Andy Edmunds: “find your own healthy alternate-endorphin thing”

People wired for this business are just flat out driven to work 14, 16 hour days — for weeks — without blinking. Then when it’s over, you just collapse- for a beat. But within a week, you miss it. Then you begin to crave it. It’s a bit masochistic really. I’m lucky. Music takes me to another part of […]

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People wired for this business are just flat out driven to work 14, 16 hour days — for weeks — without blinking. Then when it’s over, you just collapse- for a beat. But within a week, you miss it. Then you begin to crave it. It’s a bit masochistic really. I’m lucky. Music takes me to another part of my brain for a while. It’s an endorphin thing. I guess my tip would be to find your own healthy alternate-endorphin thing.

Vegan chef aerobics master would pay dividends!

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Andy Edmunds.

Beyond early success in Edmunds’ music career, including music video features on MTV and Nickelodeon for his song entitled “Hard to Make a Living,” his passion for film has been prevalent. As Director of the globally-recognized Virginia Film Office where he’s worked with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Terrence Malick, Ridley Scott and other high-profile artists, Edmunds values the beauty of storytelling. Also a Vice President of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, a common thread of love is woven throughout his work in phrases like “Virginia is for Lovers” & more specifically, “film lovers.” The lover of many things, Andy is a father, husband, friend, film commissioner, musician, mechanic, carpenter, cook and occasional comedian.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

My parents migrated from New York to a tiny town in Virginia where I was born and raised. My father was an attorney and civil rights activist, my mother came through Julliard — music and ballet. So, in this 60s era racially-divided town, they were received a bit like aliens arriving from another planet. I grew up under an umbrella of intellectual curiosity and moral justice, combined with a passion for art and music. If Atticus Finch and Carol Burnette had a baby, I guess that would be me.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

So I was supposed to be the lawyer, but of course I chose the easier path of trying to become a rock star. I was a little hot shot guitar player from the age of 13 and never looked back. I knew what I wanted to do. But, alas, one can plan all they want, but the actual plan is only revealed through a fate out of our control. In the 80s days of big hair and spandex, of which I had neither, I conceived, performed in and produced a music video that achieved some critical praise but no real commercial success. However, the process introduced me to the film production industry; the artistic and logistical challenges, and the “going into battle together” feeling that becomes a bit addictive.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Harrison Ford wanted to be able to land his helicopter next to the production office for a movie we were doing in Northern Virginia. Not for the film, just for commuting purposes.

Of course, as a film commissioner, we make stuff happen. There was a city ordinance against such a landing other than for a medical emergency. When I contacted city officials, they said the only way around it was to pass a new ordinance. So I walked a new ordinance through the entire city council process, which included several personal calls between Mr. Ford and me to determine aircraft weight, tail number, timing, etc. Conversations in which he of course promised that we would certainly tour glorious locations around Virginia in his chopper if we get this done. Well, I got it done… and after all of that he landed ONE time. I mean Reagan National Airport was only about a mile away. How about a limo? But the moral of the story is that my tenacity impressed the producer and director Sydney Pollack, who became a kind and inspiring friend, and helped us land a chunk of the movie Cold Mountain in Virginia. Good intentions always spawn positive results — eventually.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we completed my music video in the 80s, I personally took it to NYC — Warner Communications / MTV HQ. The receptionist kindly suggested that I should just leave it there and that she would pass it along, to which I replied, “I’m sorry, a lot of people back in Virginia put a great deal of work into this, I need to make sure someone actually watches it, I’ll just wait here in the lobby.” After a while, another random woman walked by me and asked if I needed any help. I told her my story, she felt sorry for me I guess and said that she would take me back into the offices after she got back from lunch. Cut to: clock ticking in lobby. So, she takes me back, I open my cheesy briefcase containing my video in all possible formats, insert into a large ¾ “deck, and as she begins to watch, she says “This is really good. That’s you!” I said of course it is. She apparently thought I was some agent or something. Anyway, she hooked me up immediately with a programmer with the Video to Go show on their sister Nickelodean Channel. That person asked me if I owned all of the rights. Yes. Do you mind if we run this? Sure. So my video ran for a while, in a regular rotation, between Tina Turner What’s Love Got to Do With It and REO Speedwagon something or other. I had arrived. I thought. But, I had nothing to sell. No record deal. No record. So I had a nice video and BMW-like bank payments to pay for it for 7 years. Classic cart-before-the-horse mistake. And I never got a record deal. My music just did not fit the era and marketplace. Again, fate.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Unring the Bell. The origin and evolution of this effort is just so personally and professionally profound and fulfilling. Born from pain, fueled by friendship and distributed via Love. A personal family/marriage crisis piled on top of a pandemic. Really? You just can’t write this stuff. My best friend reached down to me in my darkest hour and pushed me back to where my heart has always been — music. And what emerged seems to really connect with people. I guess because it came from a place of complete truth and authenticity that is just undeniable. Once we finished the track in November, I was just amazed that something so ugly could give birth to something so beautiful. What can I say? Art saves. We sent it off to Abbey Road Studios in London for mastering. Then I began to plan to shoot another music video (yea, 35 years after the first one); trying to come up with a concept, preparing to mobilize my many production friends who would jump on board. Then, something told me to just look within. With my index finger I began just dropping family and other little clips that I had shot over years into iMovie on my phone, and a metaphorical narrative began to emerge. After about 3 hours of trimming and moving… again with a single finger… I had something. Something that may not be polished and flashy, but something completely authentic. And the theme around the song just resonates; especially as an anthem to say good riddance to #F2020. I don’t know where it will go but for anyone who has experienced a crisis and wishes for a reset, it seems to provide a comfort that anything can be overcome through Love, and that’s good enough for me.

On the film front I’m so lucky to have been a part of projects that have had cultural significance beyond the great economic impact this work brings to Virginia. Jeff Nichol’s film Loving is a highlight. Kasi Lemmon’s Harriet. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Terrence Malick’s The New World. Ethan Hawke in The Good Lord Bird — Wow. It’s a long list. Currently, Dopesick which is in production, about the corrupt origins of the opioid crisis in our country, I believe will add to that list in an important way. The power of film to inspire positive change is a process that motivates me every day.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

A society can never be whole and thus healthy, until wholly represented. For an industry that is supposed to be so culturally evolved, you walk onto a movie set and there sure are a lot of white people. And on the content end, one-dimensional stereotypes of people of color create a feedback loop that continues to drive a wedge between tribes. Tribes that need to be able to see each other as they actually are in order to generate the super-power that can break down the walls — empathy. Only when empathy is fertilized and allowed to grow will we achieve cultural equality and the ultimate epiphany; that we are one Tribe.

The good news is that it is getting better than it was. One of my favorite quotes amplified by MLK, Jr is “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. I believe this to be true. But it’s not fast enough for the writer, actor, crew member or director who is trying to navigate a biased system today. Sadly, proven profitability is finally becoming the fuel to accelerate this change; not some moral reckoning.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Listen more, Talk less.

When you have the sale, stop talking.

Learn how to yawn with your mouth closed.

Pause and think, before you react.

Everything begins and ends with Trust.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

This is a hard one. People wired for this business are just flat out driven to work 14, 16 hour days — for weeks — without blinking. Then when it’s over, you just collapse- for a beat. But within a week, you miss it. Then you begin to crave it. It’s a bit masochistic really. I’m lucky. Music takes me to another part of my brain for a while. It’s an endorphin thing. I guess my tip would be to find your own healthy alternate-endorphin thing.

Vegan chef aerobics master would pay dividends!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

IDEA: Vote with your Wallet. Special interests have pretty much purchased the policy direction of our nation. The decisions we all know are just and right for our environment and citizenry are often neutralized before even attempted. I always thought that if there was a way a business could obtain a ”Good housekeeping seal” that confirms their abidance by 5 ethical, environmental or political principals… and that like-minded customers primarily patronize those businesses… the changes those like-minded citizens seek would quickly follow. It. Would. Happen.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Rita McClenny, CEO Virginia Tourism Corporation / Friend. Rita is an extraordinary and inspirational leader. She gave this musician a job 24 years ago. But more than that, she gave me her Trust. When someone gives that to you, you need to treat it like a precious and fragile treasure. Over time you earn it, and it becomes a source of wealth beyond any 401K or portfolio of assets. She allowed me to grow into my dream career and trusted me to make the right decisions in support of our industry in Virginia. All the while genuinely caring about me and my family personally, cheering my successes and hearing out my occasional frustrations. To Rita, I am forever grateful.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Your destiny lies at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.” I’m not even sure where it came from, but I always use it when talking to film students… or my kids.

Your preparation is not just your education, training, work experience, practice time, resume building, touring success, scoring records or wealth accumulation. And the opportunity is not necessarily what you ever thought it was, or even something you can initially recognize. Part of the preparation is the scars you accumulate. My parents got divorced when I was a teenager. I was crushed, miserable and rebellious. I locked myself in my room with, wait for it… my guitar. My guitar became my life raft that led to an early living as a professional musician, meeting my wife of 31 years (and still counting) in a club I was playing, my amazing collection of 5 children including two teenage boys from an orphanage in Ghana, my career in film. Blessings all. And now today… another perceived scar, leads me to Unring the Bell.

The point is, after all of the Preparation, including the scars,

the Opportunity is eventually revealed to all of us.

It was revealed to me as a sign — literally. A four letter word on a sign that was displayed in my head while I closed my eyes hoping for an answer for which I did not even know the question, a sign on a beach on the eastern shore of Virginia, a sign that we made by hand onsite at the orphanage in Ghana. LOVE.

I know, it may sound corny, it may sound too simple. But, the Beatles nailed it. Trust me.

Now, I just await my Destiny. As do we all.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Sure, Harrison, when are we going on that chopper tour?! 😊

How can our readers follow you online?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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