Putting It Down On Paper
Updated: Jan 15
Joining the staff of a minor music magazine - My Adventures In Underscore, part 16.
Even though I’d lived in California for over 20 years, I had not yet visited Los Angeles. The reason was simple: I couldn’t bear it.
It’s not as though I wasn’t interested. In 1977, I’d moved to San Francisco to attend film school. The plan was to get my degree and look for work in the business. But for a lot of reasons, it didn’t work out that way. And while I had made a life and built a career in the Bay Area, L.A.—and Hollywood in particular—represented the road not taken. Until now.
As the newly hired art director of an honest-to-gosh film music magazine, I finally had a good reason to visit. Money was an object, as the cost of the trip came out of my pocket, and I would be a work-for-hire freelancer. Southwest Airlines and Fox Rent-a-car fit my budget. Arriving at LAX, I take note of the spidery Theme Building at the center of the terminals. It looks like something out of The Jetsons, and I vividly remember it being used as a villains’ headquarters in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Already my mind is filling with earworms by Gerald Fried.
I didn’t expect to have this much fun so soon.
I pile my bags into the tiny hatchback of the smallest vehicle this side of a Yugo, a tin toy masquerading as an automobile with a KIA logo on it. There’s no air conditioning so I roll down the windows and let the hot southern air blast through the cabin as I make my way up the 415, to the 10 and up Highland. I’m listening to Wang Chung (of course!) on my Discman. The air is relatively clear and the sun is bright, and I blink at the sight of another familiar face.
Behind the window of a nondescript storefront stands an eight-foot emissary from another world. The sun reflects off of his aluminum skin, set off by the fiery red backdrop. Someone has a full-sized replica of Gort, robot policeman from The Day The Earth Stood Still. Why he’s there and what he signifies remains a total mystery. But his presence makes me feel a little more welcome in the City of Angels.
I’m visiting my new employer, Lukas Kendall, founder, editor and publisher of Film Score Monthly. He lives at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, almost directly beneath the storied sign. This is no swanky neighborhood, however, but a rather ordinary street of houses flanked by Lukas’ Googie-inflected apartment complex. The building seems to have barely escaped the overgrown brush behind it. He lives on the top floor and I buzz him to enter.
It’s 11am and my host looks like he just got out of bed. “Oh hey, it’s you. What time is it? Never mind, come on in.” He welcomes me into his one bedroom, which is dark as a cave and nearly as rustic. All the window shades are still drawn, partially obscuring piles of CDs and boxes of magazines that line the walls. There doesn’t appear to be anywhere for me to sit except the floor. I try to keep my smile friendly and casual as he realizes the only seat he can offer me is his swivel desk chair. I demur, saying I’ve been on my ass for the past 3 hours. So he sits in it. What did I expect? My new boss is a new college graduate, 16 years my junior.
We’ve known each other for a year, but it’s the first time we’ve met in person. I wondered if it would be easier to talk face to face, and as long as we stick to business, the conversation flows easily. He doesn’t seem very interested in sharing personal history, even though I try to drag out some details over lunch. “What do you want to know? Ask me anything,” he blurts. I believe him and that’s enough. Funny how you get a feeling about people right away. I sensed we could work well together, even if we weren’t best buddies. Maybe with time. Anyway, he had a vision and I wanted to follow it.
We cross the street to another apartment building to meet the third member of the FSM publishing team. Jeff Bond had been coaxed to relocate from Ohio, with the promise of a job working in Hollywood. Bond is the proverbial tall drink of water, who has several inches over me and Lukas. But he’s easy to talk to and easily amused. I notice that his apartment is liberally decorated with model spaceships, movie posters and action figures. But it also shows evidence of a woman’s touch, and his wife Brooke makes a brief appearance, flashing the biggest, most welcoming grin I’ve ever seen. I feel more at ease knowing that another adult (or two) has put their trust in our new employer.
Why did I take so long to visit this town?
Of course, I didn’t really think of Lukas like a boss. We were both fans, pinching ourselves to be lucky enough to pursue our hobbies into gainful employment. We stopped at Larry Edmund’s Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard. It was exciting to be surrounded by all of this ephemera from the movie biz—books, posters, old LPs—much of which might have been handled by famous directors, producers, and composers that I admired. Rummaging through a box of photo stills for images, I asked Lukas if he got all of his photos here. “When I have to, but y’know, everything here costs money and I have to do it on the cheap.” Yeah, I smiled. I get it. Me too.
It then occurred to me that I’d been amassing my own storehouse of ephemera and stuff back in San Francisco. Ever since I moved west, I had been plundering stores for collectibles. Limelight bookstore on Market Street had been a haven for 20 years, kind of a junior version of the shop we were in now. Not to mention the shelves of magazines that I had bought, read, and committed to memory since high school and which I still carried with me. I told Lukas that we didn’t need to go hunting for any more vintage photos—if I didn’t have them handy I knew where and how to find them up north.
And back to San Francisco I went. The first issue of the newly-redesigned FSM needed to hit the stands before the end of 1997, and it was already October. Although the title promised film scores MONTHLY, in actuality Lukas had only been able to produce 9 or 10 issues per year. As art director, de facto editor and production manager, it was up to me to keep the thing on schedule and meet the printing deadlines.
I’d been on a monthly schedule before and learned to thrive in it. In my corporate jobs, I had the benefit of several staff members to set the type, design the layouts, manage the ad placement and interface with the printers (which were big web presses in the midwest.) I knew how to do everything (more-or-less) but now I had to produce a 48-page magazine all by myself. Once I’d finished re-designing it, of course.
The world of publishing was exciting in the 1990s. Magazines like Vanity Fair were fat with advertising, sometimes pushing 400 pages, and so they had lavish budgets for design and photography. I had neither, but stole ideas and pictures with abandon. If a new movie used the same image in more than one place, I felt free to scan it and use it in FSM as well. I’d never steal original artwork, but I’d cut up and collage promotional photos to liven up the pages of our little rag.
It took about 10 days to assemble an issue. Lukas would mail me a couple of floppy discs with all of the stories for an issue, and I would pour them into the format of the magazine. Then we’d agree on the order and presentation, what stories would go on the cover, etc. It was an engaging puzzle to fit all the stories together, leaving room for ads and big opening spreads. I’d spend 3-4 pages formatting all of the stories, leaving blanks for images to come. Then I’d fax those layouts to Lukas so he could start proofreading them.
The fun part for me would be finding, borrowing or otherwise creating imagery. I’d crank up something ballsy, like Conspiracy Theory by Carter Burwell or Hard Rain by Christopher Young and set to work. The difference was, I could talk to Lukas or Jeff about what I was listening to, and they’d have some insights! “Oh yeah, that one sounds so different because Jack Hayes orchestrated it.” Or, “The director was such a pain to work with and the composer just gave up trying to please him.” Fascinating stuff that only added to the fun.
The hard part would be copyediting: marathon sessions with my phone receiver cradled between ear and hunched shoulder. Lukas would dictate “Page 39, second column, four lines down. That should be ‘Mission - COLON - Impossible’ and take out the colon after Impossible. Same thing on the next column, 14 lines down.” This would continue for 2 or 3 hours. Ouch!
Oh the pain, the pain.
As the deadline for shipping grew closer, so did my anxiety. FSM was my biggest client and I didn't want to muck it up. My 1930s one-bedroom apartment was funky, but it included a 6x6' walk-in closet that I turned into my office, and spent most for my time there. Tony the cat rather liked sleeping atop my huge CRT monitor, and I liked his company. But working from home made it all-too-tempting to succumb to insomnia and get out of bed and try to work at 4 am. That was not my rhythm and I gave it up after a few tries.
On the ninth day most of the parts would be in place and I’d go through each page one more time, plugging empty photo boxes and writing captions. Even though I didn’t write any of the articles, I had a knack for clever titles, subheads and captions and pretty soon Lukas would leave them to me. Good magazines should be readable on several levels, whether you read every word from cover to cover (sometimes even from back to front) or just skim the big words and pictures. I loved the top level stuff, and especially loved that my boss trusted me with them.
After everything was proofed and approved, I had to package up a stack of paper printouts along with a large jaz drive of all the Quark Xpress, Photoshop and Illustrator files. One issue might be upwards of 400mbs and no floppy drive could handle all of that. I’d box it all up and drive across town to the Emeryville Fed Ex. I had to make sure it was shipped by the 4:45pm deadline for out-of state deliveries, and I’d play something extra loud like The Saint song compilation to goose me to the finish line (disappointing movie, but I dug the vibe). Good thing it was Friday—I was wiped out and would need the weekend to recover.
Truth be told, I was no good for a week after shipping an issue—the experience drained me. But I’d still have work to do: the folks at Schumann Printing would send me a box of blue line proofs, and layered color keys of the cover all the way from Wisconsin. I’d have to make sure that what they output from my files still looked like what we’d intended. There were often little glitches, not to mention bigger boo-boos that I might have missed earlier. If it was important or embarrassing, we’d pay for the corrections. If I was just a little disappointed in the clarity of a photo, I’d have to let it go. Our budget was tight.
Another week later, I’d get a shipment of 10 issues in the mail. Tearing open the cardboard box, there was the bright red cover and Pierce Brosnan staring back at me. Better still, I turned to the staff masthead on page 2 and saw “Art Director Joe Sikoryak” in the number three spot under Lukas and Jeff’s names. Holding this first issue in my hands, I could feel tears welling in my eyes and a clutch in my throat. Twelve years’ experience and the latest in computer technology made it possible for me to produce this pile of glossy paper. But there was something more.
My lifetime of passion for music and movies had prepared me for this moment. It wasn’t just desktop publishing prowess that got me the job. It was decades of accumulated knowledge and enthusiasm that put me in the right place at the right time to get this gig. If I was lucky, I’d get to do this for a year or two. What a treat!
Along the way, Lukas had even asked me to design the package for a soundtrack album! I had bought hundreds of these shiny little discs, and now I got to create one myself. Admittedly, I wasn’t familiar with Deadfall, about an English cat burglar starring Michael Caine. But hey, a 1960s flick with music by John Barry and title song sung by Shirley Bassey? That’s practically a Bond movie. I was very proud of that. Maybe we’d get to do another CD together. At least, I’d probably get to visit Los Angeles again, in the line of duty. That would be great.
Be careful what you wish for, they say.
To Be Continued...
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