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Image / Living / Culture

DreamWorks has hired their first female composer – and she’s Irish


By Sarah Finnan
30th Aug 2021

Amie Doherty / Instagram

DreamWorks has hired their first female composer – and she’s Irish

Irish composer Amie Doherty has become the first woman to ever score a DreamWorks movie, following the likes of legendary composer Hans Zimmer.

You might question why it’s taken DreamWorks the guts of almost 30 years (27 to be precise) to hire a female composer to score one of their feature films but they’ve finally seen sense and have gone with one of the best in the biz; Irish composer Amie Doherty.

Making history as the first woman to ever score a DreamWorks animated film, Amie – who hails from Ballinasloe in Co Galway – is the musical mastermind behind the score for the new movie Spirit Untamed. Opening in Irish cinemas just this past Friday, it’s the sequel to the original Spirit movie and centres on Lucky Prescott, a young girl who moves from the big city to live with her widowed dad. 

Featuring quite an impressive cast, big stars such as Julianne Moore, Jake Gyllenhaal and Brooklyn 99’s Andre Braugher all lend their voices to the project… but, let’s be honest – it’s the Irish contingent that we’re all really interested in.

Coming from quite a musical background, Amie’s childhood memories all come with their own unique soundtrack and both she and her siblings grew up with instruments never far from hand – Amie on piano, her brother on guitar and drums, her sister on piano or flute. “Sure, we kind of play anything we pick up,” she told Oliver Callan on The Ryan Tubridy Show earlier this week. 

Spending much of their youth jamming together through the walls (each in their own rooms), it was probably to be expected that she’d follow the musical route later in life, but while she always knew that she wanted to pursue music, being a film composer wasn’t necessarily on her radar at the time. 

“Honestly, I had never thought, ‘Oh, I’ll do that as a career’”, she admitted. “I always knew growing up I would do something in music, or somehow figure out how to pay the bills with music, but I knew that I didn’t want to be a performer. So film music just kind of made sense as kind of the one very focused passion that I had.”

Getting her start over in LA (after doing an MA in film scoring in Valencia) Amie set sail for the bright lights of Hollywood where she started off as an assistant. But, her talent quickly brought her to new heights and before she knew it she was the orchestrator on a whole list of popular shows. 

“When I came to LA I first started as an assistant to an orchestrator and we were working on John Legend’s world tour at the time which was amazing,” she told RTÉ Radio 1 listeners. “I learned a lot on the job on that and then afterwards I was very, very fortunate to be hired as the orchestrator for all of the Star Trek series, the new ones that have come out in the last couple of years – Star Trek Discovery and then Picard – and then some other shows like Fargo and The Umbrella Academy, Altered Carbon… lots and lots and lots of shows.”

As with any job in the film industry, it’s tough to break the mould though. Quite a male-dominated sector, less than 3% of composers working on studio films are women – a shocking statistic that makes Amie’s latest achievement all the more impressive. As does the fact that her work follows that of Hans Zimmer who scored the first Spirit film. “Yeah, no pressure, huh? Pressure is for tyres,” Amie joked. “No, that was definitely – you know, when I got the gig, I just had to put that out of my head because, you know, trying to follow up and step into Hans Zimmer’s shoes is just, unthinkable.”

Unthinkable but not unachievable though, as Amie has already proved. 

Not only responsible for coming up with the music, she was also tasked with writing the lyrics to the songs – something she had little to no experience with previously. But she threw in a few placeholder lyrics, “very embarrassingly” (her words, not ours) recorded herself singing it and sent it off to DreamWorks… who liked it so much that they kept her original words instead of hiring a lyricist as originally planned.

As for what it was like to work with Jake Gyllenhaal? Amie confirmed that he was “an absolute sweetheart” and was more than willing to jump in and “make an eejit of himself”. You love to hear it.

You can catch Spirit Untamed and hear Amie’s score in person across Irish cinemas now. Would highly recommend giving her Radio 1 interview a listen too, she’s as bubbly and humble and Irish as they come!