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Confessions of an FSM Intern

Installation #5: This Concludes Our Broadcast Day

by Jason Comerford

I look back at my month in Los Angeles and despite myself, I wonder where the time went. My memory has rendered it as a heated blur of motion and pressure. There were head-spinning encounters with various writers, filmmakers, and composers whose work I've always admired from afar, but whose acquaintance I was fortunate enough to make. There were disappointments, reality checks, forks in the road (literally and figuratively). There were also the excitements of new places, new people, opportunities for the future, friendships made, the process learned. Hard lessons were taught and learned; things I took for granted became of utmost importance; things I instinctively understood became vital tools for survival.

And yet it was only a month. Despite my plans to move to Los Angeles in a year's time, I still find myself having the same old twinges of anxiety, confusion, and indecision. The same old questions skitter around: How will I eat? How will I do? Will I make it? Will I crash and burn? Questions, of course, that no one can really answer until you've moved beyond the need to answer them. Four weeks, and yet, so many valuable lessons and experiences packed into that time that I wonder if I can retain them all long enough for them to be put into good use.

One of the most gratifying things about my internship was the feedback I've received from this diary series. So much of its has been positive and constructive and encouraging that it's made me look forward to learning hard lessons. I've always maintained that the best way to learn is through failure -- learning the hard way what not to do. But there's something to be said for learning from success, analyzing what exactly it was that struck a chord. The triumphs are as instructive as the obstacles.

Some feedback on these columns has been oddly negative, centering around complaints like, "Don't tell me about the bad day you've had," or, "Don't tell me about the frustrations of the world." While I can understand this reaction, I also maintain that there are things about the business, the world at hand, that deserve realistic explanation. This business is a hard, difficult, disillusioning, and down-and-dirty one, and that's the first hard lesson I learned out here. The glamour of Hollywood is just a facade, plain and simple; it masks a business (a business, folks) that's as demeaning and cutthroat as any other. Perhaps more so. Money is made because of the combination of popular elements, and it's that simple. If you strike gold once, it's smart to try striking for it again, until the mine is dry. It's always nice to entertain notions of a society where artistic achievement is celebrated and supported, but even those rare endeavors are underwritten by the fatalistic reality of the industry; that if it doesnít make a profit, it's not worthwhile.

I've come to understand much about the industry from my meetings and interviews and encounters with film musicians. I've gotten a sense for the fraternal nature of the film-scoring community, uncomfortably so. (There were times that I couldn't help but think, "High school never ends.") I've been constantly surprised at the dichotomy between composers whose styles are their livelihood, and composers who consciously choose not to have a style, preferring to try as many musical forms as possible in an attempt to become chameleonic. There is plenty of jealousy, sniping, gossip. There were many composers that fell over themselves to be friendly, because they're smart enough to know that their careers will be buttressed by being accommodating to the powers that be. Being a "yes-man" can, has, and will lead to a hefty bank account. Hard reality there -- do things the way they're expected to be done, do it with energy and enthusiasm, and for many, that's all it will take.

When I was in high school, I used to watch movies and listen to scores and imagine endlessly about the fabulousness of those that created all those things. Hard reality steps in -- many of these people whom we read about are just men and women like our own parents and bosses and friends and neighbors. They're people working to put food on the table, to make ends meet. Some composers I've met work out of their houses. Steady employment is a rare, rare thing. And it all depends on what's successful, who's hot, who's in, who's on top. More than ever I've counted my blessings for the stability of my friends and family, for this business that I'm dipping my toes into has absolutely no guarantees. Something could come along next week that could engineer a steady year of income and work -- but the flipside is, there could be a four-year dry spell after that. So many people work and work and work to achieve their dreams, and yet, there is only enough luck to go around. And luck, my friends, is an asset that is spread awfully thin sometimes.

It makes more sense to me, now, to see why top composers, filmmakers, what have you, are deified, because their combinations of artistic and fiscal success are so, so rare. It's easy to champion three or four composers and give everyone else short shrift, because those folks got lucky and the others didn't. I've seen a lot of this, in every film music publication, in every film music website, in rec.music.movies. People will buy anything by Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, John Barry, whatever. It's the herd mentality, and the core of it is the explanation for how Hollywood keeps working: Give The People What They Want. Like it or not, that's how it is.

And so the most challenging thing of all should be to celebrate what's possible. Support those that are struggling to find success, because they can use all the help and input they can get. Be constructive and unlimited in your criticism. If you really don't like something, then have the courage to at least understand where the artist is coming from. Success doesn't come from attacking an end result; it comes from understanding what led to that end result. Sun-Tzu once wrote that "the highest realization of warfare is to attack the enemy's plans." (Read: understand your enemy.) Life is truly a competition, and it's always beneficial to try to understand the good and the bad. Yes, this is an idealistic notion, but think about it this way; if someone hadn't supported the work of Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams or Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer, they'd be just guys you hadn't heard of. No one gets success by themselves; it takes willpower, determination, and guts, as well as the willingness to listen to what people have to say. You can learn just as much from the bad as you can from the good.

So I must thank the Film Score Monthly crew for their ability to let me stand on my soapbox and take it all in. I can only imagine their reactions after I stepped out of the door of the office on my last day:

Jon-and-Al Kaplan (they're more of a single unit than two people): "His soundtrack collection is sick."

Jeff Bond: "Weelll..... Comerford was spectaaacular."

Lukas Kendall: "Listen to me! Listen to me! Shut up! The Ninth Gate was great!"

Tim Curran: "Jason's gone?"

Chelo Avila: "I wonder if he still wants his frozen dinners he left in the fridge."

To the FSM crew I must say: Thanks a million, folks. I'll see you when I come back for another dose of Hard Reality.

Jcomerford79@juno.com


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