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
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
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.