I was 22 working the Xerox machine in publicity at the low-budget schlock-house Cannon films when I volunteered to rewrite some of their press materials (especially since I was one of the few native English-speakers working there). One night after my Xerox job I decided to interview the director of the Brooke Shields epic, SAHARA as he was editing the film.
I noticed his temp track stunk, and with indifferent resignation he pointed to the Cannon music library of about a dozen albums perched in disarray on a wobbly book shelf. The next night I showed up with arms overflowing with Jerry Goldsmith soundtracks to try. With one glance the director offered, “Great, but I don’t have time to go through them… do you music edit?”
#1 RULE IN HOLLYWOOD: IF SOMEONE ASKS IF YOU KNOW HOW TO DO SOMETHING…. LIE!!!
So I blurted out “Yes” deciding I could somehow figure it out later. This was pre-digital editing. It meant having the music transferred to magnetic stock and running it and picture through a monster of an intimidating flatbed editing machine. I hadn’t a fucking clue how to do this. There was no instruction manual. No YouTube instructional videos. Just me, a work print of the film and a massive, daunting hunk of specialized mechanical equipment.
DESPERATELY SEEKING SOMEONE
Like a desperate beggar I wandered the warren of picture editors scrounging for a scrap of assistance. One reluctantly took pity on me and give me a rushed, ten minute tutorial.
He left and I cautiously threaded the machine in the darkness of an editing bay and started syncing up Goldsmith’s GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY soundtrack to picture. I slip the track around, discovered the perfect spot and brandished a razor to cut and spice the music. And in that moment I became an official, unpaid and eager music editor.
PUTTING IN THE HOURS
No one in their right mind would have left me with that work print which I scratched and crunched and frequently turned into celluloid spaghetti. Night after night after my Xerox publicity gig ended I would pull gratis all-nighter syncing up great film scores against this less-than-perfect movie.
After completing the first few reels, it was time to show the director my handiwork. Nervously, I fired up the flatbed, dimmed the lights and presented one hell of a temp track against picture. His verdict: “That works.”
CELEBRATING VICTORY WITH THE MAESTRO
The next night I took off for dinner and treated myself to a meal at a nearby Italian restaurant. As I was being seated I noticed a guest and his family wrapping up their meal…
It was JERRY GOLDSMITH!! Working up every ounce of courage, I moved towards his table, got his attention and told him how I was just temping with his music.
His response was, as best as I can remember, along the lines of “Who are you? Why do I care? And leave me alone”. Okay, it in hindsight it probably wasn’t that harsh, but at the time it sure felt that way.
ENNIO MORRICONE AND THE AFTERMATH
Dejected by Goldsmith’s underwhelming response, I returned the next day to my Xerox job tail between my legs. That was until several directors and editors at Cannon approached me to temp their films having heard about the great (and free) job I had done on the Brooke Shields flick. Again I jumped at the opportunities.
Ennio Morricone was then hired to score the film and when he came into town they asked me to pick him up at the airport and spot the film with him showing him my temp as a reference (which he completely ignored.) A few weeks later Morricone’s music arrived from Italy, it was only a handful of unlabeled cues with very little of it appropriate for a car race film.
I brought this up to the head of the studio who barked back, “Morricone is a genius… make it work.” So it fell upon me to turn it these seemingly unrelated and random cues into a full score to picture using my newly acquired Music Editing skills.
OUT OF THE SAHARA INTO A NEW POSITION
All of this after hours gratis work eventually lead to being offered a full-time job as Cannon’s Head of Music (still at the same minimum wage they had been paying me as Xerox Boy). Right before I took the job, they asked me if I knew how to negotiate film composer contracts… of course I lied and said “Definitely”
THE FINAL GOLDSMITH PUNCHLINE
After finding a kind and patient lawyer to walk me through a composer agreement, I ended up working with and making deals with so many of my composer heroes including Elmer Bernstein and Basil Poledouris. On special occasions I would again treat myself to that Italian restaurant in hopes of seeing Jerry Goldsmith so I could tell him how his music had gotten me a Head of Music job. He was never there.
But just a few years later in a different position we worked together. And after that, he not only cared what had become of me, but when I turned 28 he made me his agent.
One night at a different restaurant I told him what had happened years earlier. I said if he knew he would one day be paying me a percentage of his earnings, he might have been nicer. He smiled coyly and we finished our meal.