THE image of silent-movie actress Eleanor Boardman flickers on a screen above a scoring stage at Signet Sound Studios in West Hollywood. She's watching knights in shining armor comically fall from their horses.
Sitting in the control room, 28-year-old film composer Marcus Sjowall looks down from the black-and-white image and listens intently. An orchestra on the stage is playing the first musical notes for cue M19 of his score for the 1923 silent classic "Souls for Sale."
He grins briefly, although there's not much time to enjoy the triumph; much more work needs to be done.
"It's a nice feeling to hear music that's only been in my head come out of that ensemble," he says. "But I'm just trying to stay on top of everything and make sure it gets done right."
Sjowall, a Swedish native who studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music, is the sixth winner of Turner Classic Movies' annual Young Film Composers Competition. The contest allows composers between the ages of 18 and 35 a chance to write music scores for silent films that originally had only live musical accompaniment in the theater.
The winner receives $10,000, earns the opportunity to have his or her score broadcast on TCM and, perhaps most important, gets a chance to break into the exclusive world of film scoring.
Sjowall's score for "Souls for Sale" premieres on a TCM special Jan. 24 at 5 p.m.
"The world of professional working film composers is a fairly closed circle," explains Katherine Evans, senior vice president of marketing for TCM. "Film directors tend to go back to their favorites, so breaking into that business is tough. This contest helps grow up-and-coming composers in a field where there aren't many opportunities to break through."
"With film scoring, anybody with a guitar and a computer can say, 'I'm a film composer,' " notes the competition's first winner, Vivek Maddala, who has gone on to work on several independent films. "To my knowledge, this contest is the only method to recognize a composer solely on the quality of their craft."
The network's motivation isn't totally selfless, however.
"The idea really came to us when we realized we had hundreds of silent films in our library that we couldn't air on the network because they had no musical score to accompany them," says Evans. "We also wanted to find a way to reach out to younger audiences, to keep our library relevant to them. This program helps draw in composers in that age range."
The entry period runs from Jan. 1 through March 31 each year (the seventh contest has already begun). Entrants select one of four film clips for which they must create a brief score, with as many as 650 composers making submissions each year.