The Secret World of Benjamin Bear

When I said that I didn’t pitch for a job I was wrong. There were times when I felt I stood a good chance and more especially I had nothing to lose.

One such occasion came along a few days before I was due to go on holiday.

I have to mention here that holidays were always a bit of a pain. I was always worried that by being away I would miss something vital. And before the internet and proper working mobile phones, contact was limited. This would always be the case when working on commercials when the turnaround was measured in hours not days. ‘Can you come back? It won’t take long!

There were times when I did ‘come back’ and venture into work mode either side of a family holiday which I always regretted and never felt it was worth all the extra travelling, setting up, faffing about and additional stress.

So being within striking distance of the airport I got a call to see if I’d be interested in a new animation series. The creators were based in Ontario, Canada and the production company were in Edinburgh, Scotland. Nothing like close personal contact then.

They were looking for a piece of music that needed lyrics that would work as the opening and closing title music. Not so much a song but equally something slightly longer than the usual twenty second opener. And it was a pitch.

Deep sigh, yawn, immediate pressure and the feeling of a couple of days wasted trying to throw that invisible pile of notes at the client’s ever-changing paper-thin wall hoping that something would eventually stick!

But this definitely fell into the ‘Nothing to lose’ category and it would be a nice tidy finisher before shutting down the shop.

I called one of my trusted wordsmiths, Jonathan Booth, and threw at him the vague and contradictory bits and pieces that constituted a brief. The most important thing being the title: “The Secret World of Benjamin Bear.”

That seemed to be enough for some rather nice and more importantly, quick lyrics to be scribbled. In addition, I had no time to find a singer, so I blurted it out myself, mostly in tune, with a speedy piano and sent it off. Job done, and……”Taxi!?”

We were going to Portugal for a month. Suitcases full of Books and Inflatables (for the pool!) and not a laptop or mobile phone in sight.

Two weeks went by without a thought of work, past or future, but I felt the need to find an internet café (remember those?) where I could scan through the Email junk and see if there was anything that needed any immediate attention. Sandwiched between a pizza take-away and ‘El Dodgeo’car hire shop we found the solitary café supplying antique PCs and even older coffee rings with fresh cigarette burns littering the desktops.

Amongst the clutter I found an E mail from the Scottish producers that hinted that the Bear project was still alive and there was a good chance that I was still in the running. This of course made it worse as it started a panic. Should I do more, try to convince further, send a better demo, ask more questions, go home?

I got back the non-committal; “We’ll let you know”, and nothing more.

Further ripple dissolves to the end of the holiday and returning home, I discovered that the distant pitch had become a tangible project and I had successfully secured this with my opening title tune and one-take vocals.

I suggested that we find a real singer to do a proper vocal performance. “But we like it as it is” They replied. “It’s very Randy Newman.”

I think that was good?

Eventually they took my original demo with my Croaky McCroaky vocals, one or two tweaks and some brilliant backing vocals from our Jem (Cooke) and off it went.

Then came the task of writing all the incidental stuff to picture with clients in Canada and Scotland. The three-way telephone conversation should have been a clue but their ideas had developed from it being a simple animation about the adventures of a small teddy bear to a fully blown orchestral Warner Bros., bells & whistles score for each episode. But I guess that’s another story and possibly another blog.

Needless to say, the point of this is to encourage anyone out there to persevere and keep believing that despite time, doubts, delays and uncertainty things can still happen and often, for the better. And if you have to pitch, do it and then forget it! Life is far too short.