L.A. TV, Film Production Exodus Affects Bizzers: Musician Rob Matsuda

Rob Matsuda Runaway Production Variety
Photograph by Gregg Segal

As studios use orchestras less, work scarce for violin player

For Rob Matsuda, playing the violin in Los Angeles has gotten tougher and tougher since he started as an orchestra instrumentalist in 1998 on “The Horse Whisperer.”

TV series and movies have moved away from Los Angeles since then, and studios are tending to use orchestras less and less.

“ ‘The Simpsons’” still has an orchestra,” he notes. “My neighbor is a viola player, and she tells me that when she comes back after a week, the chairs have not been moved; everything is in the same place. Ten years ago, that would have been unthinkable.”

Matsuda says he started to notice work was disappearing around 2006-07.

“I did two days of work on ‘Up,’ and they said they’d call in a few weeks, and then I didn’t hear back,” he notes. “With this work, you don’t know that you’re fired for three or four months. The competition gets very Darwinian.”

Matsuda, 49, who also worked on “Little Children,” “In the Bedroom,” “Revolutionary Road,” “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Star Trek Into Darkness,” believes the main issue behind runaway production as far as music is concerned is the backend — the 1% of video revenues that companies have to pay members of the American Federation of Musicians. Those monies aren’t paid for orchestra work outside the U.S.

Still, having just received a check for such residuals last month, he allows that the money is essential to live on.

Between jobs, Matsuda plays with community orchestras, and says he’s helping a friend develop a phone app to keep the money coming in.

“I’m thinking about driving a cab,” he says. “I don’t want to wind up eating Top Ramen in 20 years.”


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  1. Robert Matsuda says:

    Composing is indeed not covered by the AFM, but perhaps it should be. I understand that composers are given a budget and have to go where the work is located, but this situation creates a loophole that is allowing the work to leave town on an unprecedented scale.

    The good intentions of the composers in supporting L.A. is duly appreciated, but when they subsequently tweet or post online how awesome it is to be scoring in London, it make one question their sincerity.

    I think Richard Kraft is absolutely correct in stating they we have to better market this city as a scoring mecca with a lot to offer. We also have to become more competitive without inadvertently selling the farm. Admittedly, it’s a tricky balance.

  2. To address Jennifer Walton’s concern: California/Los Angeles incentives are not tied to a requirement to record here. Additionally, even if that were to change, California/Los Angeles offer very few motion pictures tax incentives relative to the huge number of films that L.A. musicians are losing. The overwhelming number of films recorded elsewhere were not made under any California or Los Angeles tax breaks.

  3. In answer to Robert Matsuda’s question, composing is not covered by the AFM.

  4. Robert’s feelings are completely justified by the vast majority of orchestral musicians here in LA. The movie producers accept their tax credits for filming in LA but then blatantly take their post production work elsewhere! This is completely frowned upon. The musicians provide the emotion and fortitude of the entire filmed project. Hit the mute button anywhere in a movie and you’ll sense an immediate loss of connectivity with the project. Thanks, Robert, for your comments and your added comments below.

  5. Robert Matsuda says:

    I would like to add another point regarding runaway film scoring. Musicians who are members of the AFM are not allowed to accept work from employers who have not signed an agreement with the union.

    Such work would include so-called non-union “dark dates,” as well as sessions recorded overseas where the producers are not required to contribute to the Film Musicians Secondary Market Fund.

    In principle, I can abide by this. But why are the composers, who are also members of the AFM (and presumably are also musicians), allowed to take their work out of the country and conduct their scores with foreign buy-out orchestras?

    In effect, they are participating in a union-busting activity.

    This is an inconsistency that does not sit well with me, as it is patently unfair and sets up a two-tier system where the rules don’t apply to tiny minority.

    Just saying.

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