Mailroom debut leads to Hollywood success
Band alum Jim Yukich churns out music videos, TV specials
Remember that Broadway musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” where the guy goes from the mailroom to the head of the company in a couple hours on stage.
Well, it took Purdue Band Alum Jim Yukich (Communications 1978) more than a couple hours to work his way out of the mailroom but he did do it with music - and he's made a big splash!
Yukich, who lives with his wife Janet and sons Alex and Jamie, in the Los Angeles suburbs is one of entertainment industry's leading director/producers for music videos and a just about every kind of live show or TV event you can imagine.
If you're talking music videos (he average d 20 a year), his list of clients runs from The Beach Boys to Kenny Log g ins, and Phil Collins to Gloria Estefan. Concerts run a similarly wide gamut including Disneymania 3, Farm Aid, Wynonna “Revelations,” Iron Maiden “Live After Death,” Billboard Music Awards and Hall & Oates “Rock Tokyo” to name a few.
Then there's the comedy shows he's done with Dennis Miller and game shows like “Iron Chef USA.”
But it all started in the mailroom at Capitol Records. “In the 1980s those satin tour jackets were all the rage and if you worked for Capitol you could buy them. My cousin said ‘Take the job, we'll buy a couple of jackets and you can quit.' I took the job and ended up staying,” Yukich recalls.
Actually, you could say, with a fair degree of veracity, that his career really started in the 1970s in a stuffy hotel bathroom in Indianapolis where he holed up late at night creating arrangements for guest stars like Donnie and Marie on the televised Indiana State Fair Variety Show. At that time the Variety Band, under the leadership of Yukich's mentor Dick Dunscomb, served as house band for the show which was hosted by singer Rosemary Clooney's brother Nick Clooney.
Being in music at Purdue “was a great time and it helped me in my career later because I arranged for Jazz Band and Variety Band,” Yukich says. “Some of best memories of Variety Band are when we played the State Fair TV Show. I wrote the theme song one year and arranged the themes other years. I remember nights in the bathroom at Stouffer's Inn with my little cassette deck and headphones, writing charts for Donny and Marie the next night, or the local kids who did twirling and dancing.”
All these years later, another State Fair memory enjoys special significance. “I have this strong image of us band guys pulling away from the hotel parking lot in our station wagon and seeing this 12-year-old kid running at full speed after us saying ‘Take me with you! I want to go!' and of him diving into the car through the back window. And off we'd go to the Steak N Shake or miniature golf,” says Yukich. That kid was George Clooney.
As a professional, Yukich's path has crossed several times with the actor of “ER” and film fame. “I've had an opportunity to shoot him on several occasions,” he says. “At the opening of the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas , we were doing a live show for MTV and host David Spade was interviewing people in the hotel. In one segment he was interviewing George and as soon as he finished I ran out of the (production) truck and into the lounge and reintroduced myself to him. George went crazy. He was completely floored that two of us from the Indianapolis State Fair would end up in Hollywood .”
Yukich's career has been one long road trip. “I've lived a life in the bus over 25 years, never knowing what I'll do next. Luckily something always pops up. I recently did a Dennis Miller HBO Special in Vegas and am currently working with Barry Manilow, going through all his archives, shooting interviews and putting together a DVD,” he says.
“The main thing I love doing is directing music concerts. It's so much fun to capture those moments. I've been on the road with everyone from Genesis to Debbie Gi b son to Iron Maiden and they like the fact the video director knows what they're doing musically.”
Those skills he picked up at Purdue come in handy all the time. When Bonnie Rait t was having problems with a couple songs, he did a music edit that ended up on her album. He did edits on the Manilow classic “Copacabana” that the singer loved. The list goes on. His easy-going nature and congenial personality magnify his success. Actor Bruce Willis and comedian Dennis Miller, who are considered difficult by most in Hollywood , are regular clients.
Analyzing his accomplishments, Yukich feels that everyone gets certain opportunities in their life and most end up coming by luck. But luck isn't a blessing to those who are unprepared. “The key is that you have to be able to deliver. You have to have enough knowledge, background and education that you can deliver, and that's how you'll be a success. You don't get very many opportunities and you don't want to screw up.”
Taking it further, he likes to talk about something he calls the “completion backwards principle.” “Look at what you want to end up doing and work backwards. Make this diagram that starts at the end and goes back to where you are today,” he says.
“I had no idea where the mailroom would take me. Even when I went upstairs at Capitol, I was still a go-pher. Then one day something came in bad and I was the one who knew how to edit it and I did it with skills I learned at Purdue.” That moment when he was able to “deliver” provided the springboard to other opportunities and a high profile career.
There's still one lucky opportunity that Yukich would like to encounter. “Someday,” he says, “I'd like to get off this never ending carousel, and teach television and film production, media, etc... maybe at a major university. Hint.”