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December 9, 2008

 

Composer John Ottman
Two Wings of the Valkyrie

 


 

Biography


Played clarinet through High School.

Attended USC's Film School
alongside director Bryan Singer.

Also engages in film editing and sound design.

Official Web Site



Composition Credits
(Film)


Valkyrie
The Invasion
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Superman Returns
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Fantastic Four
House of Wax
Hide and Seek
Cellular
Gothika
X-Men 2
Trapped
Eight-Legged Freaks
Pumpkin
Point of Origin
Brother's Keeper
Bubble Boy
Urban Legends: Final Cut
Lake Placid
Goodbye, Lover
Cruel Intentions
Apt Pupil
Incognito
Snow White: A Tale of Terror
The Cable Guy
The Usual Suspects





Composition Credits (Television)


Hitachi "Power Unleashed" Commercials

Wendy's Commercial ("Raccoons")
Coca-Cola: Latin Inspiration Commercial
Gateway Anthem Commercial
Chaos Theory Commercial
Aetna Spec Commercial
Samsung Commercial
"Fantasy Island"
Try These Wings (Nike Spot)
WTTG-TV News Theme Demo




 

 

 

 

 

Composer John Ottman

"The whole precept behind the score was to make sure that it wasn't something that felt too cliché for a World War II period piece. We had them dropping logs on the ground and hitting tree branches against the wall - all in unison of course. It created this great cacophonous sound."

John Ottman


Just prior to the soundtrack release of VALKYRIE and the feature film release on December 25, 2008, composer and editor JOHN OTTMAN shares about his ongoing work-relationship with director BRYAN SINGER.  He also speaks about the unique challenges posed by both editing and scoring VALKYRIE, his thoughts on the idea of being involved with the much rumored SUPERMAN sequel, THE MAN OF STEEL, and even Mark Milar's reboot-trilogy idea for the Superman franchise.

   
  Music from Valkyrie by John Ottman
 

  Valkyrie opens December 25, 2008

Valkyrie opens December 25, 2008

 

Director Bryan Singer and comoser/ editor John Ottman.

Director Bryan Singer and composer/ editor John Ottman.


The ensemble cast of VALKYRIE

The ensemble cast of VALKYRIE

   


CC: Talk about how your working relationship with director BRYAN SINGER has evolved over the years.

JOHN OTTMAN: We get that question a lot. We usually look at each other, scratch our heads, and wonder how it's changed. Really, it hasn't changed all that much. I do joke and say that "he's matured and doesn't yell as much any more." [laughs]. I think there has been maturing but there has been a trust factor that has developed over the years that you just can't put a value on...well, I always try to put a monetary value on it [laughs]. There is just an unsaid sort of understanding that we have. He can twitch his eyebrow and that will speak volumes to me. We save ourselves a lot of time. We've developed a huge amount of shorthand.

CC: How was VALKYRIE different from your previous collaborations?

JOHN OTTMAN: It was no different except for the fact that it was more intense than any other film we've done - and that's for a couple reasons. A) We had one of the biggest stars in the world working right next to us. Not only was he the star but was head of the studio and producer of the film...and that can be pretty intimidating. B) The other thing was the absolute pressure in making sure we didn't screw up a very revered story that is true. It started out that we just wanted to make this thriller, but then we realized that the backdrop of this thriller was a historical event and a very serious thing to the Germans. The character that Tom (Cruise) plays, Claus von Stauffenberg, is a national hero and so the last thing we want to do is make it laughable or taking too many liberties and belittle a true event. The third part was that it was an ensemble piece which means there is a lot of footage because there are so many characters. So I was deluged with a tremendous amount of footage to go through.

CC: Now it was reported that you edited the film with no temp score at all. Is that true and if so have you done that before?

JOHN OTTMAN: Well what that means is that I cut the entire film with no music in it, then at the very last minute I'll "temp it" because we have to screen it and we have to have a temp score. For this movie, X-Men 2, and The Unusual Suspects, I decided I didn't want music to be a crutch as I was cutting the film. In my opinion, if the movie works without the music, then it is really working well. Music becomes the icing on the cake or it might work better without it. This keeps my objectivity. I also relish (my personal, little geek-award to myself) after I've cut a scene, is to go and do the sound for the scene. I like the ambiences and sound effects; things as simple as a glass sliding on a table. While doing all of that, with music there, it skews my judgment in when doing the sound design.

CC: The release schedule for VALKYRIE has moved around a few times...

JOHN OTTMAN: Which has become the fodder for much conjecture. It has been very, very frustrating to be working on film that, from day-one, was a great movie. We have never had a problem with the film, but the impression is, when you see a release date move, that "Oh. It must suck." Frankly, if I heard a film was moved, I probably think the same thing.  But then it became this horrible feeding frenzy on the internet with stuff fabricated out of thin air. So as you're working on the movie you're wondering where people come up with this stuff. I felt like I was reliving the Dukakis campaign, where you hear all these things, but they are not counter-measured by anything and so people believe it all. So it was really frustrating the whole time because we have a f***ing great movie here. In the end, you just hope the truth comes out.

CC: So did that shuffling of the release date affect you as editor or composer?

JOHN OTTMAN: Yes. When we were coming close to a particular date, I had recording time with the orchestra scheduled, which is hard to book. We hadn't shot a few scenes that we were still owed. Now, of course, on the internet it said that we were reshooting, but that wasn't true either. It was actually that we hadn't gotten around to shooting a couple of scenes that we had always planned to shoot. So I had to go and record the score for these scenes that we had yet to shoot. Now we've done this before and it worked, so I knew we could do it again. What I do in that case is I read the script pages and then write a piece of music that is three times longer than I'd ever need it to be. That way I could edit different phrases and so forth. It's not a wise to score an entire movie that way, but for a couple scenes it works out fine and it worked out okay for VALKYRIE.

CC: One thing that surprised me about the score was how percussion-heavy it is and rumor is you had intended on doing a much more minimalist score but then decided to go in a stronger direction.

JOHN OTTMAN: Score albums can be misleading as well. There are 40 minutes that are cut out of the score album. On the album, I put the stuff that was more active and more interesting to listen to outside of the film. There's 100 minutes of music in the film and a lot of it is very pulsating and subliminal, but that wouldn't be the most interesting stuff to listen to on the album. There are a few scenes where I had a lot of fun having the percussionists just hit the s**t out their stuff. I didn't want to do anything cliché either. The cliché thing would have been to do snare riffs for a military sound and that would have been just too obvious. The whole precept behind the score was to make sure that it wasn't something that felt too cliché for a World War II period piece. We had them dropping logs on the ground and hitting tree branches against the wall - all in unison of course. It created this great cacophonous sound.

CC: There are some lighter, melodic moments as well. The opening track, "They'll Remember You"  is quite nice. Now that is an original composition by you. Right? And what are the lyrics?

JOHN OTTMAN: The lyrics come from a poem by (Johann Wolfgang von) Goethe, a German poet. A cohort and I wrote the piece and this particularl piece doesn't occur until the end titles. The film had to end with some sort of sound the was different from the score to be reflective of what just happened. Of course for the album, it is more interesting to start out with the most lyrical piece. I knew it needed to be something choral, but I didn't know what the heck they'd be saying. I knew it should be in German and that was scary because I don't speak German. The person I was doing this piece with thought of Goethe and then we found this poem. The poem was a loose allegory for the movie and talks about little birds falling silent in the woods and the last sentence is "soon you too will be at rest." It just gave me chills. It was not "on the nose" but it was at least reflective of having a sacrifice and being at peace with what you just tried to do. The problem was that the melody had already been written, so we had to fit the lyrics into the melody, which was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The night before we were to record the piece, we had a German, music language scholar on the phone talking to us and so we were adding eighth notes and stretching out quarter notes to a half note and hoping we wouldn't screw up the melody too much. In the end it worked out fine, but we weren't sure if we had created a train wreck or not.

CC: Outside of that, what would you say some of your biggest challenges were on scoring VALKYRIE?

JOHN OTTMAN: The biggest challenge both editorially and for scoring was keeping something suspenseful and full of tension, especially for a story where you know the outcome. With a story that has a lot of dialogue, like THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS, how do you keep up the suspense or people on the edge of their seat when not a whole lot of stuff is going on? That's through the editing and the music. We realized that there would have to be a lot more music than we had envisioned. The music pretty much never stops, so the challenge was how do I have all that music there without feeling like there is all that music there. Otherwise it would have the opposite effect and start making it more of a passive experience. If you have too much music, the audience will just turn off. Since I was in charge of the final dub on the film as well, I purposely intertwined the score within the sound effects a lot. So there are a lot of peaks, up and down, ebbs and flows and that was a big challenge.

CC: As brutal as it must be to handle both editing and scoring a film, is there anything in this that is advantageous to you?

JOHN OTTMAN: I would say, in the long run, "No." [laughs] I used to say," Oh yes. I'm on the film so early that I have so much more time than any other composer would have to think about it." But the thing is that, even though that is somewhat true, I can't do anything about it. Because the editing is all encompassing, I can't write a note of music while I'm editing the film. In fact, if I was just editing the film, I would hire the composer two months later than I would be on the film as composer. So there is a wash. I may have more time to think about the music, but I have no time to write anything whatsoever, so I think it balances out.

CC: Have you edited a film that you didn't write the score for?

JOHN OTTMAN: Never.

CC: Do you think you would enjoy it?

JOHN OTTMAN: The only way I could ever do it was it if my scoring career was in such bad shape... Because I love writing film music. I'm not belittling editing by any means. Editing is, bar none, the most important job on a film. Period....even more than the composer. I keep my life fresh by being able to jump to two three projects in a year as a composer. When you are in editing-jail for a year, you're on the same movie day-in and day out.

CC: Let me ask you about the future of SUPERMAN. There is so much out there about BRYAN SINGER possibly directing, possibly producing THE MAN OF STEEL...

JOHN OTTMAN: He's playing that one really close to the vest. He hasn't even been very upfront with me on that, but I can't say anything on it because I'll be in trouble.

CC: If it did happen, would you like to return and score it?

JOHN OTTMAN: I would love to score it.

CC: What about Mark Milar's trilogy, reboot idea? If they presented you with that opportunity, to start from the ground up, would that be something you'd like to do?

JOHN OTTMAN: I'd jump at that chance. It was titillating to apply John Williams homages throughout my score. The whole idea in SUPERMAN RETURNS was to be very respectful to the original, but if it were redefined, I would totally be there and would love to do that. To be able to think out of the box, that would be a blast.

CC: Thanks for your time today. Congrats on VALKYRIE.

JOHN OTTMAN: Thanks.

 

 

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