2020 A Year of Gratitude

2020 Grateful Year

2020 has been a challenging year for us all. Between the pandemic and all its devastating effects, natural disasters, political turmoil, social unrest, and murder hornets – seriously, murder hornets, that’s a thing – the year has tested our mettle in ways most of us couldn’t possibly have imagined. It’s easy to get lost in the doom & gloom, there’s so much of it all around us. But it’s important, as always, to see the good and be grateful for what we have.

Philanthropic giving has reached new highs. Neighbors have been helping friends and strangers alike. People have stepped up in a variety of ways to help one another all over the globe and that’s beautiful. We’ve found creative ways to celebrate and collaborate. Many of us have been forced to stay home – either working from home full time or sadly because of losing work – affording us opportunities for more family time like never before. Remote learning has brought out the teacher in all of us, and heightened our appreciation of what teachers do, something I hope we remember when in person school resumes. Despite all the challenges posed by the pandemic, here in the US, we’ve had an unprecedented election turnout, that’s a good thing, the more people are involved the better our democratic system works.

And of-course researchers have managed to develop an effective vaccine for this devastating virus in record time – scratch that, several vaccines, two of which have already been deployed and others that appear to be on the cusp of being ready for approval and distribution. That alone is an unprecedented and monumental scientific feat to be celebrated.

On a personal level I have so much to be grateful for. First, my family and I have all stayed healthy. Back in Israel my father received his first dose of the Corona virus vaccine along with hundreds of thousands of others providing some peace of mind. Sadly, my aunt Shula passed away, but I’m grateful that her illness was short, and she didn’t suffer much. And while it was hard being unable to travel to Israel for her funeral, thanks to technology, I was able to watch it live and participate from halfway around the world. It was surreal, especially since it happened on my son, Zach’s, 9th birthday, but I’m grateful we got to celebrate his birthday and it provided some joy on a very sad day.

When the shutdown took effect I was on hiatus, and so I was extremely concerned about when I might have income again. We had sold our home a couple of years ago and had money in the bank from the sale for a future down-payment on a new house. I knew that worst case scenario we could use that money to live, and it would delay our ability to buy a house once again, potentially by years, but at least we had financial resources to get us through a prolonged downturn. So, I was grateful for that, and decided to make the most of my hiatus.

Just before the shutdown, my eldest son was diagnosed with autism along with some other co-morbid diagnoses. I took full advantage of my time away from work to focus my efforts on better understanding what his diagnoses mean, and what changes we need to make in our lives to better provide him with the help he needs and will continue to need. It’s not a diagnosis anyone wants to receive, but I’m actually extremely grateful for it. We’d been having various struggles with him for years and to finally understand what’s going on meant we could finally address the underlying issue in a targeted, specific and effective way, something we couldn’t do before. I’m also grateful for my youngest son, who has in many ways taken on the role of his brother’s keeper and continually amazes me with his acts of kindness, understanding and generosity. Both boys love and care for each other deeply (when they’re not trying to kill each other and young brothers do), and I’m immensely grateful for that.

I spent most of March researching what resources are available, we got an IEP started with his school, got him registered with the regional center, which provides some services, and then the shutdown came, and with it everything ground to a halt. Not being a medical professional, I felt helpless and frustrated at my inability to do anything about the pandemic (other than following expert advice on personal behavior). I decided to do what I know, make music. I wrote an arrangement of a mashup of Bridge Over Troubled Water & What a Wonderful World and enlisted over 80 musicians from around the world (mostly LA session musicians) to each record themselves and send me the audio & video. I asked my friend Pam March if she would edit the video for me, and I spent about 3 weeks in April working on this project. The result was 82 musicians (myself included) contributing 136 tracks of audio to produce a fund-raiser video for the benefit of the Motion Picture & Television Fund.

Thanks to my publicist, Stephanie Pfingsten and my wife, video got a bit of media attention and was included in a Deadline article about Hollywood’s Coronavirus PSAs alongside videos from Alyssa Milano and others. This led to a Newsweek interview, a front-page spot in my local newspaper The Signal both in print and online, and an interview for CBS Los Angeles and KCAL 9, which aired the story at least 3 times. Between YouTube, Twitter and the Deadline article, the video has been viewed over 25,000 times and helped raised several thousand dollars for the MPTF COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. I’m so grateful to everyone who gave and/or shared the video to help spread the message, as well as to all the musicians who donated their time and talent to this project.

Incredibly during this time Warner Bros. announced they would pay all their employees for at least 3 weeks during the shutdown (at least WB post production did), and since I do my music editing work through WB’s 2-Pop, I was included. It was such a huge relief to have some income, I will forever be grateful to WB for stepping up it did.

Right at the time the video was released, I got a call from the Amazon show I had worked on before the pandemic, Welcome to the Blumhouse, which is a film anthology series. They were going to try and finish the first movie and see if they could find a workflow that would allow them to continue working on the rest. The timing was perfect, the WB checks had just ended, and I had work again. I got through the first of the films, Nocturne, which was scored by Gazelle Twin, and since the process was successful the show was back on track to finish the remaining films in the anthology series.

Other projects also came in. My friend, director Joe Ferro, sent me 2 short films to score, Choices, which he produced for Director Jason Peguero & My Name Is Mary, which he directed. Both are expected to premiere at film festivals in 2021. Then came a another of Welcome to the Blumhouse anthology films Black Box, where I met the wonderful composer Brandon Roberts,

Director Leo Pfieffer, for whom I’d previously scored the short Lost Time and the yet to be released short Stars contacted me about another of his projects. Haven in the Booth is an inspiring short documentary about a social worker who started a hip-hop music therapy program at a NY high-school for at risk kids and his program is helping kids avoid gang life and graduate high-school. Leo was co-directing and due to circumstances was forced to use another composer, but he wasn’t quite getting what he wanted and was struggling to communicate with his composer. He asked me if I could help. I watched the film, offered some thoughts and advice and wished him well. A week or two later he called me back, asking if I might be willing to re-score the film, he just couldn’t quite get there with the original composer. I was honored to be part of such an inspirational story and couldn’t be prouder of this film.

The timing was pretty awful, my brother-in-law had suffered a stroke and my wife drove out to Colorado to be with him and help him in his recovery. For about 2 weeks I had to juggle work and being a single dad to our 2 kids who were doing remote learning. Ethan celebrated his 11th birthday while she was gone. It was bittersweet, but I had reached out to my friends and colleagues to arrange a nice drive-by to surprise him, and I’m grateful to all who showed up. Difficult as it was, I’m grateful my wife went to help her brother, and even more grateful that he is doing well. Thankfully it was a minor stroke, and he is fully recovered. I’m equally grateful she came back 😉

Right around that same time, my friend Katherine LebLond recommended me to a producer friend of hers who was looking for a composer for a feature documentary. I scored The Last of the Winthrops, a fascinating documentary that will also premiere in 2021 over the coming weeks. I was almost done scoring it when they decided to bring in Doug Blush, an experienced documentary filmmaker to help. This put the project on hold while they were re-cutting it, and once again the universe stepped in and The Manor, another of the Welcome to the Blumhouse films went into post. I was introduced to composer Chris Drake, and spent the next 3-4 weeks working on the film, which will also be released in 2021.

As soon as that was over, The Last of the Winthrops was back. I was expecting a new locked cut, but really couldn’t do much until it came. With a looming deadline it became clear that we’re not going to be able to get it done in time, the cut just needed more work. So the mix was delayed by 3 weeks. The very next day after the mix was pushed, my friend Katherine LeBlond called me again, this time asking if I might be available for the next 2 weeks. I was!

Katherine hired me to music editing Shawn Mendes: In Wonder, the Netflix documentary about the pop star, which she was co-producing. It was a massive task for just two weeks of work, and as we got through it, we realized we needed some original score to help get the film finished. The score was created by using existing tracks from Ólafur Arnalds, but about ¼ of the score just couldn’t be covered with his music. So I was asked if I would write original music for the film. I was consequently hired as composer in additional to music editor. Working on this project was an incredible experience working with director Grant Singer, as well as Shawn’s team and briefly directly with Shawn himself.

As soon as that was done, The Last of the Winthrops was back again in full swing. I got the new cut and realized I had to either conform or re-write every single cue plus write an additional 19 minutes or so of new music, get it recorded, mixed and ready for the dub stage in just 3 weeks. With nearly 70 minutes of music to get done, it was a daunting task. But as the Beatles once sang I got by with a little help from my friends. I hired my friends at Joy Music House to do the music prep, and kept writing while they were preparing the music for my musicians, who would each record themselves remotely and send me their tracks. It felt good, especially this year, to be able to provide some work for my friends and colleagues.

I was thrilled for my go-to mixing engineers when they turned the project down because they were busy on other projects, but it posed a problem for me. I needed a mixer. My friend Adam Michalack recommended Marc Daniel Nelson. I gave him a call, we hit it off and I hired him. I couldn’t be happier with the results. I’m so thankful to my friends who helped me get through this project. The music mix was finished just a day before I had to send the music to the dub stage, not unusual in our business.

The next day I drove up to Skywalker Ranch, where I stayed for 5 days as the film was mixed. It was my first (and only) work outing since the March lockdown. Being back at Skywalker was nice – it had been 11 years since my last time working there – but being away from home, away from my wife and kids is always hard for me. It was a strange experience due to all the Covid restrictions and precautions, but I was grateful for the experience of working with people in person and being on a dub stage again for the first time in months. The drive to and from Skywalker also rekindled my habit of listening to audio books in the car and I finished Moby Dick.

Shortly after my return from Skywalker the next of the Welcome to the Blumhouse films was ready for post and I got to work with composer Jacques Brautbar for the first time on Black as Night, which will also premiere in 2021. I also got a call from my friend Yon Van Kline who was editing a fascinating educational program about the power of slam poetry called Poetry on Fire. He introduced me to the filmmaker, who consequently hired me to write the theme and transitional music for the program, which led to doing a 2nd one shortly thereafter.

I was also approached by my friend Elizabeth Dean to score her short, animated film Rudy, about a young Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. She was planning to have her nephew voice the title character, but it didn’t work out and so I asked my son Zach if he’d like to do it and when he agreed she was thrilled to have him do it. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to record my son for his first ever voice acting job. It was so much fun recording him and seeing his reaction when he first saw the film once it was done was priceless. He loved seeing his name in the credits and showed off to all of his classmates.

Chris Drake, whom I had met a couple of months before on The Manor, called me and asked if I would work as his music editor on season 2 of Creepshow, which he was scoring. Once again, I had a paying project, and it’s always flattering to have a client call you back after a good experience.

Just before Thanksgiving, after months of working the system, my son Ethan finally began receiving ABA therapy. Getting ABA therapy approved an started was a process we started in March right after his diagnosis. 6 or 7 weeks in, I cannot overstate how grateful I am, or how proud I am of him for the work he’s doing with his therapist. We’re seeing changes already and I feel we’re finally on the right track of providing him with the support he really needs.

As the year end neared, I finally had time to get back to a project that I’ve been working on for about 2 years, a gorgeous independent film called Monologue. I agreed to score this film for free with the understanding that it would have to happen in my free time. Well, I finally finished scoring it and am grateful for the opportunity to hire some of my musician friends to record the score. I’m putting the finishing touches on the mixes and hope to see the film in the festivals circuit in the new year.

Capping off the year, I was delighted to get the call to work on my 5th of the Welcome to the Blumhouse anthology films, providing me with another opportunity to meet new composers, this time Isabelle Engman & Gerardo Garcia, Jr. who are scoring Madres (also to be released in 2021). We spotted the film before the new year and I’m looking forward to finishing it I January. I’m also thrilled that season 2 of Stargirl is back and can’t wait to work with Pinar Toprak, Geoff Johns, and the rest of the team on this fun show.

If you’ve made it this far, it’s obvious that despite the challenges, both personal and shared, I’ve been extremely fortunate this year. After a 3 month break, I’ve managed to keep working the rest of the year. Not all of the projects covered our bills (short films and indie documentaries don’t pay well), but we’re doing OK. Better than most this year, which is incredible. Our son is finally getting the proper targeted help that he needs, and we have a better understanding of his challenges. I also started walking daily in mid-November. I take our dog, put on my mask and listen to audiobooks while we walk. I’ve set a goal of walking 100 miles per month and just reached my goal, which I expect to match or exceed next month.

I have so much for which to be grateful. My wife, my kids, our health, work, my friends and colleagues. In some ways the social limitations have brought me closer to my family and many of my friends. We talk on the phone more. We check on each other more and I’m grateful for it. As we head into the new year, I’ll leave you with this music video arrangement of Auld Lang Syne I made as a tribute for all who have struggled, especially those who have lost a loved one, and to our incredible healthcare workers who are on the front lines of the battle with Covid 19. I wish you all a happy 2021, may it be your best year yet, but not as good as the years to follow.