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MAKING IT HUGE IN VIDEO GAMES
Memoirs of Composer Chance Thomas
Chapter 26 - Sneak Peek Excerpt
Gena Downey was a savvy music executive at Walt Disney Pictures’ archive division. She was on a first-name basis with all the key players in the film music group, and met regularly with group president Mitchell Leib.
Gena had taken a shine to my music from Lord of the Rings Online and Peter Jackson’s King Kong. She had a hunch I might be a good fit for Disney’s upcoming film, Jungle Cruise. Under her guidance I began assembling an audition package of eight music cues, with further tutelage from Hollywood music agent Randy Gerston. The crowning jewel in the package would be an original Jungle Cruise Main Theme, lavishly produced with live orchestra.
We discovered that Leib was gathering his team in three weeks to discuss options for the Jungle Cruise film score. Gena planned to raise my name at the meeting and deliver my audition personally. All the pieces were falling into place.
We had no draft of the script yet, just a general story idea and some notes about the proposed film style. With that meager information, I composed a rousing, old-time adventure theme.
We booked a full orchestra and recorded the Jungle Cruise Main Theme demo at HUGEsound. I brought in mixing artist Mike Roskelley to work his magic on the tracks. Unfortunately, problems surfaced during the mix, delaying the theme’s delivery.
With time running out, Randy and Gena wanted to get a feel for the flow of the music. I sent them a mocked-up audition package with all eight cues, substituting the unfinished main theme with a temporary placeholder. The placeholder was an old library cut I had done for Warner-Chappell Production Music with vaguely similar color and timing. Listening to the full package, the flow of music felt so good! All that remained was to swap out the placeholder and plug in the Jungle Cruise Main Theme, just as soon as we finished mixing it.
Mike and I doubled our efforts to finish the mix and everything came together just in time for the meeting. But somehow the files didn’t get switched properly. We unintentionally delivered a demo package that still had the placeholder music imbedded. Disastrously, it was the opening cue of the audition!
Listening to that placeholder, Mitchell Leib was not impressed. “I’ll pass,” he told Gena, bringing the audition to an abrupt close.
I was not aware of the file mixup until weeks later. But by then, it was too late. James Newton-Howard had been selected for the score. My one shot at scoring Jungle Cruise had capsized completely.
What did I learn? Career openings can be razor thin and vanish suddenly. There is no margin for error. I should have never used a placeholder, not in a mocked-up audition package so close to our delivery date. Also, our mix issues should have been resolved in half the time, leaving plenty of space for checking and double checking our submission. Greenhorn mistakes. Costly, very costly mistakes.
Don’t get me wrong, I never harbored any naivety about my odds. Chance Thomas vs James Newton-Howard was always going to be a long shot, a David vs Goliath proposition. But at the very least, I would have liked for Leib to hear the Jungle Cruise Main Theme which I composed for the film. That might have kept him listening to the whole package. And who knows where that may have led?
I will never know.