Wednesday, June 06, 2001

Elias Arts Goes Bicoastal and How I Got My Big Break

When film composer and record producer Jonathan Elias moved to Los Angeles, he took two staff composers with him –Chip Jenkins and Christopher Kemp. They opened shop in a beautiful mansion in Laurel Canyon but had to move when the neighbors complained about bagpipes echoing throughout the valley. And almost simultaneously with Jonathan’s big move, the New York office's production and creative departments emptied out. 

First, Producer Hugh Barton departed for Thad Spencer's creative studio, Asche & Spencer in Minnesota. Next, Ray and Sherman Foote left to start their own empire called Big Foote. After that, composer, Doug Hall, and the company’s sales rep Andy Messenger, also departed to launch their own soon-to-be award winning venture, Mess Hall. Finally, Paul Seymour and creative assistant Jon Nanberg followed the Foote Bros. down the street to Union Square, leaving our west twentieth street Chelsea offices seemingly quite empty of people and music. It felt a bit like the circus had left town.

Initially, Scott and Jonathan hired a headhunter to fill the Executive Producer and other vacant production positions with new blood, and thereby fill a necessary leadership role within the company. When they didn’t find anyone suitable after six months, Scott offered me the role of Senior Producer, and I did my best to consolidate a department once led by three former producers into one singular administrative position. At the time, it felt like many months of stepping though daily rings of fire before I emerged a confident and capable –if still green– professional. But we remained busy, and since I was used to all nighters, and because I was now producing every project, I learned a lot in less time than it might otherwise take. 

With out a doubt, several years of experience were summarily and tidily compressed into a soul shattering but otherwise exciting half year or so. And because there was no senior role model forthcoming, I relied on our advertising industry clients, and film directors and editors to explain to me what their expectations of my role were, -and then I strived to meet or exceed them. 

It is one thing to make a mistake as a coordinator or as an assistant, when only one’s pride is on the line –quite another when an international campaign for a Fortune 500 company looms in the balance, and I certainly stumbled along the way. But that’s how you learn. If you’re fortunate, as I was, you are working with people who see your potential and are patient enough to give you the time to get it right. 

For essential production and talent management skills, I am especially indebted to Keith Dezen and Margie Sullivan from what was then a pre-Volkswagen Arnold Fortuna Lawner Cabot. Their demands of excellence from me across a continuous flow of work for a telecommunications brand framed my early professional education and my evolution from studio assistant to producer to fulfilling an executive producer role.

Additionally, my observation of Film Directors Kinka Usher and Marcus Nispel taught me fearlessness in the midst of a production clock and budget furiously winding down to air time. Audrey Arbeeny was a constant model of grace under pressure and an early advocate of brand strategy during an era when few used the term in commercial media production. Michael Sweet was my first mentor in the recording studio. Scott Elias shared his knowledge of how to build client relationships, and Ralph Ammirati and our own Creative Director, Alex Lasarenko, who brought a haute couture sensibility to music and sound design, constantly challenged me to take an expansive view of possible creative solutions for any given problem or assignment, and never expect anything less.

Not to say these were my only teachers, because I really made an effort to learn something from everyone I worked with.

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