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My Terminator Story, Part 1

The Terminator, Original Film Poster from 1984

The Terminator, Original Film Poster from 1984

In the early 80’s I scored a number of prestigious television films starring the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Alexander, Anthony Hopkins, Betty Davis and Jimmy Stewart. I had the privilege of working with writers like Arthur Miller and Garson Kanin. A number of those scores were period pieces and were pretty “conventional” using predominantly acoustic instruments. But I was starting to sneak in some more experimental sounds and techniques. I scored Anthony Hopkins playing Hitler in ” The Bunker” largely as an extended improvisation using sounds I created on the brand new Prophet Ten synthesizer.

In 1981 I moved from New York to Los Angeles. My career in television was thriving, but my feature film credits consisted of only a few obscure low budget films. I had dreams of getting to score major feature films, but that was a very exclusive club.

At that point in time, arriving at the perfect music for a film was often a nerve-wracking proposition for all involved. Mostly because directors and producers usually had to give the go ahead on an entire score after hearing only a theme played on the piano. I wanted to change that. I built a recording studio in my garage so I could I create fully produced demos of my ideas. Hearing early in the process what the score would sound like helped the filmmakers relax, and gave me the space I wanted to experiment and create something unique for their project. It also gave me a bit of an edge in a very competitive field.

Having my own studio also allowed me to work on personal pieces expressing some musical ideas that weren’t intended for a particular film.

A few years later I got a call from one of my agents, Beth Donahue.

” There’s a new director named James Cameron. Have you heard of him?”

“No.”

“He recently worked on Piranha 2, did you see it?”

“No.”

“Well, He’s working on a low budget sci-fi action picture, I sent a tape of some of your stuff to him two weeks ago and he’d like to meet with you.”

“OK”

The next day James Cameron arrived at my studio with producer Gale Ann Hurd and they brought a video of the rough cut of The Terminator. We talked for a while and I remember thinking, “Wow this guy speaks very eloquently about his film”, but I was skeptical. By that point in my career, I’d met a lot of directors( especially of low budget features) who would speak impressively about their project, but then when you saw it, the goods just weren’t on the screen.

We watched the Terminator together on my 21″ video monitor, an old extremely heavy TV. Many of the visual effects were not yet complete and it had only dialogue and a few sound effects on the audio track.

It had a great look, the story was intriguing and timely and the action riveting and relentless. At one point towards the end of the film, I was so into it that I blurted out “if he gets up one more time I’m leaving!”. I couldn’t believe I actually said it out loud. I looked over at Jim and Gale. “Did they hear that? Did they think I was putting the film down? They’ll never hire me now!”

to be continued…

If you haven’t yet read about my Terminator Theme Contest

to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of the film, click here.

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I spent the majority of my adult life composing original scores for film and television, working on a wide range of projects (The Terminator, Big Easy, The Accused, True Lies), with an amazing assortment of people( James Cameron , Katherine Bigelow , Arthur miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford).

I took some time to examine my life and realized that my youthful dream of using my talent and creativity to make a difference in the world was not being fulfilled in Hollywood. I ended up turning that exploration into a one man musical called Borrowed Time.