John Ottman holds dual distinctions as a leading film composer and an award-winning film editor. Ottman has often completed both monumental tasks on the same films. Such remarkable double duties have included The Usual Suspects, X-Men 2, Superman Returns, Valkyrie, and Jack the Giant Killer. He has also held producer roles on several of these films, as well as directing, editing and scoring Urban Legends 2. From an early age in San Jose, California, Ottman began writing and recording radio plays on cassette tapes. He would perform many characters with his voice and adding some sound effects, and called upon his neighborhood friends as extra cast members.
By the fourth grade John was playing the clarinet and continued doing so throughout high school. But his real concentration turned from audio productions to making films. He turned his parents’ garage into a movie studio, where multiple sets were interchangeable to accommodate productions – invariably some sort of science fiction film. By high school, his films evolved to hour-long productions complete with large sets and lavish scores edited together from his favorite soundtracks.
In 1998 you scored Apt Pupil for Bryan Singer. I love this score. You also edited the movie. Were you involved as an editor or a composer first on the picture?
I was always part of the equation on a Singer film to do both tasks. When The Usual Suspects was being cast, I told Bryan I just wanted to write scores, but he insisted I edit his films in exchange for scoring them.
This was my deal with the devil, so to speak. So henceforth I was always tasked with double duty – and often triple duty as producer since my editing often went far beyond that of a normal editor. I’m glad it’s a favorite score of yours! Apt Pupil was a personal accomplishment indeed. There was really no music that worked for temp scoring the film. I knew the score had to be like 2001 (A Space Odyssey) meets 1941. So, I just wrote what came into my head. The result was great satisfaction on my part that it was so original. I love writing deep psychological scores. I wanted the music not only to be disturbing, but very emotional and reflective, which, in turn, made it even more deep and disturbing.
As a composer what would you say is the role of music in film. And the same question as a director or editor?
Well, I always say that the score is the soul of the movie. The score is there to bring out or create subtext. Its purpose is basically to involve the audience, suck them in, make them believe in the world of the film. And, of course, on a functional level, the score can help sections from dragging in the story and clarify story points via motifs, etc.
Having said that, scores can also ruin a scene or even an entire film’s potential. Less is more. A scene played raw can often be far more compelling without score. I remember the China Syndrome was riveting because it felt so raw and real much in the way Chernobyl did because the score was most often indiscernible from the sound design. A standard score would have destroyed that reality. Maybe stories about nuclear power plants should have no score!
The editor is the film’s architect. The final rewrite of the film is in the editing room. Editors are masters of illusion. Some Actors’ performances are often saved, enhanced and/or manufactured. Some editors are given total reign, and others have directors who hang out down the hall.
Those with free reign – or given the burden of that reign – are involved from the beginning and essentially the overseers of all departments, be it visual effects development, guiding the sound people, debating and diplomacy with studio execs over all aspects, including test screening scores and resulting actions, etc.
The editor can start as early as the script stage; making notes about things he/she fears might be problematic (and blowup in your their later), or working with previs artists (animated storyboards) and the second unit director and/or director to design sequences, if it’s that kind of movie.
As the shoot begins and footage starts flying in, it’s a race to get scenes cut together initially, because the editor is always getting phone calls from producers asking if they can tear down a set or strike a location, asking if the editor has everything or if they need to get pick-up shots etc. Usually these calls come in before an editor would have any realistic time to assemble a scene. And this is where the discipline of a good editor comes in. The inclination would be just to start desperately cutting something together without having seen all the footage; perhaps just using the last takes etc. Everyone works differently, but I’m of the opinion that there’s a huge payoff to watching every frame of footage, all the set-ups from the first take to the last before even beginning to edit a scene. This enables you to watch the evolution of how they shot a scene. Sometimes the best choices were the early takes before they changed their mind and over-thought things. An early take might’ve had an eye flutter an actor did involuntarily, and that micro moment could be the genesis of inspiration, a cool morsel the editor would have missed had he/she not looked through every frame. Personally, I just couldn’t go to bed at night knowing I cut a scene not knowing everything that was there. I want to believe that my initial version of the scene is the best one possible, except tweaks down the road.
Most importantly, the more the editor keep’s watching the footage and the different setups over and over, the scene starts to form in their head. That is when they actually start to put the scene together, and already know what they want, rather than slapping things against the wall. The analogy for this discipline goes back to composers writing out their themes before jumping in and scoring a movie. It just makes for a much better score to envision it first, as much as that is possible. The editor must also see things in a macro sense. Often people praise a snazzy or effective sequences the editor created. But the editors’ major contribution is when he/she sits back after the assembly and shapes the story as a whole: its rhythm, its emotional arc, what scenes are superfluous, what additional photography may be needed, vfx needs, etc.
An editor’s job can span between one and two years. And it’s more than pushing buttons. The editor manages the entire creative angle of post-production. The editing and re-editing never stop until the last nanosecond. There are test screenings, looping the actor’s lines, potentially hundreds of visual effect shots to manage, lots of politics debating with the studio, the sound design, on and on.
It’s too bad that we have the term “editor,” as it implies a person removing material. An editor really is a composer of visuals and story, which is probably why the AVID editing system is referred to as a “media composer.” The editor is often one caught the middle. The art of diplomacy – the ability to argue for things coherently and non-defensively, is critical. It’s also critical to be open to new ideas. The inclination is that notes from executives are insanely stupid. But even the janitor down the hall might have a good idea. We should always be open and not defensive. The film editor is a film-making partner, at a minimum.
The director is the person who should have an over-all vision of the film (although more times than not, that vision changes as the realities of the film set in.) The director is the initial salesperson who has to convince the powers that be to make the film, or convince talent to be attached, etc. The director helps shape the script, make casting decisions (or fight for them), the director hires main department heads – costume, make-up, cinematographer, etc. (Although it is the editor who often hires the postproduction supervisor and has a big say in hiring the sound designer.) A good director needs to communicate with the actors, comfort them, manage them, in a way. The director needs to be passionate but pragmatic in terms of what is realistic to shoot both for time and budget. A good director has a plan for the shoot – storyboards and shot lists, and who has gone over the scene for the next day with his cinematographer. (Although there are plenty who just wing it, which causes hardship and chaos on the shoot and delays.) The director, along with the editor, oversees all aspects to ensure his/her aesthetic is preserved.
You scored Superman Returns in 2006, it includes the now iconic theme by John Williams. Was this something you felt had to be included on the score because it is such a familiar movie theme and associated with the character? I ask because later movie versions of Superman excluded it.
I’m a big believer in continuity. It’s why I like to hear the James Bond or Mission Impossible themes in all iterations of those movies. The 1978 Superman, to which this was a direct follow up, is not only the greatest superhero film ever made, but one of the all-time greatest films ever made, period. So, we felt a real reverence for everything that was the 1978 version, for better or worse.
In fact, Bryan Singer was surprised just how many nods I made to the theme throughout the 120 plus minutes of score I wrote. At first, I was crippled creatively stepping into William’s shoes.
But then I just had to let that go and score the film confidently with my own sensibilities, which, of course, were largely influenced by Williams and Goldsmith. I didn’t want to try to sound like anyone. I wanted to be me but nodding to William’s theme. Aside from the opening titles, which, of course, was his theme entirely, his music probably comprises 10 minutes out of all the original score I wrote.
You have collaborated with director Bryan Singer several times. Does he have specific ideas regarding the music as in style and where it should be placed, or does he generally let you get on with things and then after hearing your ideas add his?
My design of the temp score would usually define the style of score that I thought best for the film. Once he felt comfortable with that approach, that’s the kind of score I’d write. When in the score-writing phase, I’d play for him my mock-ups of a few cues to be approved. If they emulated the same feelings of the temp, he’d be happy. The real leap of faith was when areas of the temp just weren’t right or where I would try to convince him that a different approach would work far better or be more profound. The temp is easy to lose objectivity over. And when writing the actual score, I trained myself to be objective in order to open myself up to epiphanies that diverged from the temp.
Many films I scored, such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Apt Pupil, House of Wax, Unknown, etc, either had no temp or such a bad one that I was able to convince the filmmakers of a new approach.
Those scores are very satisfying for me, as they come directly from my soul as opposed to having a temp be the guide.
You directed, edited, scored, and had a role in Urban Legends-Final Cut. How difficult is it to juggle all these different duties on a film, and when you’re the director and the composer is that more difficult than working as a composer with a director on a movie? By this I mean are you thinking of music when you’re behind the camera directing or in the editing stages?
It’s always difficult to juggle these mammoth tasks. The directorial and editorial demands aren’t just put on hold so I can write the score. It makes composing far more challenging just from a time aspect alone. Those demands continue as I’m simultaneously trying to find ways to write.
The task of directing and editing (such as assembling the picture) is so overwhelming I rarely have specific music ideas early on except for the style I think I want it to be. As editor, I may know that a sequence will be a musically driven one, so I’ll open up that sequence dramatically for the future score. When Keyser Soze shoots Arturo on the boat, I just stayed on a shot pulling out from the porthole because I knew this would be a big musical moment. But I had no idea what the music would be yet, except I knew what the music had to say and feel like.
Your scores are filled with great themes even when the music is action led. Do you feel that melody or themes are important when scoring movies? And what composers or artists would you say have inspired you and maybe influenced the way in which you score films?
Thank you. It takes discipline. Themes and motifs are the threads that pull a story together and remind us of the stakes, the characters and the identity of the movie. I first write out my themes, which can be an agonizing process. But that effort pays off tenfold when writing the score because I’ve a well to draw from which just allows for a better score to tell a story, opposed to just function on a surface level. A gripping action scene is motivated by character goals or stakes. Themes and motifs remind of those stakes. Otherwise, those kinds of sequences just feel soulless, empty and masturbatory. This goes for underscoring psychological cues as well. Notice how Goldsmith keeps his theme surreptitiously alive as he weaves it through a very long interrogation scene in Basic Instinct.
Some new composers today may not even have the vision or skillset to do that, and instead simply put in a throbbing beat to keep the scene going, but rendering the scene empty.
The masters influenced me, such as Goldsmith, Williams, and others. But I also grew up on the original “Star Trek” which was extremely thematic and scored like movies. They couldn’t afford to score every episode, so the music editors reused motifs which gave the show terrific cohesion and identity. That influenced me greatly.
There’s this misconception these days that a thematic score means a dated-sounding score. This, of course, is a cop out. There’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The art of composing modern scores is the having the skill set to keep motifs alive while being relevant. But too many times, newer composers have no idea what fully developed themes are because they grew up on scores that are nothing more than ostinatos and “buahs.”
Superman Returns is a grand sounding score. What size orchestra did you have for the score?
It was recorded in a magnificent large stage in Studio City, CA called Todd-AO/CBS Radford. This is where Horner would record many of his scores. The orchestra was about a hundred musicians. Unfortunately, the CBS/Radford stage no longer exists. Abbey Road in London is the closest to that sound, and actually exceeds it.
Was being a film music composer something that you always wanted to be, or did the editing role come first and the composing follow?
I was always a film music fan and would use film scores in the movies I made as a kid and into college. When midi technology came along in the early 80s I put together a little set up and learned how to use it by rescoring my friends’ student films. Soon it became a hobby and I realized how effortlessly themes came into my head and how I had a knack for scoring to picture. But I had never set out to be a composer. I had played clarinet, so I knew music, and I internalized years of watching/listening to film music.
Your first score I think was Public Access, which was a film that you were editing for Bryan Singer. How did you also end up scoring the film?
That was a dark psychological film. As the editor, I knew the character in and out, as I helped create him. The composer was doing straight up sinister music that had no depth, irony, or pathos. We were up against a hard deadline to submit the film to the Sundance Film Festival. I told Bryan I could write what the film needed. He was leery at first because most of the music I had written in my hobby was more positive and light-hearted. But he also knew I understood the film more than anyone. I had much of the same ironic sensibilities as he did – and his back was against the wall. It was all done on synthesizer. Someday I’d love to get it performed live.
You edited Bohemian Rhapsody. Were you also asked to provide the movie with an original underscore at any time?
I was contracted to score the film, as it’s always the package I come with. Even my initial main title sequence that I created had me in as composer. Scenes such as Freddie’s diagnosis and break-up with Mary were slated to be scored. And, frankly, if I’d scored the film, the royalties would have been huge. But I just didn’t think it was right to have score in the film, as bad as that was for my bank account. The film just wouldn’t have been as smart or timeless. It would have been reduced it to just any other film.
So, I used the stems from Queens music to “score” certain areas. For instance, when Freddie gets his diagnosis, I manipulated tracks (stems) from “Who Wants to Live Forever.” When he breaks up with Mary, I used “Love of my Life” which was a part of a concert playing on the TV set in the background. I carefully edited and mixed the concert to coincide with moments in the scene to devastating effect. Score could never do what that live concert did in the background, especially when the audience sang it with Freddie.
So, I found more profound ways to make it emotional by either utilizing layers from Queen’s music, or using opera music, such as when Freddie talks to Mary on the phone. I researched and discovered that Freddie loved opera, so those scenes held even more meaning. If there’s a way to not use score, explore that avenue first.
As a composer are you conscious of certain sequences in a film when it is better to leave things with no music?
Too many films are over-scored. It’s as if there’s a fear the audience will run out of the theater if there’s any moment of raw sound; but their involvement in some scenes would be heightened by the gritty reality of a scene with no score. A good story needs peaks and valleys. And in too many films, it’s all climax. A climax just isn’t as satisfying without foreplay. A film beginning at level 10 has nowhere to go and tends to push us away more often than suck us in.
Music other than score can make a film far more profound — like scoring against the grain, having an opera play over a murder scene, or playing beautiful music over a scene of genocide. But source music should be used carefully, as it can date the film. Source music should be from or prior to the film’s period, and like in the 90s, it should not be placed there simply to sell songs to the detriment of the movie.
Score too can be ironically and profound. When I chose to write oddly beautiful music as Verbal gets away in The Usual Suspects, it completely transformed the ending from something commonplace (which it was when temped with action music) to something satisfying and classic. Another example is when I composed a beefed-up version of Mozart’s requiem to the opening Nightcrawler attack in XMen 2. When I temped with action music, it was just any ho-hum action opener. The Mozart gave it gravitas and made the sequence famous.
When you started editing film, did you cut the film and build the scenes or was there some form of digital process available already. If not, how have things changed since you have been working in film, both in the editing and scoring departments?
I edited Public Access, The Usual Suspects and much of Apt Pupil with a splicer on a reel-to-reel console called a Steinbeck flatbed. (I transitioned to digital midway through Apt Pupil, which is a long crazy story.) Editing on film really trained editors to not only have an incredible memory of all the moments they catalogued from the dailies, but also trained their imagination to foresee the scene in their head before editing it. Threading up film and putting it on reels was laborious. I just couldn’t easily throw stuff up on the editing screen until something jived. I had to first envision the scene, what may have been jelling in my head as I watched every frame of film shot.
When finally diving in to create a scene, I might encounter landmines that would alter my idea; but at least my main design was preconceived. This singular editorial vision and discipline got lost when digital editing first came into existence. But editors who began on film maintained their sensibilities when shifting to digital. Of course, things can be done so much faster now, and there’s so much flexibility. I’d never go back, but there was a romance to it. A dissolve was indicated by a grease pencil mark over the print. It was so exciting to get the rendered effect back from the optical lab!
I guess there are many similarities to scoring. Changing things wasn’t easy as it is with now with modern music writing programs. Even though I was writing on a music sequencer, digital picture didn’t exist, and it was too laborious to keep rewinding and locking up the video tape to the scene. So, I’d go through the scene and mark in the computer what bar each event happened and mark it; such as, “Tom walks in the door.” Then I’d score the scene based upon that event list. Once I wrote out the sketch, I’d play it back with the synced video to see how it worked. So, you had to preconceive more often, which may have forced composers to write thematic material ahead of time and think more in their mind’s eye about a scene as they scored to the event list and based upon their memory of the scene.
The X Men series of movies you have scored have been successful at the box office. Do you have a set way in which you work on big features such as these, by this I mean do you begin with a core theme or a central theme and build the remainder of the score on this foundation, or do you prefer to tackle smaller cues first and then begin work on the larger cues or action themed pieces?
I’d be completely lost – and terrified – if I didn’t write out my main themes first. A good score tells a story, so it’s like plotting out a symphony, laying groundwork and having themes blossom later. The overture to Xmen 2, for example, was my personal “sketch” to layout my ideas to draw on. If I hadn’t written that first, I would have no guide as to what my musical journey was going to be. Yes, you discover as you score, but without themes written first, I would have lost countless opportunities to create and evolve threads to tie it all together. Having said that, discoveries do happen. I hadn’t thought Pyro would have a theme.
But at 3AM I was scoring the scene in the X-Jet where Magneto passes the flame to Pyro and stumbled across a couple chords, played them on a choir patch and had a Eureka moment for the character. I then went back to my overture and incorporated his motif.
I heard that you wrote an article a few years ago called Do, Do, Do, in which you basically said whoever comes to you and asks can you do this or do that, just say yes and do it. Do you think this is why you are able to multi-task so well, because you took on different roles in the industry?
Well, since grade school I was always muti-tasking when making films. I guess It was part of my DNA. But yes, this philosophy helped me for sure. For instance, I was asked to do sound design on a peer’s film at USC. Sound wasn’t what I set out to do, but I did it well and forged new relationships as a result. Then, after another filmmaker saw that film, plus my directing class reel, he asked me to re-edit his problem-plagued film. It was on that film that a PA had a bird’s eye view on how I re-told the story, did the sound design and supervised the score. That PA was Bryan Singer.
Did you come from a family that was either musical or involved with film of any kind?
Not at all! My dad was an engineer and my mom a nurse. I’d wake up singing melodies as kid, which puzzled everyone. Who knows where that came from? My dad was creative though. He’d often do voice impersonations of people and tape funny one-man interviews doing all the voices. I grew up similarly to Spielberg, who was also making films as a kid; and we even both played the clarinet. But I diverged into editing and scoring, where he was able to jump straight into making films, which I always envied. I dreamed of working with him in some capacity.
The temp track is something that composers either find helpful or distracting. As an editor, do you install temp tracks at all to enhance various moments in a movie, for the producers or director to see how a certain style of music might help?
Yes, I design it. But people are surprised that when I edit a movie, I first create it completely dry of music. I don’t put in any temp score until I’m completely done with my first cut. Temp music can fool everyone for a long time that a scene is working, only to later realize the scene has issues. I didn’t have the luxury to rejigger too many scenes later, as I had other responsibilities. So, I wanted to face those issues up front by experiencing the film dry. And if it’s working with no score, it’s just going to be magnificent when scored. Plus, I love doing sound design and creating the world of the movie before music is added.
My process also helps not to overscore it. Lastly, it also makes for much more cohesive temp score when the music is added after the entire assembly; otherwise, it gets chopped up repeatedly during the weeks and months of editing of the movie.
Many times, temp scores seem so cool because they’re merely the first indelible association people have on a scene. The editor, who may not be a musical storyteller, may just slap on music to sell the scene. So there are indeed instances when temp tracks can hurt a film. But that’s only the case if no objective person down the line ever raises their hand and says, “hey, we may all think this is what’s right for the film, but it’s a placeholder that really misses the point.” And if no one realized this, the composer walks in, perhaps not having a strong opinion or clout, and is told to rip it off. What results is yet another bastard child of another generic or soulless temp, which was mostly likely the bastard child of previous temp.
But a temp is invaluable if there has been lots of thought behind it and serves as a rough example of the type of musical score there will be to avoid shock from execs later when they hear the real score. A temp is necessary to test the film, as the real score is almost never ready at this stage.
You have scored shorts, TV projects and animated movies. Is the process different when scoring an animated feature as opposed to a live action movie?
You can certainly wear more emotions on your sleeve when doing animation. The music tends to be more expository and freed up. Since I love writing themes, doing Astro Boy was right up my alley, and one of the most joyful experiences in my career – until it bombed, of course. There are also far fewer picture changes in animation, as many of those changes have been figured out earlier. It’s just an open canvas for a composer who loves being lyrical and letting themselves loose.
On Nice Guys you collaborated with David Buckley, the score had to it a funky/retro vibe, which evoked music from movies like Shaft and Our Man Flint. Was this a collaboration on every cue or did you both contribute separate pieces for the score?
I scored about three reels of the film before having to go to Montreal for X men Apocalypse. So, I had already written the main theme and was hoping they’d do an animated opener to it like they did to my Kiss Kiss Bang Bang theme.
After I left, the film got so heavily re-edited that David had to alter, adapt, or rescore sections in the first three reels, plus carry on for the rest of the film.
He would send me cues and I’d make my notes or tweak them. He did a fabulous job adapting my thematic material. Once he got into the groove, he had some fun, I think! It’s blast writing that style of music. I didn’t think I had a knack for it until I stumbled upon the idea for the vibe to be retro in Kiss Kiss.
Do you work on your own orchestrations if you are able to and have time, or is this something that is not always possible?
The score may be the soul of the film, but orchestration is the soul of a score. Not orchestrating my own work would be like someone surprising me with the color to my house and the bedrooms, choosing all the furniture and décor, and designing the landscaping. The music is part of my soul as an extension, so I can’t leave the orchestration to someone else aside from perhaps dividing string parts and such. I do it all down to the most minuscule glockenspiel ding. One cue can work ten different ways depending on the delicate art of orchestrating and arranging for picture. Many times, the orchestration IS the cue. Besides, mock-ups have to be so detailed these days, that you almost have to orchestrate your work by default. I guess others could do mock-ups for me, but they just wouldn’t sound like they were me.
This is why scores coming from teams of composers lack the special identity of the composer. When you hear a Barry, Goldsmith or Williams score, despite their incredible range, you hear them. I’d like to say it’s that way for me. My orchestrators do have a horribly laborious task though; and that is making sense of my time signatures. I don’t want to be encumbered by whether I’m in 3/4 or 6/8. I just want to write with a free flow of ideas that I compose to a click track. Sometimes I’m off the beat a bit or sloppy; and this is their nightmare to faithfully reproduce my mock-up!
Do you conduct at all or is it better for you to have a conductor for the sessions so you can supervise, and do you ever perform on any of your scores?
My great excuse for not conducting is that I can indeed hear more in the booth without the click track in my ear and have the benefit of hearing how any accompanying synth tracks are jiving. This excuse, is, of course valid. It’s why any composers stay in the booth. But the truth is also that I’d be a horrible conductor. I never became proficient at it. After composing a piece I’m really proud of, I find myself frustrated that I’m not up there at the podium. It can be frustrating. But with severe time constraints and more control over people’s opinions in the booth, its far better to be in the booth. I play the clarinet, but not well. I’d be a hindrance to the session! I love writing challenging parts for much better musicians than I.
Your scores for Orphan and Invasion have a more synth-based edge to them. What percentage of the scores were realized by non-conventional or symphonic instrumentation?
It would be when I felt a synth or non-conventional approach was appropriate. I’m not sure what that percentage is. Even Days of Future Past was decidedly a more modern approach, so I incorporated more synth elements into the orchestra.
I really wanted Invasion to be bizarre, so I experimented with “bendy/stretchy” analog sounds as a motif, along with other stuff to try to think outside the box. Even so, there’s still a use of orchestra.
There’s a little-known score of mine, Point of Origin, which was completely synth for both budget and aesthetic reasons. The fun in that one was sampling the parts of a typewriter and incorporating them throughout the score, as it was about an arsonist who was writing a book laying out his crimes. It seems that in most of my scores there’s a small addition of synth elements whether it be for style, or for budget. Even Usual Suspects had synth choir and some synth percussion purely for budget reasons. It all depends on the vision of the score and what will work.
Sometimes no music works, sometimes orchestra works, sometimes a blend; and sometimes the film needs score, but an orchestra would be all wrong. So an all synth score is wise in those cases not for budget, but for the right feel.
Jack the Giant Slayer, I think you worked on for about two years. Was there any particular reason as to why the project was such a lengthy one?
No, not one reason. Many! Motion capture and development takes time. But the over-riding reason was that the studio greenlit a dark fxxxxx-up fairy tale (in a good way), and then got cold feet when the goods were delivered. Mainly the marketing team wanted to change the film into something that would make their jobs easier.
The worst situation is when they try to change the DNA of a film after it’s been made. It was similar to when people were claiming to be tired of goofy Jim Carey; so, the studio greenlit a super dark comedy, The Cable Guy that Ben Stiller delivered wonderfully. Then the studio freaked out and tried to bend it into something more overtly goofy. It still turned out to be a fun dark movie.
But it was so much more deliciously dark before they watered it down. Jack was even a worse situation. Suddenly this delightfully dark story (albeit crippled by bad casting), had to be changed to be made for young children. This meant reshoots with a fairy-tale prologue and other scenes. Then what followed was an endless slew of test screenings and debates, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic for yet more test screening that might get another point, and on and on.
It’s a longer saga, but that’s the nutshell. I was very burned out but eked out a rousing score. Knowing we were going to London with a huge orchestra was a shot in the arm and added inspiration to get me through. The score was relatively unaffected by the drama, but I do remember music reviews with execs where I had to play back what I recorded to certain scary scenes to make sure the music wasn’t “too” scary. Even in a Disney film, when there’s a scary scene, the music is scary! That’s part of the fun.
Fantastic 4 is another franchise you are involved with. The music seems to be constant throughout adding mood and giving support. How much music did you write for the Fantastic 4, Rise of the Silver Surfer and does all the music make it onto any soundtrack album release. If not, do you have a hand in deciding what tracks will make it onto any release?
The Silver Surfer theme is one of my favorites. Oddly it just popped into my head when I was on a plane, and then I raced home to do the sketch. Those scores were a lot of fun to write, but the studio editorially raped both films so badly in post after I’d scored them, that the music was chopped up into a zillion pieces, lacking the breadth it had to the original scenes.
I can’t remember how much of the music made it to the album, but yes, it’s the purview of the composer to decide what goes on the album and how it’s presented. For listening purposes, the cues are usually arranged out of film order so the listening experience is more engaging.
Then years later the extended albums (if there are any) end up putting in all the cues, and in film order.
What is next for you if you can tell us?
Although I’ve found joy and great creative accomplishment with my projects, I’ve also been through hell and back having done so many simultaneous tasks on those big tentpole movies. My plan was to get to a place where I could retire if I want to, but still seek out things that make me happy or make me want to get out of bed. And that’s where I am now. I’m smelling some roses, as we only live once: and I’m also developing my own projects to direct. Directing a film is hell on earth, so why destroy yourself unless it’s something that you really believe in, something that gets your soul and energies stirring? Well, unless you’re 30 years old, poor and thirsty. That’s not where I’m at. I’d love to be 30 again though! I have a couple features in development.
Any film can fail in the development process, but I’m hopeful to get one off the ground. I’m also itchy at times to score films, but the film must be something I’m passionate about and with good people working on it. I don’t want to have to conform to the flavor of the day. If someone wants me for my film scoring and story-telling sensibilities, and it’s something that touched me, then I’m there! Unless, of course, I’m off smelling roses.