Eulogy for my Clairebear



My secret crush on this girl started when I was invited to New York for the announcement of a new film school in the Middle East, in Jordan, to create a generation of world class Arab filmmakers.  The Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts.  Claire Naber was the person tasked with putting this project together and she was the organizer of the event where his majesty King Abdullah would introduce the school.  I walked through the doors and saw her smile radiating like sunshine filling the entire conference room.  She welcomed me as if I’d known her my whole life.  Instantly everything in my world flipped upside down.  I knew nothing about this girl, but I wanted to be next to her for the rest of my life.  After the event, we had lunch with the group and laughed like children, then went our separate ways back to our lives.  I lived in Los Angeles, she lived in Jordan, and nothing happened.  Cut to-

Sundance Film Festival – 2008.  I see her again as we premier my first film.  I couldn’t let her go this time.  Every time I saw her, I felt this unstoppable universal force pulling me towards her.  She gave the best hugs in the world.  She was filled with life, laughter, and love.  She was the most beautiful girl on the planet, but she had no idea.  She was just Claire.  A radiant angel walking among us humans.  I had to somehow trap her into my life and steal her away, all for myself.  My angel.  Cut to–

Christmas 2008 – She said yes.  Apparently, many people had tried to capture this human angel with their attempts, but she’d always run away.  Somehow, I was lucky.  My scheme worked.  I had conned her into thinking that I’m worthy of her love.  We got married in 2009, in this church, and created memories together, laughing at the smallest things, traveling, writing, playing with our dogs, and making movies.  We worked hard to build our dream life of creativity. 

Claire and Amin Santorini

Throughout our relationship, Claire’s greatest two passions were writing and building the film school, RSICA.  She was the mother behind RSICA from day one when Samer Mouasher asked her to build a film school in Aqaba.  He was right.  She was the lady for the job.  Claire spent tireless hours, night and day, planning out the year, the brand identity of the school, finding the actual building, interviewing students, hiring faculty from USC, working with the staff putting out fires, and she never asked for recognition.  Just as she was the muse behind the scenes inspiring me with my films, she was the mother behind the scenes at RSICA.  Today, a whole generation of Arab filmmakers exist across the Middle East because of the love Claire poured into RSCIA.  

In the past week, I received hundreds of messages from people who knew Claire and were affected by her presence in their life.  She made everyone feel special, and she cared more about everyone else’s comfort and happiness than hers.  That quality and her infectious laugh made her this human angel.  I’ve been lucky to have her in my life.  

One of Claire’s favorite jokes was “You plan and plan and plan, then God laughs and says, ‘that’s nice, now let me show you how it’s going to be.’  Three and a half years, she battled, and she never lost her sense of humor.    We had soul crushing defeats every time we realized that the cancer came back, but somehow Claire managed to rise up and fight with her optimistic spirit.  She managed to find hope even when the doctors said the chances were grim.  She kept on fighting with her leadership and a sense of humor that inspired us and rallied our whole family of friends around her in the fight. And because of her incredible mother, Donna, who moved in with us in Los Angeles, and took care of her night and day.   

Life is a roller coaster filled with ups and downs.  My journey with my Claire taught me a lot in the past six years.  I’ll try to boil it down to a few gems.  So I’ll leave you with this: 

Live in the moment and laugh at the absurdity of life.
Look forward to things you love.  Do not dwell on the negative.  
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and drink it with your friends and the people you love.
Live to love, because without love, there is no reason to live.
Connect with the life around you.  Don’t live in isolation.
Geek out on the things you love.
There’s room in your heart for so much love.  The more you give, the more you have to give.  That was what made Claire so special.  
Last but not least, be kind.  Be kind to everyone.  The strangers you meet, the friends around you, and the family that loves you.

This video is something I made for our One Year anniversary. It gives you a glimpse of how lucky I was to have had this much love in my life.

CLaire Flowers


Goodbye our boy, Oboe (Aug 5, 2002 – Oct 17, 2014)

It’s been four weeks, and I still can’t think of words. My Oboe, my shadow, my baby boy, my best friend, you’ve been through the highest highs and lowest lows right here by our side in the past 12 years, making us laugh or smile with the wag of your tail and your funny sounds, surprises, and unpredictable ways. Thank you for making every moment count. You’ll be walking next to me wherever I go, till the day I die. Love you, forever.




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Happy Birthday Oboe!



Yesterday, Aug 5, 2013, my little giant fur ball, Oboe Matalqa, turned 11.  I got Oboe on Sept 23, 2002 when he was only seven weeks old, and felt so much reluctance at the end of the day because Cello, who was five months at the time, kept trying to eat his head.  He was jealous that I’d brought another puppy into our lives.  We found him at a farm in Grove City, Ohio that had posted an ad in the newspaper.  Oboe (born Sammy Joe VIII) was the first puppy to come play with us, and I decided to bring him home. 

It seemed impossible to convince Cello that this was now his little brother and he must love him.  I had to separate them, and by the end of the night felt that I had made a mistake in bringing this fragile little guy home (though he did stand up for himself).  I called the lady I bought him from and asked if I could return him, for his own safety.  She said it’s only natural to have sibling rivalry.  Just give them a chance. 

I kept them separated while I was at work, and Cello refused to make eye contact with me for two weeks.  I had betrayed our inseparable bond, man and his best friend.  What the hell was this pet doing in the middle of it all?  He wanted him returned as soon as possible.  Eventually of course, Oboe started throwing himself at Cello, jumping at him, and they started playing together, chasing one another like Tom and Jerry, and they would soon realize that this was the deal:  Amin, Cello, and Oboe, until death do us part. It would turn out to be the deepest friendship of my life.

The amount of laughs our little Oboe has brought into our lives, and all the warm and fuzzy moments, are impossible to capture with words.  All I can say is how grateful I am to not have returned this little guy that night.  He has taught me that all the stress of work and transition and uncertainty doesn’t matter, as long as you can take a simple walk and flip upside down on the couch. 

Thank you Oboe for being our teacher and my eternal bear.


This is South Korea

I want everyone in the world to see what South Korea is getting away with.  It is an embarrassment and a stain on the people of Korea that their government still allows the torture and cruelty of 2 million dogs a year.  That is not a myth.  It is a hard fact.  Here is a video that will educate anyone who denies it.  Please don’t look away.  Do something and let the world know that this is South Korea.  Until they stop what is going on, we MUST SPEAK on behalf of these poor dogs.  Beaten, tortured, boiled alive, electrocuted.  I am trying to contain my anger, but I would rather use it to fuel positive action to fight back.  I hope you will join all the voices rising against dog torture.  Here’s the video:

Michael Kamen’s Concerto for Eric Clapton



This past Monday, April 15th, would’ve been Michael Kamen’s 65th birthday if he’d still been with us.  Well, he’s still with me.  Last night I went for a long walk down the streets of LA and I put on one of my all-time favorite pieces of music.  A piece that is so good, it’s almost sacred.  This is the holy grail of concertos, Michael Kamen’s Concerto for Electric Guitar, which he wrote for Eric Clapton in 1990 and performed live on their 24 Nights tour with the National Philharmonic Orchestra.  

Tragically, before they could record it in a studio, Clapton’s 4 year old boy Conor fell to his death from the window of a 53rd floor suite he was staying at in New York.  Clapton put his electric guitar away and only sang the blues after that.  And they never recorded the concerto properly in a studio.

In September 2003, just a couple of months before Michael passed away, I spoke with him on the phone, and he said they were going to get back together, he and Eric, and finally record the concerto properly (Michael had done a great but different recording with Japanese guitarist, Hotei, and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in 1997). The world lost Michael too soon.  Way too soon.  His unique musical voice was a gift that only a handful of Hollywood composers possess.  

To me, the Concerto for Electric Guitar, as performed by Eric Clapton in this live recording, the final night of the tour, is on par with Beethoven’s 3rd, or 9th.  It’s on par with Rachmaninoff’s 3rd.   And I don’t say this lightly.  This is one of THE GREATEST pieces of music ever written.  The emotional arc contained within the journey of these three movements is so powerful and deep that I hope you will only listen to it actively (not as background music while you’re checking facebook).  Put this on your ipod and take a walk in the city, or blast it at home in a dark room where your senses are only tuned in to your ears and heart. Or take it with you to the gym and see how you feel when you go on that run.  It is an emotional journey to bliss!  This is Michael Kamen’s greatest achievement, and I want to share this very rare recording with everyone in the world. 



The Count of Monte Cristo by Ed Shearmur


One of my favorite books and movies is also one of my favorite scores of the past ten years.  This film was directed by Kevin Reynolds (who also made Robin Hood).  Ed Shearmur delivers the full adventure in this emotional, dramatic, and action-packed score. It’s been copied in scores like Pirates of the Caribbean and Avatar, but this is the real deal.

One of the many highlights is Escape from the Island.  Shearmur underscores the inner drama and suspense so perfectly.  Beat by beat, the music builds, starting with Edmand Dante lamenting the death of Abbe Faria.  The moment he figures out how to escape, everything winds down and the celli make a perfect entrance hitting Dante’s inner thoughts in a classic moment where camera, performance and music work together in harmony for a an unforgettable cinema moment.  I would encourage anyone interested in film scoring to look at that whole sequence and how it’s scored.  The orchestra starts growing with a delicious interplay between crispy brass jabs and string arpeggios as the prison guards carry Dante’s body out and throw him over the cliff into the ocean.  There’s a suffocating struggle under water until finally the breath of air is inhaled with the reintroduction of Monte Cristo’s noble and innocent theme on French Horn and then trumpet, which we haven’t heard since he was first taken prisoner. The metaphor of course is his rebirth as a new person when he emerges from the water.  This is film music at its best.

Anyway, I’m focusing on a small section in a perfect whole.  The album is a great listening experience, especially if you’ve seen the film.  I recommend this to anyone who loves a good classic. 

Here are a couple of tracks on YouTube:


Training Montage


Batman: Mask of the Phantasm by Shirley Walker


Over the years Batman has provided composers with amazing opportunities for great scores.  I love the Danny Elfman 1989 reinvention, the Goldenthal madness, the Nelson Riddle classic and the Hans Zimmer trilogy.  But there is one amazing score that hardly gets mentioned.  That is Shirley Walker’s excellent action-packed Batman Mask of the Phantasm, the 1993 animated film.  Shirley Walker was one hell of a macho composer.  The real deal.  Known as a powerhouse orchestrator who helped Hans Zimmer on Backdraft, Brad Feidel on True Lies, and many others, she would also once in a while write her own masterpiece.  This is one of them.  Here’s a sampler on YouTube  

Listen to the mastery in how she weaves the sections of the orchestra together.  Bold brass, clear determined strings, delicate woodwinds, blazing choir (singing lyrics made up of crew names read backwards). I can never get enough of this action-packed score.  I used to go running in the woods at night listening to it when I lived in Ohio.  Awesome!

Here’s the original album on itunes

and if you want the complete thing, get the LaLaland Extended release but it’s out of print, so you’ll have to dig for it in the collector circles.  Also, there are a couple of volumes in limited edition from the TV show, also written by Shirley Walker and friends.

Is there a reason, or is it just chaos?

This question always fascinates me. I don’t know that anyone really has the answer, only that they may believe they have the answer. Is there a reason why things happen or is it all just chaos, and it’s up to us to deal with it in the best way we can? This can apply to anything we’re dealing with in life. Is there a reason I got into a car crash or that I made a movie? Yes, there’s a logical obvious reason for everything, but is there a greater reason? I don’t know. It’s something that I always find myself pondering anytime anything good or bad happens. And maybe it doesn’t matter why some things happen to us. What’s more important is what we do with them, how we deal with them, and how we can affect those around us positively with those experiences (be it turning something negative into positive, or turning something positive into something for the greater good). I know that this post sounds generic, but why not, maybe there’s a reason I just wrote it. Or maybe I wrote it and nobody will read it. Who knows.

Nikolai Gogol

Over the last couple of years I’ve been eagerly discovering the novels of the great writers of the 1800’s (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Hugo, Twain, Chekhov, Dickens, Balzac).  I don’t know how I missed out on all these guys before just two or three years ago.  I grew up enjoying Stephen King, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Michael Crichton and the modern writers probably thinking anything before 1900 would be too dense or hard to relate to.  I can’t tell you enough how far from the truth this is. 

The amazing thing about the classics is that every time I open up one of these wonderful books, I feel like I’m jumping into a time machine to go visit people and characters with experiences that could just as easily happen today.  And the best part is that their stories are told with surprisingly great humor (maybe except for Tolstoy).

The funniest of the bunch (along with Mark Twain) is the Russian genius, Nikolai Gogol.  I LOVE GOGOL!   The absurdity of his stories is hilarious!  For example, “The Nose” is about a lowly government employee who wakes up missing his nose one day and puts an ad in the paper looking for it.  For the rest of the story he goes around chasing after it while it develops its own personality.  “The Overcoat” is about a guy who buys a new coat and suddenly everyone starts treating him like a different person.  “Diaries of a Madman” is a series of chronicle of a man losing his mind, and the writing itself day to day becomes hysterically less coherent.   I’m no reading “The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled With Ivan Nikiforovich”.  Clearly this must be what inspired Grumpy Old Men, the Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau film. 

I first heard of Gogol when I watched Mira Nair’s excellent film, The Namesake.  I bought The Collected Tales and instantly fell in love.  Dostoevsky once said “we all came from Gogol’s overcoat”.  It’s not just the great concepts that make Gogol so entertaining, but the way he brings out the mundane and captures the irony.  I highly recommend the translations by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky. 

The Classical Guitar

One day back in 2002, when I was still living in Ohio and working in the telecom world, I was walking at an outdoor mall when I found a guitarist playing some really beautiful classical guitar music.  He was for the most part ignored by pedestrians, but I was hooked into a trance.  Living in a business suit at the time, my artistic side was dying for some outlet and I became fascinated with the sound of this instrument.  I asked him if he gave lessons and he signed me up.  His name was (still is) John May. 

I started learning the basics of playing the guitar with all the individual finger positions and ways to create these detailed sounds from the nylon strings.  While I only took lessons for a year (then ended up moving to Los Angeles and started a whole new path in life) my appreciation as a listener to classical guitar became tremendous.  I found myself devouring CD recordings of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, John Williams (the guitarist), Jason Vieaux, Christopher Parkening, Julian Bream and  Sharon Isbin. To this day, the sound of the nylon classical guitar is one of my favorite things in the world.

There are hundreds and thousands of albums out there, but here are a couple that I still love deeply and find myself listening to with fresh ears to this day.   On a nice quiet Sunday afternoon, take a walk while listening to one of these two perfect albums and you’ll find yourself smiling and seeing the world around you with a new set of shades (you can find them on iTunes):

Brazil, with Love (Carlos Barbosa-Lima and Sharon Isbin)


Jason Vieuax: Guitar Recital