What is your name and your current occupation?
Louis Fagenson. I am a Composer/Orchestrator/Arranger.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
In High School I sold Fuller Brush products and delivered pizza. I have a horrible sense of direction ( hey, my people spent the better part of forty years looking for the promised land in a place about the size of Reseda), so the pizza thing didn’t last very long. During and after college I played electric guitar with various bands in addition to solo guitar in different clubs and venues. One day I recieved a phone call from the late and great Don Murray (the original drummer for the Turtles). He was currently playing drums for the Surfaris, their lead guitar player was very ill, they had a gig in a week and a half and and would I like to join the band. Through him I got to tour around and play with the likes of Dick Dale, Jan and Dean, Chuck Berry and most of the instrumental surf bands of the sixties. People today don’t understand that the real surf music (not the vocal “east coast” music) was the first incarnation of punk. I’ve also worked at the A.B.C. television carpenter shop for a year and a half building sets.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Animation wise, writing the music for Johnny Bravo. The original main title version was slower and closer to a New Orleans groove. Van (Partible) and the music supervisor at Hanna-Barbera, Bodie Chandler, kept wanting to add different endings. Those extra two bars required faster tempos if it was going to fit into the same thirty seconds as the original. It turned out pretty good.
Van is a brilliant guy. Watching him work in the studio was like watching a child play with silly putty. He has incredible energy and has very definite ideas of what works. He is always right.
The other would be scoring, “Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders”. It was my first series and I had to crank out 18-20 minutes of music a week. Episodes would air two weeks after I scored them. No room for error and because the production company was based in New York, I was on my own as far as musical direction. I had to clue into the art of directing. The book I got the most of of and highly recommend is, “The Uses of enchantment” by Bruno Bettleheim. Knowing how the story line works on an unconscious level is an important key to how the music can help develop a story.
How did you become interested in animation?
I was raised in front of a T.V. like everyone else! I was on a steady diet of Rocky and Bullwinke, Jetsons and the Beatle cartoons. Once when I was a kid my mother took me to see Fantasia at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. It was an epiphany. I loved how the music made me feel and decided that I wanted to make people feel what I was feeling from the music.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I must confess, I am a Valley boy from Granada Hills. The Valley back then had a lot of orange groves and was a kinder, gentler, more Brady Bunch place that it is now. My first animation job was for a company in San Clemente. They were trying to get an animated project off the ground. I had a little cubicle with my keyboards set up ( Emulator 1, 360 Systems, 8 track reel-to-reel, etc.) and wrote music all day. I hung out with the writers and got to learn the different aspects of a project (they also hired a local high school kid named Broose Johnson. I ended up scoring his film when he was at Cal Arts and he went on to Disney). I was in Heaven. Unfortunately, the company went under after a few months.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
After getting my kids off to school I fire up the gear, turn on the computer and try not to get sucked into websites like Facebook. I’ll watch the day’s footage footage and analyze the story and direction. I enjoy figuring out what will make a scene work, whether it is setting up jokes, creating the proper atmosphere, musically lying to audience about who dunnit, etc. I take break to pick my kids up from school, help them with homework, make dinner and get back to work for the 9:00 p.m. to 2:00 am shift. I can usually take off Sunday afternoons unless there is a tight deadline. When I am not on a project I am either looking for work (I split with my manager after he went to prison) or am endlessly repairing the bottomless pit of a time suck known as an old house.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Getting in the zone and making the footage come alive through music. I am about the last element involved and directors trust me to make it work. They had to fight with the powers that be over every piece of minutia. They are tired from the fight and are passing it on to me like a relay runner. Taking that footage and musically adding my own sense of humor, humanity and tone color is as rewarding as it gets. Before everything was compartmentalized I used to get to spend time with the writers and animators. Animators generally have a great scope of musical knowledge. There is something to be said for drawing and listening to music all day. I envy their talents and miss hanging out with them.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
First would be the isolation from everyone involved with a project. I miss the camaraderie.
Second, dealing with clients and higher ups who are either clueless about what they are doing or have some ulterior job motive. There is always some unnecessary drama attached. I once conducted the Seattle Symphony for a project I did for Universal Studios Theme Parks. The person in the booth who was hired to make sure everything was performed and recorded properly (which he didn’t) was making up crap and spurting insult after insult about me in front of the producers while I was on the other side of the glass conducting the orchestra. He was pissed I was hired and he wasn’t. I do my own orchestrations and I think he tried to take credit for it. Life is short, play nice people.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Nowadays, it is staying in business. There is a glut of library music that is replacing scored music. Can you copy and paste a script? Randomly use different backgrounds? Not to my way of thinking. Music can elevate and tie a show together. That requires motifs, melodic development, exposition, consistency, thought process, etc. When I watch reality shows it is like reading a randomly plagiarized jr. high school english report. A shameless race to the bottom.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I have a “computer farm” with more software to manage than I care to think about routed through a digital mixer, etc. I like to have a drafting desk set up with a pencil and music paper when I have the time to write and orchestrate “old school”. There is something very satisfying about taking a pencil to paper, as I think any animator will understand. I also like to have a guitar at my side when I write just for the immediate gratification of playing.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I have been fortunate to have worked with a lot of extraordinary artists. Rick Griffin stands out. Raymie Muzquiz is a brilliant director, Jerry Richardson is amazing. I prefer Miles Thompson’s art to Mark Rydens’ any day of the week. I haven’t worked with Everett Peck, but I love his art. Van Partible and Duncan Rouleau are brilliant as well.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Now is a pretty tough time. I just finished scoring a feature length film, “Johnny Bravo Goes to Bollywood” for Cartoon Network Asia. It used to be that I would take a few weeks off after a project and feel some elation about it before looking around for work. Those days are gone. I think most people are in the same boat.
Also, after the first season of Johnny Bravo, Time/ Warner bought Hanna-Barbera and fired a lot of wonderful people. I had a contract for the series, but the new producer never gave me a thought and hired his friend to take my place. All my hard work added up to nothing. I was erased. Fortunately, in the last season Van and most of the original crew were brought back and so was I due only to his loyalty and tenacity.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
My other passion is Bar-B-Que. The art of slow smoking meat and the art of transforming it into a life altering experience. I make my own rubs and marinades as well.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can blindly listen to the first ten seconds of any episode of the Twilight Zone and tell you anything you ever wanted to know about the score.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Follow your instincts and learn to think on your feet. If there is anything that will make life easier it is developing the art of patience.