Film composer Pinar Toprak hones pool skills during lockdown
Skip Maloney - AzB Staff
May 12, 2020
Pinar Toprak (Courtesy of Joey Cobbs Photography)
Pinar Toprak (Courtesy of Joey Cobbs Photography)
When the most predominant hobby of one’s life happens to be what you do for a living, life can be pretty sweet, although it can make looking around for something to do in your spare time a bit of a challenge. Pinar Toprak, originally from Istanbul, and currently residing in Los Angeles, is doing the thing she’s known from an early age that she wanted to do – compose music. In her spare time, she has adopted two other passions; one, sailing, keeps her outdoors, while the other, shooting pool, keeps her indoors and makes her the appropriate subject of this particular profile.
 
“I started (shooting pool) as a teenager in Istanbul,” she said. “I was never a team sport person, because I couldn’t really play any sports that had the potential of injuring my fingers (for violin, piano and guitar); it limited what I could do.
 
“I knew from an early age that I needed other outlets,” she added, “and I loved the self-competition (of pool). My brother was a player, too, and I just loved the whole geometry of it; the angles. As a kid, I just loved that.”
 
In the meantime, her aspirations continued to inform her choices in life and she came to the United States in 1997, when she was 17 years old. Originally settling in with a brother in Wisconsin, she spent a good deal of her time in Chicago, where she studied jazz. The scene shifted to Boston, where in addition to pursuing a degree in film scoring from Berklee College of Music, she spent a good deal of time at something of a legendary pool hall in the city, in the shadow of Fenway Park, called Jillian’s.
 
She then moved to Los Angeles, where, by the age of 22, she had earned a master’s degree in composition from California State University at Northridge. Within two years, she was earning credits on films, beginning with some short films, Hold the Rice, Headbreaker (2004) and When All Else Fails (2005). In 2009, she picked up her first International Film Music Critics Association Award (IFMCA) for her music in The Lightkeepers, written and directed by Daniel Adams, with Richard Dreyfuss, Bruce Dern and Blythe Danner. Four years later (2013), she’d earn another IFMCA award for her work on the documentary film by Fritz Mitchell, called The Wind Gods, which is her personal favorite score.
 
Her work expanded to include music for video games, beginning with Ninety-Nine Nights (2006) and more recently, added music for the popular Fortnite (2017). A year later, she picked up another IFMCA award for “Best Original Score for a Documentary Film” for her score to The Tides of Fate. Last year, in addition to her work on the short, animated film, Purl, written and directed by Kristin Lester, she became the first woman to score a Marvel super hero movie when she wrote the music for Captain Marvel, which Variety magazine called “the most high-profile accomplishment yet for a female in a notoriously male-dominated profession.”
 
“No man was ever asked ‘Do you think you got this action film because of your gender?’” she told the Variety reporter, Jon Burlingame. “I hope it’s a question that’s not going to be asked in the near future or ever again. This is going to be the norm. I never had a day in my life when I wasn’t a composer or a woman. Those were who I am from the start.”
 
She’s also become a force on the small screen, as well, having scored 10 episodes of the SyFy channel’s Krypton, and HBO’s McMillions. And in the midst of all this, she crafted the main theme for Walt Disney World’s EPCOT theme park and wrote music for Christina Aguilera’s 2019 Xperience show in Las Vegas.
 
So, of course, she was looking around for something to do in her spare time and decided to resurrect her passion for pool. As a template for pursuit of this resurrected passion, she had the example of her mother, who started learning to be a musician in her mid-40s and now, in her mid-60s, is giving concerts.
 
“So I figured,” said Pinar, “that it’s not too late, but at that point, I also figured that if I was going to do this right, I’d get a teacher.”
 
“I had no idea who she was,” said the teacher she found - Rahmin Bakhtiari, co-founder and CEO of GoPlayPool.com, who says he has no idea how Ms. Toprak located him. “It wasn’t until we had spoken at some length before I realized who she was.”
 
It was evident to Bakhtiari that Toprak wasn’t just exploring an idle interest in the sport. He noted the way she held the cue stick and how she addressed the cue ball, and saw a degree of raw talent, with some Mid-Eastern three-cushion and carom billiards in her background.
 
“It’s been her passion since childhood,” he said. “She’s very observant, very attentive and she wants to learn.”
 
“She’s also got a feisty, aggressive attitude,” he added, noting that attitude’s rightful place in competition.
 
So just as all of this was coming to pass and Ms. Toprak was beginning to think she might be on the verge of competition at a tournament level, the pandemic stops by for a visit. The forward progress comes to a modified halt, with closures and the necessity for social distancing. Without enough room, or at least the architectural configuration to accommodate a regulation-size pool table, Toprak found a 6 ft. portable table and brought it into her home, which she shares with her two children. 
 
There is something of a balancing operation going on in Toprak’s life, what with her interests in music composition, sailing and now, increasingly, pool. Pool, she says, is slightly apart from the other two, because it has the ability to completely focus her attention on the task(s) at hand.
 
“I live in a sonically busy world,” she said, “always thinking about characters, themes and stories. I love things that allow me to completely clear my head and it’s funny, but when I’m sailing, I actually think more.”
 
“Pool is the only activity (at which) I’m totally present,” she added, “so I really concentrate on how to improve and just learn, learn, learn. I become like a kid again. When I have that kind of mental relaxation, it shows, and I’m able to re-set.”
 
In other words, pool players on the West Coast, watch out!! As the pandemic restrictions begin to loosen up, Pinar Toprak gets back to lessons and then, tournaments start to make their appearance on calendars. You could have a handful of serious female competition on your hands, and she might even be whistling the tune to a film’s music that you might recognize as she chalks up a victory against you. It might even be from her most recent compositions on the soundtrack to the CW Network’s Stargirl, which will premiere next week (May 18).
 
“I have a stubborn personality,” she said. “If I’m not going to be great, I’m not going to do it.”