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MAKING IT HUGE IN VIDEO GAMES

Memoirs of Composer Chance Thomas

Chapter 27 - Sneak Peek Excerpt

AVATAR 2

On June 22, 2015, the music world was stunned by the unexpected death of beloved film composer James Horner. 

James died instantly when the single-engine S312 Tucano turboprop he was piloting went down in Los Padros National Forest, just north of Santa Barbara, California. I was devastated by the news. Our music scoring community and film music fans from across the globe went into mourning.

James Horner was too young, too precious. He left too much unwritten music behind, ungiven to the world. 

Horner once sheepishly told me that he was the last of the old school film composers. In a day when most of his contemporaries were handing off large chunks of music to be written by their apprentices, Horner felt an obligation, even a passion, to compose every note himself. He was an artist and a gentleman. The world became poorer the day he went home to heaven. 

Months went by. Sadness subsided into numbness. Numbness gave way to fond nostalgia. Life went spinning frantically on its way. 

One day, an uncomfortable thought arose in my mind, “I wonder who is going to score Avatar 2 for James Cameron?” I sort of squirmed in my seat and changed the topic. But after closing my mind to the question, it returned with a surprisingly convicted reply, “You should do it. And you should do it to honor James Horner. There’s no one left on this planet more emotionally attached, more imaginatively immersed, and more musically conversant in the scoring language of Avatar than you are. You should absolutely score the next film.” That’s the story I told myself.  

Still, at many levels, I was ashamed to have thought such a thought. Horner had been kind to me, a mentor to me, lifting the hood on the inner workings of his approach to Pandora’s cultural and emotional narrative. He helped guide me in composing music for the first Avatar video game, one of my finest scores at the time. How could I think about scoring the film sequel? He hadn't even been gone a full year. 

But the thought was persistent and growing. Perhaps the best way to honor Horner’s investment in me was to carry on his legacy, to carry his vision into the new film’s score. To mingle my own voice with his in a way that would never diminish his work, but would add appropriate originality for the new film. That felt right to me.  

I decided to reach out to Horner’s former agency, Gorfaine-Schwartz, and share my convictions. I called agent Cheryl Tiano, whom I’d met at GDC a few years prior. She represented a few of my friends in the game industry and I thought she could steer me in the right direction.  

She listened patiently as I explained my history with Horner, my experiences with Avatar, and the conclusion I had recently arrived at. Would she help me find a way to pitch Cameron with the idea? She took a moment to gather herself, and then stated rather flatly, “There is no chance in hell that you are scoring Avatar 2.

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Tiano's statement returned to my mind many times in the months and years that followed. Such a brutal, castigating response! I was well aware that athletes often use such verbal disses as motivation to prove the naysayers wrong. But to my tender soul, her stinging words felt more like cancer than rocket fuel. I vowed to never throw such poisonous darts at another creative spirit as long as I had breath to live. 

Instead, let me say this to every aspiring, striving, hopeful soul. To those who dream big, to those who aim high. It can be daunting to pursue a lofty goal. Other people’s cynical remarks can be crippling, deterring your pursuit of greatness. Do not absorb their barbs. Do not immobilize yourself by giving oxygen to such damning thoughts.  

Doing nothing is the only guarantee that nothing will happen. Taking action kicks the door wide open to possibility. As Jake Sully famously said, sometimes your whole life boils down to one insane move. 

I'm taking the leap.