Luck is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity

The title of this post is what I tell all the students who have visited a SIMSPONS scoring session over the past nearly-twenty-two years. They ask for the secret for breaking into show biz and I tell them that the only chance they have for success in this business is to study and be ready for anything at anytime. They have no control over when an opportunity will come their way, but when it does they better be prepared. Not the sexiest advice ever but it has served me pretty well over the years.

I had been preparing for my big break since college back in 1976-77 when I was an orchestra conducting major at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA. For those who don’t know, CalArts is a performing & visual arts college offering majors in the five arts (music, film/video, theater, dance, and art). As I was wandering the halls one day I saw a notice posted by a film student seeking a composer for his thesis film. I had recently taken an extension course on film scoring at UCLA. For twelve weeks I learned the nuts & bolts of film scoring, but didn’t actually get to compose or record any music (that has since changed over the years at UCLA). So I took my newly minted knowledge to the film school and told the film student that I was his man. The UCLA course also taught the importance of the music editor in the whole scoring process so, naturally, I told the film student that I would need a music editor. Deer-in-the-headlights. I got the same reaction from others in the film and music schools. So I would have to be my own music editor for my first-ever film score.

Fast-forward to the mid-eighties. As much as I loved (still love, but that’s another post) orchestra conducting, I gradually shifted my musical focus from the podium to the editing room. Since that first experience in 1977 I had scored a few more student and “spec” short films, always being my own music editor. I became more and more interested in the music editing process. It allowed me to be very musically involved in film scoring without the pressures of having to create on demand. In my many years as a professional music editor I have seen  quite a few composers have to deal with that pressure with varying degrees of success. I’m convinced I made a smart choice for myself.

In 1985 – three-years married with a two-year-old daughter – my first big “luck” came my way.

After a series of dead-end retail jobs (i.e. pay the bills) I had taken a job as a tour guide at Universal Studios in 1984. I spent my mornings giving tours and my afternoons heading down to the scoring stage on the lot and observing live orchestra sessions while sitting next to and pestering the various music editors. It was a great perk of the job that we had access to the lot. I learned so much. Then I started pestering Dan Carlin, Jr. for a job at his company, Segue Music. Segue was the biggest and best music editing company in Hollywood with 6-10 TV shows and 3-4 feature films being worked on at all times. I wanted to work at Segue. I wanted to be one of the “best”.

Then came the world’s most famous catch-22: no union card, no job – no job, can’t earn a union card. Ugh. The union said that when all unemployed apprentice editors found a job, then I could be hired and get my union card. Cool! How many are currently unemployed? 45. Ugh. I was told to call in every Wednesday afternoon and I’d be given the updated number. For the next year-and-a-half I would call the union at 3:00PM on Wednesday, then call Dan at 3:15PM with the number. The number never dropped below 20. Ugh. Until the first week of September, 1985.

The number was 14.

Dan said he thought he could do something with that number and told me to sit tight. What I didn’t know until December of ’85 was that Dan told the union that he would interview all 14 unemployed apprentices to see if any of them could fill an apprentice vacancy at Segue. He interviewed all of them, rejected all of them for various reasons, then told the union that he wanted to hire me. I started work at Segue on September 11, 1985. On December 24, 1986 I paid my additional initiation fee and was promoted to full music editor status in the Motion Picture & Videotape Editors Guild, Local 776, IATSE.

Twenty-six years later, all thanks still go out to Dan. Thanks for taking my calls. Thanks for your endless patience with my endless persistence. Thanks for running interference with the union. Thanks for hiring me. Thanks for teaching me how to be a good apprentice which helped me Segue into being a good music editor.

Dan is now the Director of the Scoring for Motion Pictures & Television Program at the USC Thornton School of Music. Click here for his page at USC and click here for a really fascinating, in-depth interview he did for ArtistsHouseMusic.org. The interview starts with Dan talking about the role of the music editor.

My next great “luck” would start out as a series of lucky/seemingly unlucky events over the next three years that would lead me to dream gig of all dream gigs. Check back soon for that leg of the journey.

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16 thoughts on “Luck is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity

  1. Hey Chris, Great Blog! I remember “back in the day” at MDM when you were working on the Tracy Ullman Show and the Simpsons were just a little cartoon in that show-…who knew then that it would go to 500 episodes!
    Sue Eller

  2. Great story! Next, tell us the story of how Michael Jackson didn’t really sing “Happy Birthday, Lisa.” (Just kidding).

    Excited to keep reading!

  3. In all those years of you editing MY writing, I can’t recall one time that I got to read a piece of yours. This is fantastic! A story I (and SO MANY of my friends) want to hear. I’ll be reading every word! And, as a side note, I think I know where I get my story-telling flare for literature from now. Great job, Dad!

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