We got a film scoring gig, but it didn’t turn out so well… 

Listen while you read to “Coronado Bridge” and “Awakening”, both from the “blue side” (Disc 1) of the Panache Orchestra’s double album “10 Strings” that were initially used in the film project discussed here.

June 26, 2012

Since Chi’s acting work slowed down as a result of him joining the union in April, he has resumed spending practically all of his time sitting in the house trawling the internet for various things (bad news about the ongoing disaster in Japan and any other looming geopolitical and economic catastrophes he can find, Musician Wanted ads on Craigslist, the Japanese classifieds, etc.), and one day in early June he came across an ad from a Japanese filmmaker seeking someone to compose a soundtrack for a project.

You have to be very well established in this specific niche before you can expect to get paid for work like this, but if you’re interested in doing it, you have to start somewhere, and this is the traditional entry point to this field: work on student films for free, do quality work, build a “portfolio”, network your ass off, be competent and easy to deal with, and move up from there.

After making the initial contact, Chi had me take over dealing with the filmmaker since he apparently could communicate in passable English and this would be an editing job rather than a composing/recording job, which would make no sense to triangulate through Chi in Japanese. (Chi could easily compose something from scratch to fit this film, but there is no fucking way that we are going to spend hundreds of dollars out of pocket to get it recorded at broadcast quality for a project we are not getting paid for!)

Anyway, the filmmaker effusively praised the 30-second edit of one piece (“Coronado Bridge” embedded above) I sent according to his request (i.e., “read the script and send a 30-second sample of music that we think would best support it”) and requested that I use the first half of another piece (“Awakening”) that he had listened to from the link to our online music supervisor page that I had sent him, and enthusiastically requested that I be the composer for his film.

So far, so good. He sent a YouTube link of the actual film, which he explained was a silent film in which the dialog would be displayed as text on the screen to be accompanied by music. Chi and I viewed the film together and bounced around some ideas. I was very impressed with Chi’s natural intuitive sense and skill for matching music to moods and visual events in addition to his exceptional creativity and high productivity as a composer. I do some composing and get some ideas, but nowhere near the volume that Chi seems naturally endowed with. This was a fascinating study that provided some corroboration that there is at least some value in continuing our relationship, as there are some areas in which we can work exceptionally well together because we have exactly complementary skills.

What he can’t do is the tedious detail work of physically editing the sound clips and syncing them to the film. I’ve never actually done that before myself (the music video clips I have heretofore dealt with had their soundtrack built in and didn’t require independently syncing a separate soundtrack to them, but since I’ve been working so intensely with various electronic media over the past couple years, it didn’t take me too long to figure it out with the various editing software that I have. That’s another thing Chi cannot (or will not) do: spend time and effort and brain power (all of which he has in great abundance!) working with something and figuring out how to get it to do what he wants. If it doesn’t produce “instant gratification”, he won’t do it. It has always baffled and annoyed the bejeezus out of me the way he is instantly dead in the water the minute anything becomes the slightest bit challenging.

I set to work creating the soundtrack that Chi and I conceptualized together and eventually had a “first draft” in working order that I showed to Chi. He urged me to allow a little space between the audio clips I had spliced together, instead of smushing them into each other so there would be constant sound as I had done. He said the added spaces would emphasize the transitions and better underscore changes to the visual scene. So I took the whole thing apart, re-edited the original clips and pieced it all back together again, leaving brief blank spaces (i.e., silence) between the audio clips as he had indicated. When I played the new version back, the difference was striking.

I played the new version for Chi, who was pleased with it, and after fine-tuning it a little bit, I set about trying to render the film clip complete with new soundtrack to a file size that could be transferred via “Dropbox”. That was a big, frustrating, time consuming pain in the ass, but I eventually came up with a scratchy low-res version and sent it off.

The filmmaker wanted something less dramatic at the end, and sent a couple examples of what he had in mind. One was a nicely done orchestral score that was quite dynamic but subtle, and the other two were so boring and mono-dimensional that I couldn’t even listen all the way through to them. I scaled down the ending and sent the second draft.

One major problem I have identified in collaborating with artists of other disciplines who are not musicians is that they typically do not “speak the language” of musicians, and are not familiar with the arcane realities of our world, which often leads to a lot of confusion and unnecessary extra work, unrealistic expectations, etc. For example, this person communicated with me in a way that suggested that he was assuming I was “composing” the soundtrack for his film from scratch especially for this project, which struck me as a little odd since he had requested specific pieces we have available online that were composed by Chi and recorded a few years ago (i.e., obviously if the pieces are already extant and available online, they have not been just now composed specifically for this project). Maybe he just didn’t recognize them as the ones he had originally requested when I submitted the various versions of the soundtrack I synced to his film? I didn’t see much value in going into a big, elaborate explanation of our capabilities and artistic sensibilities since we had already established what he wanted, or so I thought.

Or maybe he is aware of how typical film composers work, i.e., they’re not necessarily instrumentalists, but they have an elaborate studio rig with vast libraries of samples of instrument sounds that they collage together using sophisticated software (i.e., all machine-made, often with no “real” instruments played by people at all), and couldn’t distinguish the difference in sound? To me, the difference in tone quality between music produced with a real instrument by a competent player and the same part produced as described above is extreme, and for strings, the latter is almost unlistenable. Even a cursory perusal of our information online that I had forwarded to him would make it glaringly apparent that we are not “machine music” types.

Well, after effusively praising the revised score I had sent and verifying credits to place in the final version, etc., the filmmaker came back about 10 days later saying that although he and the producer loved it that day when they first listened to it, now he wants something different for the ending instead. FUCK! I thought this was done and I was free to move on with my life with my first film sound design credit in hand and one more scoring credit for the Panache Orchestra.

Although I could empathize with where he was coming from artistically and emotionally and not take it personally, this irritated the hell out of me, and constituted a textbook example of why I have given up on making music for a living (i.e., for other people): because it’s such an aggravating pain in the ass to be expected to jump through endless hoops for NO MONEY because the person usually has no fucking idea about the logistics required to produce the outcomes they ask for, and then change their mind and keep asking for more, more, more! This also demonstrates how these piecemeal freebie or low-paid projects take on a life of their own and hijack my life for extended periods of time, and subject me to a great deal of domestic distress. Keep reading.

I put off dealing with it for a few days, and then finally on Tuesday evening AFTER we finished dinner (very important point!) I told Chi what had happened, but said that I received the message earlier that evening instead of Friday night when it actually arrived. As I predicted, he took it as a deliberate frontal assault on his creative product and a mortal personal insult and went berserk. He was drunk and high as usual, and started up at me yapping deranged nonsense, demanding that I send the filmmaker a nasty, confrontational email that he would dictate to me. I more or less politely told him to go fuck himself. He got increasingly agitated, and when he started screaming, I immediately got up and withdrew to my home office as I always do under such circumstances since I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in suffering through his trauma drama over basically nothing.

He then flew off his hinges in a drug-addled, narcissistic rage at the grave affront to his oh-so-fragile ego, getting more and more hysterical over the double whammy of the perceived diss to his music compounded by his failure to coerce me into doing his bidding upon his command, and came barging into my office to abuse/ harass me by violating my personal space and privacy, following me around the house babbling crazed, drug-addled noise, snapping pictures of me through the window when I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and get ready for bed, (attempted, or notional) physical violence (grabbing my hair and yanking my head around, just like a spoiled little two-year-old petty tyrant throwing a control drama temper tantrum over not getting his way) which I easily parried with a controlled but purposeful elbow jab to his chest that sent him reeling into the office door.

My objective was not to put him into cardiac arrest, but merely to get the point across that I could if he forced me into a position where I felt that I needed to. I had to repeat that maneuver a couple more times until he eventually comprehended that he was either going to end up in the hospital or in jail again if he kept that shit up. I did have the nous to photograph the large tuft of my hair that he had pulled out and other (minor, but extant) defensive injuries for when I finally get around to taking this whole saga down to the USCIS and making my case for why his visa should be revoked and he should be deported forthwith. Apparently domestic violence constitutes a valid reason.

After the physical confrontation, I ended up in the bedroom and stood mesmerized watching a beautiful, big yellow ¼ moon setting into a palm tree out the window while he continued blathering more idiotic nonsense at my back and eventually went away. It’s sad that he was too attached to his drug addled, hysterical drama queenery to enjoy or even perceive that magical scene.

Amusingly enough, a short while after Chi finally sent his pugnacious email to the filmmaker summarily severing the relationship since he never succeeded in forcing me to do it, the guy sent me a very polite note apologizing for making me feel bad about my composing (I never did get around to explaining to him that I was using clips of already-recorded music that Chi had composed and was not composing/ recording everything from scratch for this project). Apparently Chi had somehow contorted the whole thing around and made it sound as if I were the one with the bruised ego damage, when in fact, I honestly couldn’t care less. I just don’t have the time or interest to dick around with this nonsense.

I’m still on the fence as to whether to write back and set the record straight and perhaps educate the filmmaker in the process, i.e., that no, I’m not a narcissistic douche, and my problem was that I am not in a position to spend endless time going around and around over this for weeks on end. Big picture-wise, I guess it matters little what he thinks of me since we will almost certainly never be in contact again thanks to Chi destroying the relationship without any idea of whether this could have ended up being helpful to us. There! Another reason why I have quit music: it’s apparently impossible to get anything to work out right when doing it with a drug-addicted nut case like Chi.

Prediction: tomorrow when I come home for lunch (or maybe I won’t since I have no interest at all in having to be around that asshole anymore than absolutely necessary), he’ll act as if nothing the least bit untoward had occurred last night, and then some day six months from now he’ll throw it up at me at some totally unexpected time and context as a result of some unknown random trigger, and then sit there dispassionately reciting a long list of “reasons” as to how and why the whole debâcle was entirely and personally MY fault (everything from the first contact that HE had initiated, and the whole progression of events on up to HIS reaction to this latest development), as is typical of pathological narcissists.

******

UPDATE:

Well, he surprised me. Sort of. I called in sick the next day at work since I was knackered from the domestic violence episode and getting no sleep that night thanks to that abusive ass-fuck and his infantile lack of self control, and I honestly wasn’t feeling all that great even before that happened (accumulated sleep deprivation and chemical fume exposure from the ongoing bathroom remodel, plus the rag descending on me to top it off). Anyway, while I was getting ready to start making dinner, he came into the kitchen and asked me to listen to him explain his actions from the night before. Note that he doesn’t say “can we talk about what happened last night?”. He just dictates at me that he wants me to drop whatever I’m doing and sit there and listen while he delivers an oration in defense of his abominable behaviour. What-the-fuck-ever.

It turned out to be twofold: the affront to his ego (which he took out on me as always — perfectly normal and ok in his mind, apparently. He even clearly stated that the person 100% in the wrong was the filmmaker! Again, what-the-fuck-ever. We’re dealing with a very serious head case here); and his frustration at being repeatedly inconvenienced by my inability to precisely predict exactly how long it will take to do various things (prepare dinner when I’m in a condition resembling zombified lukewarm shite, get some crazy-complicated tech-y thing to work, etc.), which again, at least in his deeply sick, developmentally arrested mind, is perfectly justified and beyond reproach. Chi’s towering egotism and narcissism is truly astounding, and actually quite amusing when I can detach myself from it and simply observe the spectacle he routinely makes of himself!

****

When we finished eating dinner he surprised me again. He started yammering away like he always does when he is stoned while I sat there impatiently waiting for him to finish his salad so I could clear the dishes away and start the dishwasher since it was stuffed full and we were practically out of clean dishes (and I’m practically out of clean laundry, but that crisis will have to wait till the weekend). He eventually articulated something that enabled me to connect the dots: that he was in the throes of acute withdrawal from hard alcohol which he had quit drinking just after Memorial Day weekend a few weeks earlier, and that was making it especially difficult for him to control his reactions to things.

****

Another surprise that probably shouldn’t have been:

The day after that when he got out of the bath that night, he started whining at me that his chest hurt from when “I attacked him the other day”.

“Um, no. You attacked me. Do you remember what you did, and why I had to defend myself? No? Let’s review this.”

I led him into the office and pulled the large clump of my hair out of the trash that he had ripped out during the violent confrontation two nights earlier and showed it to him.

I continued, “You might want to re-think your drug addiction, because I really will divorce you for this.”

He remained silent. Perhaps he realized that he was in absolutely no defensible position for an argument. Perhaps he also was getting the point that I just might be serious, and he stood a very real possibility of losing one more family to his drug addiction and mental illness.

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