of his cues conveys such complex deep emotions I really admire that. I also am also constantly inspired by Nicholas Britell, Cliff Martinez, and Jon Brion amongst too many others to name.
"Films offered me a way of being understood from a really young age"
How would you describe your musical style?
I love to write modern, cinematic hybrid scores for stories I am passionate about. I bring various influences into my work as a folk songwriter, classical trombonist, ukulele, and Moog Synth player. I approach all my compositions whether it be a song or a score from a storytelling perspective and that informs my stylistic approach.
Where does your love for films come from? Did you have a mentor or a role model to look up to?
I think like a lot of other artists I’ve felt misunderstood in my life. Films offered me a way of being understood from a really young age. I could pick out characters that felt like me and know I wasn’t alone. I would feel so close to the characters, they felt like family. I have always wanted to make another person feel that way with my own work.
"I don’t remember having a huge awareness of film music until I saw the movie Wall-e"
How did you establish a connection between music and film within your own life? At which point in time did you know that you had a passion for this specific part of the music world?
I’ve always had a passion for music, specifically orchestral music but I don’t remember having a huge awareness of film music until I saw the movie Wall-e. I think because the first 30 minutes of the movie are silent, it just clicked for me that everything I was feeling had to be because of the score and I was hooked. Looking back, I can see why my path led directly to film music. I have such a strong desire to tell stories. Combine that with my musical background - it makes perfect sense I would be drawn to scoring films.
What’s your favorite part of making music for films?
The collaborative process of storytelling is why I love working in film. It makes it really easy to work with people when you’re all working in the service of a story. I love discussing story arcs and characters in-depth and then translating those feelings into music. The more creatively you think, the better the score and movie become. It’s also such a connective process to find things you have in common with your collaborators and their characters to enhance the work’s narrative. You access parts of yourself you may not have been aware of before each project. It’s incredibly fulfilling and energizing.
Do you remember your first work as a film composer? How did it feel to see your work in the final film?
Yes! It was for a friend’s 48 film festival entry and it was BAD! I recorded my then-boyfriend, now-husband playing the piano and that was it, a solo piano score. It was a comedy and there were a couple of moments where the score helped in landing a laugh. That was what inspired me to keep going.
"When you work hard on something it feels great when other people appreciate your work"
Your scores have premiered in films at the biggest Film Festivals of the world like Tribeca, how do achievements like these make you feel?
Creating something that you’re proud of that tells an important story is always the goal and when people get to see it at a film festival that’s so exciting. You get to share your baby with the world. The best part about it is reuniting with the team and celebrating your hard work. Of course, it feels great to get that recognition from a big festival. When you work hard on something it feels great when other people appreciate your work. You also get to meet really amazing creators and connect with a community – it’s really exciting.
"Women are vastly underrepresented in the film music world"
Why is it important to stand up for equal rights? In your opinion, do artists have a special responsibility for this?
Art really has the power to expand and change peoples’ minds. I think we as artists do have a responsibility to think about the way our work affects those who consume it and push people to be more open, tolerant, and empathetic. We’ve seen how stereotypes portrayed in media harm communities because the general public perceives these portrayals as objective truth. We can’t as artists continue to knowingly perpetuate those points of view. Additionally, equal rights and representation only make art better. We’re doing ourselves a disservice by not valuing diversity and equality.
How do you perceive gender roles within the film music world?
Women are vastly underrepresented in the film music world. Statistics from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative show that of the 1,300 top films released from 2007 – 2019 only 2% were scored by women. The numbers only get worse if you study the percentage of BIPOC women in film music. These statistics lay bare an embarrassing problem in our industry. The fact of the matter is there shouldn’t be any gender roles within the film music world and I hope we’re collectively working towards realizing and implementing that change. To leave out half of the population’s voice and perspective in an industry is a tremendous loss for that art form.
Elizabeth with her business partner Alejandra Parody founded "Teddy Tracker Entertainment" a Brooklyn-based independent film production company focused on fostering diversity of thought, culture, race, sexual orientation, and ability in the entertainment industry both in front of and behind the camera. They collaborate with progressive and innovative creatives to produce untold stories through high-quality content that yields real-life impact. The women's work seeks to push boundaries, create discourse, and change perceptions to create a brighter, more inclusive world.
Tell us about Teddy Tracker Entertainment and your role in the production company! What is your favorite aspect of your work?
Teddy Tracker Entertainment is a film and music production company that I founded because I didn’t want to have to solely rely on others to make and score the projects I wanted to see and be a part of. I don’t know a lot of other producer/composer multihyphenates but it’s a combo that works well for me! I’m kind of a weird combo of right and left-brained and I like to switch back and forth between creative and logistical work. Teddy Tracker is a way of controlling my own destiny and producing work that fosters empathy and open-mindedness. It also allows me to hire diverse creatives in every area of production and push our industry in the direction of inclusivity.
With bright young womxn leaders like Elizabeth Phillipson-Weiner representing an up-and-coming generation of composers of film music, we expect to see an increase in diversity in film score creation in the near future. We owe it to women like her and her business partner Parody that future generations of creative minds of all genders, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds will be able to set foot in the film industry!