Sometimes it takes stepping away from a project for people to notice. That’s exactly what happened to recent San Francisco State University graduate Len Haynes, who left the music industry only to find himself on the soundtrack of a summer blockbuster.
Before attending San Francisco State, Haynes worked in the music industry in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. A few years ago, after deciding to pivot away from music, he enrolled in classes in film and TV production at Los Angeles City College. He continued his education at SF State, eventually earning B.A. and M.A. degrees in video production from the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts Department (BECA).
After graduation in May 2018, something unexpected happened: Hollywood called.
Warner Bros., to be specific. The studio had good news: A song he’d written in 2005 with his band The Anubian Lights, Hot Sand, had made it onto the Ocean’s 8 film soundtrack.
“The music supervisor for Ocean’s 8 pitched three of our songs to the directors and producers, but they decided on the one song,” Haynes said. “I haven’t written music for four or five years since I’ve been so focused on academics and becoming a teacher. It’s a real welcome surprise. When something out of the blue happens like this I think, ‘I guess I am a songwriter,’ and then I realize I have this whole catalog of music.”
Like all films in the Ocean’s series, Ocean’s 8 is about a heist — in this instance, of a diamond necklace. Haynes’ song plays during a scene in which a thief, played by Sandra Bullock, cases the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A Southern California native in his early 50s, Haynes has played in different bands over the years and released several records between the 1990s and mid-2000s. He’s also worked as a recording engineer and producer for a recording studio in Hollywood. Some of the noteworthy artists he’s worked with include New Wave legend Gary Numan, DJ Me DJ You and Lydia Lunch. He’s also performed with Nik Turner’s Hawkwind and Can member Damo Suzuki.
This wasn’t the first time his music caught the attention of Warner Bros. The same music supervisor used one of his songs in a 2007 independent film called The Babysitters starring John Leguizamo and Cynthia Nixon. “Maybe he’s a fan of our band,” Haynes said.
Despite the recent fame, Haynes maintains that his biggest accomplishment of the year is getting his master's degree and accepting a lecturer position at SF State. This fall, he’ll teach BECA 241: Video Production, a multi-camera video production course that will give students the chance to create a live newscast or talk show. In the meantime, he’s also considering applying to Ph.D. programs in digital media.
“I’ve always had this passion for teaching,” he said.
This recent success also means he’s not closing the door on music. He currently works weekends at Amoeba Records in San Francisco and plans to continue making music.
“I’m starting to write songs again with my old songwriting partner. We may get an agent and we’ll keep submitting music, because you never know,” Haynes said. “It’s good to keep current, but also don’t forget about the work you’ve done in the past. A lot of work you do will follow you your whole life.”
— Jamie Oppenheim