The following was submitted as a comment in response to a FMM column about taking charge of your career and making things happen. The commenter wrote under the pseudonym “Kid Surf”, and tells a fascinating story of his journey from being a composer, to creating a television show, to eventually looking forward to composing again with a new perspective. It presents a fascinating and compelling story of one way to diversify in today’s challenging business environment for film & television music. — Editor
From FMM Final Note “The Myth of the Working Composer” – “And being involved means not waiting for someone else to get the job done…”
Agreed. I set out to do just that. So, what I did was; I went out and created my own TV show, at least on paper thus far. My deal calls me a “creator/producer”. What happened was I got sick and tired of waiting around for someone else to take me to the promised land. It occurred to me that my best shot was taking myself there. But this meant that I’d need to create the content myself.
My story goes like this: I had met with a composing agent at a boutique agency who agreed to hip-pocket me explaining that 99.999999% of the work I was to secure on my own, that they would then do the deal and that there was a chance in hell that I’d be put up for gigs that their bigger composer passed on. I agreed to this, what the hell. Days later I met with a composing agent at ICM. He was on about how difficult it was to get his clients work. He asked me who some of my favorite composers were. I pointed to the poster over his shoulder and said “that guy for starters, I wouldn’t mind having his career.” And I was being sincere. Agent says, “believe it or not I’m having a hard time finding him work.” Somehow we landed on the subject of screenwriting. That was my epiphany moment – why not write something myself, and produce it, and direct it, and therefore score it.
A year and a couple of scripts later I found myself represented [as a screenwriter] by arguably the hardest agency on the planet to find representation from and I was taking meetings from prodcos that wouldn’t have given me the time of day as a composer. It was a strange experience sitting down in those meetings and hearing the statement “We love your work…tell us what you’re looking to do.” Or having my meeting interrupted by a phone call, a long phone call, and when the producer returned to the room stated “Sorry, that was Brad [Pitt] kinda had to take it. But here is what Brad likes _____.” They spoke this way as if I was used to it. See, I was used to [as a composer] people who don’t matter, and will never matter, treating me like I was just barely as smart as their pinky toe and about as valuable as a cigarette ash on a windy day. Pulling onto the studio lots was especially surreal, particularly when I rounded the corner on the Universal lot and saw the sign for Amblin Entertainment. My stomach dropped as I thought “what in the hell am *I* doing here.” Took me several of these types of meetings to understand that these were ‘my’ meetings, that I was supposed to more or less drive these meetings in the direction I wanted them to go as a person who now creates content [Although, I’m still afraid of my agents]. It took me a minute or two to realize that these people actually saw me as having tangible value. I wasn’t used to that as a composer, not at all.
The most surreal moment thus far was when my agent called stating “You’ve got a deal with _____. Congrats on your first deal. This is just the beginning.” Then came more surreal moments as I sat with a room full of producers and studio execs as we discussed ‘my’ TV show. It’s like, okay, this isn’t a joke or pretend, this is real. What a trip. I thought, “Hmmm…I guess I no longer need to meet with idiot directors with their hollow promise of back end, or fees like $2,000 to score a million dollar indie, or ghosting for a studio composer who stiffed me more than once.”
BTW – should also mention my phone call with an 800 pound gorilla of a film producer. He calls me, he’s speaking in a hushed voice, in the background I can make out what sounds like a director giving directives. Yes, this producer was calling me from the set of a big 150 million dollar film. Says to me “how would you like to get paid to write a movie for me?” You already know what my answer was. Couple days later I’m sitting in his high rise office reminiscent of a James Bond film. We’re sitting across a sleek round table from each other in low, ultra-modern seating. I can almost hear the blood pulsing through my ears it’s so quite. The producer is sitting silent, I’m waiting for him to speak. Suddenly, he leans forward stating “Let me explain some of the bullshit of Hollywood that you must ignore.” From that moment on, as I sat soaking up his wisdom, I felt as though I was having one of those Godfather moments, sans the cuban cigars. Again, I couldn’t help but think “what am
I doing here, I’m just a composer and here I am sitting across the table from one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood and he’s being startlingly candid with me.” The producer took me under his wing in some respects.
Point is: These things rarely happen to a composer. Thus, I do recommend not waiting around for someone else to get the job done. True, I’m taking the very long way around to writing the music I want to write. But who knows more about what the music should be than the guy who created the TV show/film?
This is my mantra: “Life ain’t a fucking dress rehearsal”. This falls in the realm of what an agent said to me many years ago: “You aren’t a blond with big t**s, act like a your own agent until you have one.” ~ Blond Agent with big t**s.
p.s. If my TV show ‘goes’, ironically I will only write a cue here or there. I would hire a composer and do my level best to fight for original music that is inventive [not interested in library music, AT f-ing ALL]. I’d also fight for a decent music budget. BUT, it would be up to the composer to prove, to me first of all and secondly the network, that a music budget is warranted. Yes, I get it, it would be a near impossible feat. Then again, it’s nearly impossible for a composer to turn right around and do what I’ve done in a matter of 2 years [not that I’m a ‘made man’…yet]. I’m used to fighting impossible odds. Why stop now?
Yes, be proactive. Absolutely. I’m trying to do my part in this battle as well as, hopefully, inspire someone to get off their ass and go make it happen!