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

As studios use orchestras less, work scarce for violin player

Rob Matsuda Runaway Production Variety
Photograph by Gregg Segal

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.”