Diversify Your Composer Career: Create a TV Show!

Film Music Magazine • August 9, 2010

The following was submitted as a comment in response to a FMM column about taking charge of your career and making things happen. The commenter wrote under the pseudonym “Kid Surf”, and tells a fascinating story of his journey from being a composer, to creating a television show, to eventually looking forward to composing again with a new perspective. It presents a fascinating and compelling story of one way to diversify in today’s challenging business environment for film & television music. — Editor

From FMM Final Note “The Myth of the Working Composer” – “And being involved means not waiting for someone else to get the job done…”

Agreed. I set out to do just that. So, what I did was; I went out and created my own TV show, at least on paper thus far. My deal calls me a “creator/producer”. What happened was I got sick and tired of waiting around for someone else to take me to the promised land. It occurred to me that my best shot was taking myself there. But this meant that I’d need to create the content myself.

My story goes like this: I had met with a composing agent at a boutique agency who agreed to hip-pocket me explaining that 99.999999% of the work I was to secure on my own, that they would then do the deal and that there was a chance in hell that I’d be put up for gigs that their bigger composer passed on. I agreed to this, what the hell. Days later I met with a composing agent at ICM. He was on about how difficult it was to get his clients work. He asked me who some of my favorite composers were. I pointed to the poster over his shoulder and said “that guy for starters, I wouldn’t mind having his career.” And I was being sincere. Agent says, “believe it or not I’m having a hard time finding him work.” Somehow we landed on the subject of screenwriting. That was my epiphany moment – why not write something myself, and produce it, and direct it, and therefore score it.

A year and a couple of scripts later I found myself represented [as a screenwriter] by arguably the hardest agency on the planet to find representation from and I was taking meetings from prodcos that wouldn’t have given me the time of day as a composer. It was a strange experience sitting down in those meetings and hearing the statement “We love your work…tell us what you’re looking to do.” Or having my meeting interrupted by a phone call, a long phone call, and when the producer returned to the room stated “Sorry, that was Brad [Pitt] kinda had to take it. But here is what Brad likes _____.” They spoke this way as if I was used to it. See, I was used to [as a composer] people who don’t matter, and will never matter, treating me like I was just barely as smart as their pinky toe and about as valuable as a cigarette ash on a windy day. Pulling onto the studio lots was especially surreal, particularly when I rounded the corner on the Universal lot and saw the sign for Amblin Entertainment. My stomach dropped as I thought “what in the hell am *I* doing here.” Took me several of these types of meetings to understand that these were ‘my’ meetings, that I was supposed to more or less drive these meetings in the direction I wanted them to go as a person who now creates content [Although, I'm still afraid of my agents]. It took me a minute or two to realize that these people actually saw me as having tangible value. I wasn’t used to that as a composer, not at all.

The most surreal moment thus far was when my agent called stating “You’ve got a deal with _____. Congrats on your first deal. This is just the beginning.” Then came more surreal moments as I sat with a room full of producers and studio execs as we discussed ‘my’ TV show. It’s like, okay, this isn’t a joke or pretend, this is real. What a trip. I thought, “Hmmm…I guess I no longer need to meet with idiot directors with their hollow promise of back end, or fees like $2,000 to score a million dollar indie, or ghosting for a studio composer who stiffed me more than once.”

BTW – should also mention my phone call with an 800 pound gorilla of a film producer. He calls me, he’s speaking in a hushed voice, in the background I can make out what sounds like a director giving directives. Yes, this producer was calling me from the set of a big 150 million dollar film. Says to me “how would you like to get paid to write a movie for me?” You already know what my answer was. Couple days later I’m sitting in his high rise office reminiscent of a James Bond film. We’re sitting across a sleek round table from each other in low, ultra-modern seating. I can almost hear the blood pulsing through my ears it’s so quite. The producer is sitting silent, I’m waiting for him to speak. Suddenly, he leans forward stating “Let me explain some of the bullshit of Hollywood that you must ignore.” From that moment on, as I sat soaking up his wisdom, I felt as though I was having one of those Godfather moments, sans the cuban cigars. Again, I couldn’t help but think “what am
I doing here, I’m just a composer and here I am sitting across the table from one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood and he’s being startlingly candid with me.” The producer took me under his wing in some respects.

Point is: These things rarely happen to a composer. Thus, I do recommend not waiting around for someone else to get the job done. True, I’m taking the very long way around to writing the music I want to write. But who knows more about what the music should be than the guy who created the TV show/film?

This is my mantra: “Life ain’t a fucking dress rehearsal”. This falls in the realm of what an agent said to me many years ago: “You aren’t a blond with big t**s, act like a your own agent until you have one.” ~ Blond Agent with big t**s.

p.s. If my TV show ‘goes’, ironically I will only write a cue here or there. I would hire a composer and do my level best to fight for original music that is inventive [not interested in library music, AT f-ing ALL]. I’d also fight for a decent music budget. BUT, it would be up to the composer to prove, to me first of all and secondly the network, that a music budget is warranted. Yes, I get it, it would be a near impossible feat. Then again, it’s nearly impossible for a composer to turn right around and do what I’ve done in a matter of 2 years [not that I'm a 'made man'...yet]. I’m used to fighting impossible odds. Why stop now?

Yes, be proactive. Absolutely. I’m trying to do my part in this battle as well as, hopefully, inspire someone to get off their ass and go make it happen!

Comments

By Mike on August 9th, 2010 at 6:34 pm

That’s a great story. Congrats.

Just out of curiosity, what was your day job or source of income during all of this?

By brian scott phraner on August 9th, 2010 at 6:55 pm

An amazing story/perspective.

By Adrian Ellis on August 10th, 2010 at 5:11 am

Wow, you must be one hell of a writer!

I’m absolutely fascinated by people’s stories of how they made it… the climb up, the tipping point, those lucky breaks, and how they kept it all going after they ‘broke’. Invariably, one finds that (apart from being extremely likable and having chops) a key factor in their success is some talent, gift, or gambit that lies entirely outside of composing music to picture. In this case, it was a talent for producing content that sells, as I’m sure not anyone would have found as much success as the author.

It would be very interesting to follow this career and see if the writer can leverage their success and steer it towards their desired vocation. On the other hand, if they make oodles of cash on a couple of shows and retire rich to write any damn music they please, that wouldn’t be a bad outcome either :)

By Symon Michael on August 11th, 2010 at 5:39 am

This is very inspirational. The two notes that I took from this are: 1) There is probably plenty of work to be had, if you drop preconceived notions about who should be doing what and step up to the plate yourself, and 2) No matter what the economy or situation as far as an “oversupplied” talent market, one universal rule still applies: The cream always rises. (I believe this to be true in any profession).

Cheers and best wishes,

–>S.

By Richard Ford on August 12th, 2010 at 5:56 am

Having watched Kid Surf online through this progress, I can attest that he’s not your ordinary guy. He’s persistent AND smart. My experience, I just produced my second movie, is similar. You have to create opportunities. Maybe it’s screenwriting, maybe producing, maybe creating content. You also want to go to people that can hire you.

Go Kid Surf!
Richard

By Mike on August 14th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Kid, do you have a website or a blog where we can all watch your success and root for you like Mr. Ford has been able to do? I tried googling a bit, but didn’t come up with anything. Anyway, if someone manages to find something, point me in the right direction please.
Cheers,
M

By Chris on August 20th, 2010 at 8:54 am

Not to poo poo a very interesting article, and continued success to Mr. Kid, but creating a (money making) composing opportunity for yourself by what amounts to a career change is probably not going to work out so well for most people. I would assume Mr. Kid had an inkling he knew he could write pretty well before going down this path. Of course it’s well worth a read and if the message that you come away with is -be creative in your approach to gaining contacts and work-then you’re on to something. If the message you come away with is -take a 180 degree turn from the career you really want and see if you can gain success there and then hopefully that will lead you back to the path you originally hoped for…-then you are likely to have limited (if any) success. USUALLY, becoming a screen writer with a real paying job and agents and producers banging down your door takes just as much work and has just as much frustration as becoming a composer with a real paying job. I think when you talk to most successful people in the composing field, or any field, you will find 99% of the time they will say that while talent is important it is the perseverance and drive one has for their particular field which leads to success. Mr. Kid is in the 1% side of that equation. Kudos to him but probably not a wise career move for most young composers.

By Madeline on August 25th, 2010 at 8:47 pm

I am a creator of a prime-time reality show. It is absolutely the first of it’s kind. It is very difficult to get anyone in the industry to take a look at what I have. The one thing I do have in my favor is staying power and tricks up my sleeves. I am not going down until the fat lady sings…and my fat lady ain’t singing anytime soon!

By Mike on September 1st, 2010 at 11:39 am

I guess I usually post here preferring to remain anonymous. After all, I’m not proud of my strong cynical side…

However, I have to always keep questioning the legitimacy of people who make awesome claims and always do it from a position of anonymity.

You’ve got Kid Surf, apparently an overnight success story as a writer, but has no information online…..at least no information attached to the pseudonym Kid Surf…..followed up by Madeline, who apparently has got something pretty cool and lots of tricks up sleeves.

If I was in Kid Surf’s position, I would probably give the readers my real name….so you at least have to wonder…..what exactly was the vetting process by filmmusicmag before they posted this.

By Mark Northam on September 1st, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Hi Mike -

We don’t verify comments before we post them, and this story was based on a comment posted anonymously, just like yours. However in this case, a friend of mine also knows Kid Surf and verified that his story was accurate based on the details and events in the story. There were a few details left out (according to my friend), but given the overall accuracy, we’re not in a position to start editing people’s comments, etc.

Anonymous posting is, like it or not, part of our industry – an industry where many people are scared to even publicize their own successes for fear of attracting others (competitors) who will say and do anything to try and steal, discredit, or otherwise disrupt a person’s success and career for their own gain. This is especially true in LA, where mercenary doesn’t begin to describe the business climate for composers, but also true elsewhere. I don’t blame Kid Surf for not posting his name – in the current business climate, he’s got nothing to gain but an avalanche of phone calls and emails from hungry composers, plus perhaps some who would like to see him dislodged from his (current) position of success who go straight to the studio.

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