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Jim Yukich

BA 1978, Brian Lamb School of Communication

TV/Film Director/Producer, Los Angeles, CA

Jim Yukich, a television and film producer, has his hands full. He’s in his seventh year as director of E! network’s hit show, Chelsea Lately, hosted by late-night’s most acerbic comedian, Chelsea Handler. He also directs a weekly variety show, Hello Ross, and takes on music and comedy projects on the side.

Yukich’s late-night gig is only the latest iteration of his career, however—which started at Capitol Records, and eventually led him to direct over 500 music videos. He worked with stars as varied as The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Phil Collins and Genesis, Gloria Estefan, Michael Jackson, and Iron Maiden, as MTV roared to life. He’s also directed many variety, comedy, and concert specials, and was the co-creator and first director for the Billboard Music Awards.

It’s no surprise that many of his biggest career moments revolve around music. Some are random: while on tour with Phil Collins in Durban, South Africa, in 1995, he walked out of his hotel room to find a street parade, and was soon shaking hands along the barricade with Nelson Mandela.

But one moment that stands out was an evening spent with many of his music idols. “In 1984, I was making a name for myself as a music video director, and was invited by Phil Collins, one of my biggest clients, to attend his wedding to Jill Tavelman,” explains Yukich. “The wedding took place in the garden (English for ‘backyard’) of his house, in Guildford, southwest of London. I found myself sitting at a table with Julian Lennon, George Martin (the Beatles producer), Peter Gabriel, and Paul McCartney. Halfway through dinner, a 1957 pink convertible Chevy came barreling over the hill, driven by Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin). The car was Robert’s wedding present to Phil. After dinner, I sat transfixed in front of the bandstand for a ‘jam session’ featuring all of the above, plus David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Eric Clapton, John Entwistle (The Who), the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section, and the other members of Genesis. These were all my heroes, and here I was hanging with them.”

Purdue Influences

One of the benefits of attending Purdue was that I was surrounded by a majority of intelligent, highly motivated students and faculty. Luckily, some of that rubbed off on me. One particular film production class has always stood out. The instructor's name was Karl Lohmann, Jr., and he worked with Disney at one time, and operating the multi-layered animation cameras. I learned the basics of film editing and how a scene could be altered by the choices that the editor makes. Later in that class, we were all able to shoot our own short film using 16mm film cameras. I shot the film, edited it, scored the music, and recorded and mixed the dialogue. I still have that film in my vault.

Another professor that I should mention is Roger Baer. He taught graphic art in the days before it could all be done on a laptop! To this day, I have implemented the techniques and tricks that I learned from Roger. But by far, the professor that made the greatest impact on me had to be J. Richard Dunscomb. JR was the head of the Jazz and Variety Bands programs. He brought together a talented group of students, at a non–music major university, who became lifelong friends. JR was our teacher, our mentor, and our friend. His gift was that he knew how to lead and knew when to step back and let us grow.

My roommate saw an article in The Exponent that the band department was holding auditions for the newly formed Jazz Band. I went down with my guitar and auditioned for JR, got the job, and never realized that this would be a life-changing moment. Soon, I was also asked to join the Variety Band (a show band) and a local rock band that some of the horn players played in. JR got us the gig to be the “house band” for the Indiana State Fair TV Show every August. I got an inside look at the workings of variety television production. Along the way we hung out with the stars that appeared, including the host, Nick Clooney, and his family. His son George would make the Steak ’n Shake runs with us! JR also allowed me to arrange the music for the daily guests. I remember spending many nights writing out all the parts needed for the next day’s show in my hotel room bathroom, so that I wouldn’t wake up my roommate.

Purdue Memories

My favorite memories are the people and friendships that have lasted a lifetime. The majority of my Purdue friends and memories came from the family of musicians I met through Purdue Bands. Three years ago we decided that we should hold a reunion before it was too late, and about 30 of us showed up, rehearsed at our old stomping grounds (the basement of Slayter Center), and performed locally to raise money for the current Bands Department. It was so much fun that we’re now all looking forward to doing it this spring for the fourth time in a row.

Purdue Now

Purdue was a chapter in my life. It was the pages between what I am today and what I was as a kid living in Evergreen Park, Illinois. I learned that you had to plan, prepare, study, work, and deal with issues that came up, all while living on your own. It took me a while to get it; I really didn’t get it until I left Purdue. I then understood what it did to help me along.

Greatest Achievement

Hopefully, it hasn’t happened yet! I guess it could be that I’ve been able to do something that I love and enjoy. And…that I have been able to work with, and become friends with, most of my heroes, and have been able to work and travel all around the world. That I have a great family… and that my family shares my weird sense of humor and creativity. And…that I won two Grammy Awards.

Person I Admire

I admire people like Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Larry David, Todd Rundgren, Woody Allen, Brian Wilson, Dennis Miller, Michael Jackson, Irving Azoff, Bhaskar Menon, George Martin, Phil Collins, Trevor Horn, Vince Gilligan, and Leonard Bernstein. There’s got to be a common thread somewhere in that group!

Idea of Perfect Happiness

Laying with my family in a cabana, by a pool on Maui or Kauai, drinking a pineapple, coconut, and banana smoothie, eating tuna sashimi, and listening to Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (by Van Morrison) on Bose noise-reducing headphones, while reading a book about recording techniques used by the Beatles.

What I’m Reading

I tend to start 3 or 4 books and jump back and forth. Right now I’m reading Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles by Geoff Emerick; The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman, which is the story of a small group of studio musicians that played on hundreds of hit songs; and I Want My MTV by Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks (an oral history of MTV). [Editor’s note: In the MTV history, the authors note, “Jim Yukich may have directed more music videos than anyone in this book.”]

Profession I’d Like to Try

I always wanted to be a doctor, but I was too distracted by music and media. So I came out to Los Angeles and explored becoming a film composer. Things took a different turn, and I became a director. But, if I could, I would like to score and arrange music for movies. I’ve had the chance to work with a number of top composers over the years, and would absolutely love to be doing that.