I was ecstatic at finally landing my first professional music editing gig in 1985 as an apprentice music editor at Segue Music. “Apprentice” was defined in the union handbook (as I recall) as one who “winds, rewinds, and carries film” among other low-level tasks like cleaning up the office, getting coffee for the room-at- large and making pick-ups & deliveries. They had a company pick-up truck for the apprentices to use and I clearly remember going on my first delivery run to Warner Bros., turning up the radio full-blast and singing at the top of my lungs with joy over my new position.
At the time, I had risen pretty far up on the ladder at Universal Studios as a tour guide and was now guaranteed 40 hours-per-week employment year-round (when you’re new on the tour, the work is seasonal with heavy lay-offs after Labor Day – the available hours go to guides with seniority while the newer guides have to scramble for any extra available hours). I was now making about $9 per hour (!) and had health insurance. The summer of ’85, just before I got hired by Segue, I was earning about $280 per week net, supporting a wife a one-year-old daughter and a dachshund-beagle mix. In September I had to cut my guide schedule back to weekends only so that I could keep my seniority and benefits. Even though I had just landed my dream job, I wasn’t ready to kiss my Universal safety net good-bye.
One of the greatest, most wonderful shocks of my life came on Thursday of my second week as an apprentice. I was so excited to be working in “the biz” that I had never even asked about the pay scale or benefits or anything (I would scold my daughters harshly if either of them took a job without knowing those details today). The first week at Segue included a fair amount of overtime because there were quite a few feature films going on when I came aboard. That meant lots of rewinding and organizing and lots of delivering.
Sidebar: Back in1985, all TV and feature film post-production was done on 35mm film. Working on video tape was a couple years away and working digitally on computer workstations wasn’t even a dream yet. Film reels had to constantly be rewound, stacked, filed, labeled, and transported. A 1,000-foot reel of film held just over 11 minutes of program and weighed 8 pounds. When a music editor worked on a reel, there was 1 reel of picture, 1 reel of dialog, and at least 1 reel of music, sometimes 2 or 3 reels of music. A one-hour TV show was edited on 5 picture + 5 dialog reels. That meant if there were 2 reels of music per show reel, there were 32 pounds of film for each show reel to be transported from the scoring stage to the editing room and then to the final dubbing stage (dubbing will be covered in another post). For a 5-reel TV show, that’s 5 x 32 = 160 pounds. A feature film was usually 10 picture reels, so it was 320 pounds (or more) to be transported and managed. This all fell to me and the one other apprentice in the office and we were working under 8-10 music editors.
In my business, we are paid weekly, usually on the Thursday following the previous work week. I had worked my regular 40 hours plus about 15 or so overtime hours. I nearly fainted when I received my first paycheck that first Thursday. It was over $1,100 net! If you thought I was happy driving a delivery truck… stand back! Immediately I was planning quitting my tour guide job, but decided against it because I knew that come next summer, when TV shows went on hiatus, I could be laid off and it would be a good idea to have a second income and benefits to fall back on. Smart move on my part.
My first year at Segue was an incredible journey of learning, working, experiencing, and dreaming. At the time Segue was the music editing company handling all the MTM Enterprises television dramas. In one editing room I’d hear the theme for HILL STREET BLUES. In the next room was the theme for ST. ELSEWHERE. REMINGTON STEELE‘s theme played in another room. We were also working on the TV mini-series PETER THE GREAT. The features that were being worked on included EUROPEAN VACATION, STAND BY ME and CLUB PARADISE.
And in an interesting bit of serendipity, I was once asked to go to the Warner Bros. scoring stage and wait while they recorded cues for an episode of the TV series MOONLIGHTING. Warner Bros. is in Burbank, just a couple of miles from where the Segue offices used to be. I was told that as soon as a cue was recorded and approved, I would take the one cue from Warner Bros. to the dubbing stage at Lorimar Studios (the former MGM Studios, now Sony Pictures Studios) in Culver City, about 20 miles away. I was to deliver the cue, head back to Warner Bros., wait for the next cue, and do it all over again for the rest of the day. MOONLIGHTING used to work on a ridiculously down-to-the-wire schedule and apparently this method of working on the music was standard operating procedure. The man on the podium? The composer/conductor for MOONLIGHTING, Alf Clausen. I didn’t get the chance to meet him that day (he was pretty busy and focused) and I never saw him again until a pretty momentous day for the two of us in 1990.
The first nine months on the job whizzed by and by the end of May, 1986, as I had suspected, when all the TV shows went on their summer break, the shop went from a beehive of activity to a ghost town. Last-hired, first-fired. I wasn’t actually fired, just laid off and told to call back around the end of August when the next TV season would start gearing up again. Back to the tour for another summer. I told you it was a smart move to keep the job, plus I still enjoyed giving tours and making our guests happy.
Sometime late that summer I called Dan Carlin asking if it was time to come back to work and he told me to come in to the office. He met me and we had one of those talks.
You need to know that I have always been someone who tries to find a better, more efficient way to do things. I love using whatever the current technology is at hand to be faster and more accurate. I use copy & paste a lot. Not because I’m lazy and don’t want to type, but because once I’ve gotten it right, copy & paste insures that it will be right every time. I can’t go into too much detail about the old-school methods of film-style music editing and measuring and scoring session prep here because you will glaze over and never come back to the blog. Suffice to say that I was trying to be innovative and a little cutting-edge with my approach to things that were still being done the same way they had been done since the 1950s. As one example, I would use a calculator to measure the length of time from one frame to another in a reel. I had memorized all the decimal conversions and could come up with a timing pretty quickly just by punching in the numbers. The old way was to put the film into a synchronizer and wind the length of film through it while a counter that resembles the odometer in your car would give a read-out of the length of the film in feet and frames which then had to be converted using a table to minutes and seconds. I could (and did) triple check my math in less time than the film could physically be fed through the synchronizer. I was always confident in my calculations. Apparently this wasn’t going over very well with some of the long-time editors in the company. A) They weren’t as confident as I was in the accuracy of my math. If i did screw up a timing, it would be the music editor who would be blamed for the wasted time on a scoring session. B) Apprentices needed to follow the rules of cutting room etiquette and follow established, tried-and-true procedures. Dan was in a tough position because of all he had done (and endured) to get me in the union and give me my first job, but he had a very big, very busy, very high-profile shop to run and employee harmony trumped my nine months of experience. He wished me well, wrote me a very nice referral letter and I went back to the tour full time. Driving home there was no singing and I thought, “Well, that was quick!”
I was concerned (rightfully so) that I would be a tour guide for a long time to come. But remember, luck is part opportunity, part preparation. I was very lucky to have my tour guide job. It provided me with both preparation and opportunity. It was a key that would unlock a new door and reveal the next step on my career path.