Pulindu Weerasekara: Composing Dreams Into Reality

Over the summer, senior Pulindu Weerasekara got the job of his dreams—a composer for Universal Studios.

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While many students spent their summer going on vacation, attending summer camp, working, or relaxing, senior Pulindu Weerasekara had a different experience: composing music for Universal Studios.

Universal Studios is a massive corporation that churns out several blockbuster movies each year, each complete with an intricate musical score that complements the film. “Some [composers] are very famous, […] they’re hired out as a commission. [...] [Universal Studios also has others] working for them. And I am one of those,” Weerasekara explained. Currently, Weerasekara’s job entails composing, orchestrating, and recording soundtracks for movies. 

 During the school year, when Weerasekara is back in New York, he completes his work virtually. “Typically, it’s done in a two-part system. I’ll be given a storyboard/script for sections along with early footage if it exists, along with a direct line of communication to the director. […] Within two weeks, I’ll show him an early draft, we’ll make edits, and then I’ll have a longer period to make the final composition,” Weerasekara described in a follow-up e-mail interview. Right now, he is working on two very different projects. “One is like a comedy type of thing, comedy action, and the other is a very emotional piece,” Weerasekara shared. “So the two types of music are obviously very different. And that means that sometimes I'll be hopping from one mood to another as I’m composing.” Further details on his work are confidential due to non-disclosure agreements.

Weerasekara’s musical inspiration mostly comes from the scenes he is composing for. “This is especially easy with cinematic music, but I imagine scenes; placing music to a visual image or concept is so much easier than starting from scratch,” Weerasekara detailed. Weerasekara also uses more conventional compositional techniques as starting points. “If a piece is meant to capture and convey a certain emotion, I use established music theory—certain cadences and chord progressions tend to be associated with certain feelings—and my own ear to see what works best in conveying that tone,” Weerasekara explained.

Weerasekara has gotten to work virtually with some well-known musicians, including Hans Zimmer, who composed for several award-winning films such as Dune (2021), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Lion King (2019). Working in a space with so many established professionals can feel isolating for an amateur teenager. “I haven’t built a work community, and I definitely feel a bit alienated as the youngest member of such a group,” Weerasekara noted. However, he made it clear that he is not treated differently than anyone else due to his age or inexperience. “Though I obviously have superiors, no one acts as if they are superior because they have more experience, and I’m truly lucky in that regard. [...] All of my coworkers and superiors make sure my opinions and work are accepted and treated with […] respect,” Weerasekara said.

Weerasekara has pursued his interest in music since he was 11 years old, taking both violin and piano lessons. His parents always supported his efforts but encouraged him to prioritize academics over music. “My mom definitely [...] encouraged me musically. But it was only because I enjoyed it. She definitely encouraged the grades more,” Weerasekara explained. However, when he was 11, his piano and violin teachers both quit within a span of six months—one broke his hip and the other retired from the job. However, Weerasekara remained devoted to music and continued to practice on his own through self-instruction. This seemingly unfortunate coincidence turned out to be a stroke of luck when it came to Weerasekara’s musical career.

Weerasekara believes that being self-taught has contributed to his success today: “I never fell into the trap of like, ‘oh, learn this concerto for a year’ […] I actually explored more, which is reflected in my style. Because I don’t have that strict classical grounding, I’ve gathered many different types [of musical practices].” Weerasekara taught himself the basics of the industry instruments (instruments that are used universally for composing music), receiving little formal teaching besides his experience in the Stuyvesant orchestra. “I also took the AP Music Theory course at Stuy,” Weerasekara remembered, citing it as an outlet for advancing his skills as a musician. He has also arranged music for various Stuyvesant ensembles and participated in bands for SING! and Stuyvesant Theatre Community productions. Weerasekara even runs his own club: “I’m the president of Stuyvesant Philharmonic, a student-led and -run instrumental orchestra,” Weerasekara added.

Weerasekara relied on social networking and his local community to build his career. “I remember a close family friend was getting married. They needed [someone] to do the music, [so] I actually played the music and arranged it. And after that […] many of their friends [got] a recommendation, so I did it for [them],” Weerasekara said. Through one initial connection, Weerasekara grew a business that relied on recommendations and word of mouth: “I started a networking system as well as just a business.”

Weerasekara’s career, like those of many musicians, relied heavily on good fortune. In fact, he was referred to Universal Studios by one of his wedding clients. In the winter of 2023, Weerasekara planned to go on a family vacation. However, his father was forced to cancel plans at the last minute because of a work emergency, giving Weerasekara the chance to accept a job he had previously rejected. “[The] groom has a cousin who works in Universal, and [he has] some supervisor position,” Weerasekara recounted, adding that the company happened to be looking for new hires. This connection led to his being considered by Universal Studios for a life-changing opportunity. “If I had gone on vacation, I wouldn’t have taken the job. [...] [I’m] very lucky that I got to do this reading for someone who had that connection. Just a mixture of chance and fate,” Weerasekara summarized. After a rigorous interview process, he landed the position.

Growing up in a household that prioritized more traditional, high-paying jobs, Weerasekara felt obligated to defend his ambitions of having a musical career to his skeptical parents. Weerasekara hoped to differentiate himself from the stereotypical burnt-out, problematic musicians his parents saw in the media. “My dad’s an engineer, and my mom’s a math teacher. And [...] this is not a job they would have seen for me, because in their experience, the musicians they grew up listening to all, you know, overdosed or [were] alcoholics,” Weerasekara said. “Convincing them that being a musician is an actual job took a little work.” 

Weerasekara is currently working remotely while balancing school, his job, and the stress that comes with senior year. While juggling these commitments, Weerasekara still has abundant free time. “I will say one thing: I function on, like, two to three hours [of sleep] a night,” he said. This shocking (but ill-advised) ability grants Weerasekara plenty of time to complete both school and work-related tasks. However, like many students, he sometimes procrastinates work until the last minute. “Once it’s last minute, I’m pretty good at multitasking. So I end up finishing all of my work that’s due in probably the next day, within a few hours,” Weerasekara said. Though his nearly sleepless schedule may seem unconventional, it allows him to balance his work and school life effectively.

Before his senior year, Weerasekara was considering moving directly to Los Angeles and beginning work. However, he decided, with the encouragement of his parents, to complete his high school diploma first. Following high school, Weerasekara has unique plans compared to much of Stuyvesant’s graduating class. “Honestly, I probably won’t be going to college at all next year. I’ll move directly to L.A. and start working,” Weerasekara said. He is applying to a few Ivy League universities but otherwise plans to pursue the path of a composer in Los Angeles. If he does choose to attend college, Weerasekara’s current contract allows for flexibility with his career. In fact, Universal Studios would offer financial assistance for Weerasekara’s studies. For now, though, he plans to pursue his musical interests in the workforce.

Weerasekara followed an unconventional path toward musical success; instead of following the more rigid, classical track that many Stuyvesant students take, his unusual circumstances allowed for more freedom and creativity in his relationship with music. Now, Weerasekara is on track to achieve great musical success. His story proves that an individualistic, and perhaps even an atypical, approach to one’s passions can lead to impressive and unique outcomes—even a job for one of the biggest studios in Hollywood.