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  • Interview with Berklee Alumnus Perrine Virgile-Piekarski

       Hello initiators! I hope your 2016 is off to a wonderful start! This month, WFI had the wonderful honor of interviewing recent graduate and WFI member, Perrine Virgile-Pierkarski. Perrine graduated Berklee College of Music in 2014 with a dual major in Music Business and Film Scoring, and a  minor in Video Game Scoring. We asked Perrine about her LA experience, what it's like working as an assistant, and any tips for those who are making the move to LA this summer. 

    Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got to this point in your career?

    P: My mom put me at the piano at 5. She wanted to give me the opportunity to play an instrument. I quickly loved it, and then signed on to the classical Conservatoire in France.  I did this for 10 years, where I studied theory, piano, and some singing classes. And I did a few opera backgrounds as well. Then, I watched Donnie Darko at 13. When Mad World came on, I realized I wanted to make music for movies. Which is funny because it wasn’t even part of the original score. A piano teacher told me about the Berklee Film Scoring program, and it became my goal to go there since there was no other program like it in France. After high school, I wanted to go to Berklee right away, but ended up doing a sound engineering degree at Esra in Nice, France. Then at 20, I applied to Berklee and got in. I dual majored in Film Scoring and Business, and the video game scoring minor. And now I’m working as an assistant to Jeff Russo in LA. 

    For many graduating students, the goal is to find a job. But how? Do you have any insight onto how to search for jobs?

    P: Justine Toarmino from the LA Alumni office really helped me out. I also went to a lot of Berklee networking events with other alumni. And Alison Plante organized a big BBQ for film scoring majors. The network from Berklee that I knew from when I was in school really helped me out. Any studio you go to, there's always someone from Berklee there. 

    How did you end up working for Jeff Russo as his assistant? What do your daily tasks consist of?

    P: I reached out to Justine when I was in LA, and she mentioned that Matea, who works at Jeff’s, was looking for an intern, and that was pretty much it. I interned for Jeff for three and half months before getting hired this past August.

    It’s a small team, with one main assistant, and then other assistants who sort of have different roles. I do a lot of the prep and the scheduling, and then assist other assistants whenever they need it. It’s such a small team, that we all do a lot of stuff during the day. It goes from scheduling meetings, but also to setting up sessions when he receives new episodes to score, and making sure everything is ready for him to score. We all help each other. I also take notes from the producers.

    I’m starting to write a couple cues, but that’s going a bit slowly. I had to build trust and prove myself in order to do this. I also set up any new sample libraries that we buy, and organize everything for the recording sessions to give to the orchestrators. So what I do really depends on what’s going on. 

    Can you describe your experience moving to LA?

    P: I basically did a road trip for a month right after graduation with two friends.  When I arrived here, I crashed at a friend’s planning to stay a week, and ended up staying a month and a half. The whole process of getting a car and place took about a month a half. And then another month and a half to work. I was a bit overwhelmed while I was at Berklee, so I just needed a break. After three months in LA, I started reaching out for work. The process was easier because I knew a lot of people here already, and it felt really welcoming. 

    Is there anything you wish you knew before getting there?

    P I wish I had gotten my American driver’s license before I got here. I’m stuck with my international. I wish I knew that when you get here, you basically start at level 0. When you get here, you have to relearn everything in context, and have to learn how to work on a team. I wish I would’ve known that it’s not as scary as it seems once you get here. 

    How does this process differ for international students?

    P:  International students in general try to get jobs faster because we have this urgency of this one year visa, where as an American doesn’t have this deadline. It’s really stressful because there’s no guarantee that it’s going to happen. My whole life is built in the states. All my friends, boyfriend, and job is here. It gives us much more motivation. I’m trying to see it more as a chance than a curse. 

    What makes a great assistant?

    P: If you put work first, people will notice. It’s understanding that you’re here to assist someone else’s career. Your job is to make everything possible for that person to do their job very well. So expect to make sacrifices. You’re going to work late and not get holidays off. But people will notice. Be attentive to details, be on top of things, and remember everything that needs to be done. Making a mistake is okay, but a lot of people tend to put you in a box very quickly so just be sure to not make the mistake twice. Being able to react to stressful situations is also important because this is a stressful industry. Channel that stress and use it as energy to get things done. Just remember, it’s just music. We’re not curing cancer, it’s not the end of the world. It’s similar to Berklee in the sense where you’re busy all the time, but then there are times you are really busy and need to stay late. The difference is that there’s no homework when you get home.

    Is there anything you have learned being an assistant that you would like to share?

    P: It’s ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them and don’t do them again. I definitely learned a lot by making mistakes, and that’s how you learn. Don’t make big ones though, and don’t break things. I learned small things like, in TV, the person you talk to is called the show runner, while in film, it’s the director. I’ve learned a lot about the industry just by listening to Jeff talk. As an assistant, I’ve learned patience. When you get here, you won’t be composing right away because you have to prove yourself to your boss. The opportunities will come to you if you work hard enough. 

    Do you have any advice for graduating students who are going to be moving to LA and looking for work? 

    P: Go to every networking event, and stay connected within the Berklee community. There are tons of events organized by Berklee in LA, so reconnect with people you may have met during Berklee. They can connect with you and help you out. I’m very aware of the help I’ve been given, and I’d be more than happy to do the same for someone. And definitely reach out to Justine.  Don’t apply for the places you think is cool to apply to. Apply to the place you think you’re going to fit in. 

    Thanks again to Perrine for this great and insightful interview! Have a great week, everyone!