From Hollywood to Dollywood: Belfast film composer shares life in screen industry with next generation

By September 28, 2020Business, Creative Industries, Film

He’s worked with Dolly Parton, wrote music for Oscar-winning movie The Shape of Water, but Belfast film composer Mark Gordon’s career in the screen industry happened purely by chance and now he wants to share what he’s learned with the next generation.

Mark is one of 15 leading screen industry professionals offering free online specialist training for young people through the ScreenWorks platform funded by NI Screen and run by education charity Into Film.

While at university in the 1990’s Mark played in indie bands and even supported Ash at Maysfield Leisure Centre until fortune sent him spinning off in a different direction.

“I was playing in some local bands and luckily some of the music I had co-written ended up in a couple of big TV shows, Malcolm in the Middle and Sesame Street. I had a friend working with a local media company and sent some music to them and it went from there,” he said.

He describes how he was in LA doing some co-writing when he got the opportunity to pitch a song for Guillermo Del Toro’s new film, The Shape of Water, which won the Best Film Oscar in 2018.

“It was a background piece of music in a scene set in a mall and they were looking for some 1950’s advertisement music. The music supervisor couldn’t find pieces from that period, so we made up a jingle for a pretend brand called Monty’s Moustache Wax, wrote a full lyric performed by a Barbershop Quartet and mixed it using vintage recording equipment to get an authentic sound. It was a great opportunity,” he said.

His chance to work with Dolly Parton occurred while he was providing the music for popular children’s animated series, Lily’s Driftwood Bay on Nickelodeon. The country music legend was guest-starring as Noleen the Country and Western chicken, so Mark wrote four songs for her and recorded them in her studio at Dollywood in Tennessee.

“It was unbelievably nerve wracking at the time. I was with my colleague Colin Williams, the creator and producer of the show she was guesting on. The main thing her manager said was that she had listened to the demos, would be well prepared and would get it right. He added that what she wanted from us was strong direction and not to be overawed. I sat down with an acoustic guitar and played the songs to her and we recorded them. It was an amazing experience,” he added.

Mark, who runs the company Score Draw Music, is one of 15 leading professionals providing expert tuition for ScreenWorks Online, a series of web-based videos

offering training to young people interested in the screen industry. The programme, which is funded by the Department of Communities through Northern Ireland Screen and delivered by education charity Into Film offers those aged 14-19 an opportunity to learn more about careers in the sector.

He has recorded a special 35 minute video for ScreenWorks online, talking about his role and career to give students an insight into Music Composition as a career. In addition, he has set a number of exercises for students to complete at home to give them  first-hand experience at creating an original composition to accompany a film scene.

“Organisations like Into Film are very effective in giving pathways and opportunities to young people. These are opportunities that people in the rest of the UK would struggle to access,” he added.

ScreenWorks Online is being hosted on Into Film’s new learning platform at As well as offering 15 expert tutorials exploring different screen careers it has a separate “Careers corner” which looks at CV writing and set etiquette.

ScreenWorks co-ordinator Sean Boyle said the aim was to encourage teachers and young people to use the programme in the classroom and at home.

“ScreenWorks Online is available to all young people aged 14-19 keen to learn about the exciting career opportunities here in Northern Ireland. We would encourage them to watch the videos and participate in the tasks to find out more about this fun and fast-moving sector.”