It’s no secret that 2009 was a slow year for a ton of people. Coming off the slump that the world economy has been in for the last two years, for many facets of the entertainment biz, things couldn’t get much worse. As we’ve wrapped up this last year, I have heard numerous sighs of relief, seen many puffed up cheeks of exhaustion, and felt the overwhelming dark cloud of “what now?” on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Generally, it seems that most of us are perfectly happy to blow a kiss goodbye to the last decade and get on with this new one that, just like that, is suddenly upon us.
As we focus on this new year, and with that, the new topic here at SCO of “Getting the Gig”, I’d like to encourage you and your business by suggesting something to you that you may not appreciate. You know — one of those slightly annoying Ogden diatribes that gets under your skin, pisses you off, and just generally makes you angry that I even decided to post on SCO today to begin with. Just think of me as the one guy in your corner who won’t always tell you what you want to hear. I’ll leave that to the 1.1 million other people in Hollywood!
Someone who was a huge influence in my life was the late great Michael Kamen. I was fortunate to study under Michael for a very short time before he passed, and I learned a lot from him about this gig and how to sustain a career in it. I also learned about the importance of an encouraging word and a helpful heart – two things that Michael believed in and practiced daily.
One of Michael’s favorite things to say to any of us students was always “There’s no crying in film scoring!” This, of course, was his paraphrase of a famous line from the Penny Marshall film A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, when Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan proclaims to a sobbing female infielder, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
Michael Kamen was right. There, in fact, *is* no crying in film scoring. If you are upset about the way that your career is going, change it. Don’t pout, blame, whine, accuse, or assign the reasons for your failures to anyone or anything but yourself. You can’t. You own them all. They are yours, whether you like it or not. The trick to this gig (or any gig, for that matter) is when you get knocked off the horse, dust your ass off and get back up on it again. Keep moving ahead. Keep writing music. Don’t stop writing for a single second.
When you are not writing film music, you are not being a film composer. You are being… whatever it is that you are doing other than writing. An office assistant, , a gofer, a professional lunch eater, whatever. But you aren’t being a film composer. So stop that. If this last year felt slow and you are afraid of another slow year, get busy and make some calls. Go to some parties. Connect with some writers or directors or gaffers or location scouts or costume designers. Find out what they are working on, and find an “in”. Schedule a meeting with the principals. DO something.
2010 is not going to be the “Year of the Whiner”. It is going to be the year in which those who have their heads in the game and get their asses moving are going to be the ones getting the gigs. It’s all about “hustle”; it’s all about desire; it’s all about action. What are YOU willing to do to get on your next show? Are you willing to demo five times for FREE? You might have to. In fact, you’ll probably have to. Are you willing to fork out that extra grand you really don’t have right now so that you can have a decent string library to mock-up cues with? Better yet: Are you willing to spend the $10,000 it would take to hire an LA string section to touch up those demo cues you wrote in November?
What will you “risk” in order to “achieve” this year? What will you not do this year that you did too much of last year? What will you do more of in 2010 that you should have done more of in ’09? Time to take inventory.
Yes. Take a good, hard, honest look at how you ran your business in 2009 and ask yourself the tough questions. Were you a hustler last year, or did you rely on others to pick up the phone and call you? Did you invest in yourself at all (via gear, promotion, networking, etc.), or is the “awareness needle” at about the same hash-mark that it was this time last year for you in the film production community?
Last thing: Have you already started this new year… this new DECADE… with a negative attitude? It’s a tired adage, but it’s a true one: Attitude is everything. Maybe you should be being thankful that you are still in the game at all! This is a tough business and a difficult career choice. I’ve said it before: If you are great at something else besides scoring films, please… for the love of all that’s holy… DO THAT! This gig is not easy. I said all that to say that if you are still here after a year of trying, kudos to you. Seriously. Most people are long gone by now. You should be proud of yourself and excited to kick 2010’s ass. That’s no small feat.
We could all learn from Michael Kamen’s feelings about whining and crying in this gig. Perhaps his sentiment can be summed up by an exhortation from a character in one of his most popular films. After Robin of Locksley launches into his warrior companion Azeem for choosing to meditate instead of help his new friend defend himself from a group of menacing marauders, Azeem observes, “You whine like a mule. You are still alive!”
Be thankful, be humble, be happy. You’ll be a better composer for it. The best way to “get the gig” is to first show up. The second best way is to show up with an infectiously positive attitude.
Start this new decade off right… and get one.