The Reel Story

Leslie Limon
June 19, 2003
Eric Reasoner (right), with students in his Advanced Film Music Editing class.
Reasoner uses a scene from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to demonstrate an editing concept.
Photo by Farnsworth/Blalock
Photo by Farnsworth/Blalock

Picture a kid from Indiana, French horn in hand, sporting a jacket emblazoned with the logo of the Madison (Wisconsin) Scouts Drum & Bugle Corps, arriving at Berklee in 1978.

He has grown up in a community where marching bands reign, fathers sing in barbershop quartets, and families sit together in the elegantly antiquated movie house to enjoy The Sound of Music. The Von Trapps have nothing over this kid's musical family, however: mother and daughters play woodwinds, father and sons play brass, and every one of them sings. The young man is an actor to boot, winning regional honors for lead performances in musicals like Godspell and George M.

That young man was Eric Reasoner. While he had yet to discover film scoring, he was no stranger to the art of synchronizing music and motion, having spent a few summers teaching marching design for marching bands. Despite his fondness for theater, a desire to learn composition and arrangement brought him to Berklee.

The jacket and horn not only turned heads, but gave Reasoner his first Berklee gigs. The jacket was spotted by another former corps member who knew the Madison Scouts were to drum and bugle what the Boston Celtics were to hoops. He recruited Reasoner to be the "horn guy," teaching a corps in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. It was a job, Reasoner grins, "that paid for a lot of macaroni and cheese."

At first, the horn often prompted the question, "Hey, man, what's that? Some sort of tuba?" Upon learning what it was, film scoring students would snap him up to play their projects. He soon joined a weekly film scoring project band. That experience is what pulled him in: he signed up for the fledgling major and in 1982 was among the first to graduate from Berklee with a degree in film scoring.

Teaching from Experience

A keen memory of how it felt to be that student drives Reasoner's teaching. Recalling how hungry he was to know "what it's really like," he needs no prompting to share his experiences with students. Fortunately for them, Reasoner is a master storyteller. His source material comes from his work as staff editor from 1990 to 1994 for industry-leading postproduction company Segue, Inc., in Los Angeles. During that time he edited the scores of a long list of films, including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Grammy Award-winner for best film score), Curly Sue, Lethal Weapon 3 and 4, Swing Kids (his personal favorite), and Die Hard with a Vengeance.

Reasoner's most vivid stories center on Robin Hood, his first feature film, particularly the futile efforts to keep up with constant post-production changes. The film's intensely compressed schedule made it necessary for five Segue colleagues to pitch in. At one point, Reasoner took a phone call from someone on the mixing stage who immediately began yelling for the next reel, which was in the hands of an editor in a nearby room. The stress of the phone call caused Reasoner to lose his composure, but a colleague helped settle him down.

"At that moment Tom Villano, a veteran editor and cool surfer dude kind of guy, touches my shoulder and says, 'Eric.' I go, 'What? What? Now what?' He answers, 'Eric, it's only a movie,'" Reasoner says.

Reasoner laughs as he remembers and then gets to the life lesson: "You can only do so much," he says. "No matter how great that editor was, the reel couldn't physically be cut any faster. Yelling wouldn't change that fact. My advice is to just let it roll off your shoulders. And don't burn any bridges."

The story also illustrates another recurring Reasoner theme: the benefits of strong teamwork. His lack of experience didn't matter to the veterans: he needed help, so they pitched in. Segue's collaborative culture also made it easy for people to learn from each other. Reasoner, for example, knew the latest digital technology from working and teaching in Berklee's Film Scoring Department for several years after he graduated. The film industry, however, hadn't yet caught up, so Segue editors asked him to teach them a few things. In return, they taught him some concepts that transcend technology, like the nuances of the director/editor relationship and coping with deadline pressure.

Two-Way Learning

That same give-and-take still permeates Reasoner's approach in the classroom. He emphasizes that no one person can know everything.

"When I don't know the answer to your question, I'll find out, learn something new and pass it on," he tells students in an Advanced Music Editing class. "Or if something comes up that I'm not aware of, but you are, then I'll learn something from you."

Former students still live by the tenet of two-way learning. Many of them, now film score editors themselves, regularly communicate with Reasoner via e-mail to ask questions and let him know what they're doing. Sometimes they send him their work, which he in turn shares with his students so they, too, can learn the latest trends.

That sort of contact also has been a great way for Reasoner to stay connected to the Los Angeles film scene that he left behind when he decided to return to Berklee as a faculty member in 1994. He needed a break from grueling postproduction schedules, but he and his wife were also tired of the perils of living in greater Los Angeles. The wildfires and Rodney King riots were bad enough. But the Northridge earthquake was the last straw. Plus, he missed teaching and wanted to return to what he calls "the greatest job in the world. I truly enjoy teaching and think I'm in the right place."

Reasoner's students think so, too. Nikki DePasquale '03 and Stephen Neale '03 both urge students, even if they're not Film Scoring majors, to register for one of his classes. "Working with Eric has helped me consider other job choices in the film scoring world besides composing, DePasquale says. "If I do decide to take a job in editing, I know that my confidence level will be sky-high because of him."

Neale echoes the same confidence. He also admires Reasoner for his breadth of technical knowledge, enthusiasm for the subject matter, and general working style. "Eric is easygoing and professional at the same time. He's also a model for staying cool under pressure-an essential quality in the film music business."

Those qualities shine through to peers as well. In 2003, the Film Scoring Department at Berklee awarded Reasoner its annual Ted Pease Award for Excellence in Teaching, citing his significant contributions to "the popularity and growth of the Film Scoring major and to the success of [Berklee] alumni." Reasoner is the first to acknowledge that, of all his noteworthy career accomplishments, this is the one that makes him most proud.

Eric Reasoner's Top Five Film Scores
Young Sherlock Holmes - Composed by Bruce Broughton
To Kill a Mockingbird - Elmer Bernstein
Patton - Jerry Goldsmith
Lord of the Rings - Howard Shore
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial - John Williams