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John Ottman

Interview: Composer John Ottman on 'X-Men,' Honey Boo Boo, and his favorite score ever

Just don't try to visit him during a scoring session

POZNAN, POLAND—John Ottman is a traditionalist. The composer for such films as “XMen— Days of Future Past,” “Superman Returns,” “The Usual Suspects,” “X2: XMen United,” and “Apt Pupil,” writes scores in the style of his musical heroes, John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.

Here at the Transatlantyk Festival in Poznan, he talked to attendees about the emotional points film music should hit and lamented the lack of finesse in so many of today’s scores. Ottman is unique among composers in that he serves not only as the scorer for Bryan Singer’s films, he also edits them, which severely limits the amount of time he has to score. He recently emerged out of a three-year work jag that included working on “Jack the Giant Slayer,”  “X-Men—Days of Future Past.”

My colleague Kris Tapley interviewed Ottman about “Days of Future Past,”  in May so I decided to do a quick lightning round with him on different topics. We were both very jet lagged and kept laughing at our difficulty concentrating, but he came through like a trooper. And one thing he made perfectly clear: Just don’t visit him during a scoring session.

What’s the hardest scene to score?

A fight scene is one of the hardest scenes to score, for me, at least, because you have to search for what the scene is really about to be motivated musically and yet people are just hitting each other. If you can find out what the scene is about underneath the action that is going on, it’s easier to write music for it, but
some times you just have to go for what’s on the screen and that’s the toughest for me because I’m always motivated by things within the character.

What’s the easiest scene to score?

I would say a creepy scene, someone walking through halls and something’s going to happen. You’re really just suspending the moment.

What’s your favorite creepiest scene you’ve scored?

There are many moments in “Hide & Seek,” a movie I did which I’m very proud of. I’m very thematic, so there was a character called Charlie, who was [the main character’s] imaginary friend and I used string harmonics to create this “Charlie’s Theme,” so when he’s being talked about, it’s very creepy, even though in a strange way, it has a personality to it, which is probably what makes it creepy.

How hard is is to tie in your theme with a well-known existing theme by another composer, such as in “Superman Returns,” when you go from your theme into John Williams’ “Lois Lane" theme during the flight scene?

Frankly, it was a lot easier than I thought to weave in the Williams’ stuff into the score for “Superman Returns,” probably because the themes from his score are so iconic, that you just hear a fragment of them and you recognize them, so all I had to do is throw in a note or two of one of his themes within mine and you understood I was giving a nod, so I just basically find out whatever key I’m in and throw three notes or two notes from either the “Superman” or the “Lois Lane” theme.

Who’s your favorite “X-Men” character to write for?

Xavier. On “Days of Future Past,” it was the first time he’s had a theme in the franchise because the movies have never really centered around him like “Days of Future Past” did. It’s all about rediscovering the hope that he lost, so it was gratifying to be able to do a theme for him.

We saw some old footage today from when Patrick Stewart and Bryan Singer came to the scoring stage for “X2" Do you like it when the actors stop by?

It’s always unnerving for me when anyone comes into the scoring session. My team knows me very well and they know that the day that supposedly someone might come, I’m very cranky and very irritable and everything ticks me off because all I’m doing is staring at the door the whole time because every time the door opens I think [someone] is walking in who is going to screw up my entire day [laughs].

What’s your favorite scene you’ve ever scored?

It’s naturally from a film that no one ever saw, which is usually the case. One was a movie called “Incognito,” which was aptly titled because it remained as such. That movie was a rare opportunity for a composer because it was long, long sequences, some five or six minutes in length, without any dialogue and very little effects. It was showing how a guy would forge art. It was a composer’s wet dream, There’s an almost six-minute sequence where Jason Patric basically forges a Rembrandt and the whole process of how he goes through that process, the real paints, the metals he melts down to make it authentic.…It was a lot of wasted passion because it went nowhere.

You brought up today how scores have changed and are much less subtle. How have expectations changed in terms of what is expected of a composer?

I think the bar has been set so low that I think the expectations aren’t very high, frankly. And it’s sort of depressing because when you’re on a movie, you get so much pressure from everyone because they’re all terrified and scared and so then the music’s suddenly important. [laughs] It’s not important until it comes down to it. Even though they’re all very on edge about it, I think if I just hashed out some string astinados [repeated patterns] and it worked because it’s something new, they’d all love it. I really could just do that and it would be signed off on, but I can’t bring myself to do it because I want to do more than that. I think that’s a lot of what’s going on today.

It starts with the temping, there are so many of those kinds of scores out there now— it’s sort of the sound that’s out there— so an editor throws that onto a movie, suddenly there’s an association with the visuals and everyone just instantly can’t imagine something different. Then the poor composer comes on and if he’s not really an opinionated composer, he’s just going to do that and so then that score goes out there  and that gets temped in the next movie and it basically becomes a circle that doesn’t stop.

You’re a descendant of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith. Is that traditional style getting lost?

Well to be thematic doesn’t mean to sound dated. I think that’s the fear— if we’re thematic, we’re going to have a score that sounds cheesy, and that’s not true. You can be thematic and still be relevant in today’s scoring styles. It doesn’t mean you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater and just thrown in repeat bars after repeat bars. You can actually find a way to be lyrical in a more modern sense. It just takes more work.

Do you think scores are getting dumbed down?

Yes. There’s a whole “South Park” episode where James Cameron finds the bar and raises it, well the bar just keep going lower, lower. I don’t think modern film scores are quite as bad at Honey Boo Boo, but sometimes I  feel like we’re going there.

What can you say about “X Men: Apocalypse?”

The script is just an outline right now. There are some ideas, but obviously I can’t talk about them, except it’s about the apocalypse (laughs). And all my favorite characters are back, including Quicksilver.

You also edit Bryan Singer’s films. You recently came off three years with out a break. How do you decompress?

The 15 hours a day, 7 days a week just stops and suddenly the freedom you’ve been seeking you have, and then I’m lost. I’m like  a drunk person who’s not drunk. Typical me will see the glass half empty. I realize the sacrifices I made because when it all stops and I’m left with my free time, I realize I only have two friends and I don’t have anyone in my life because it’s all about my work. So it’s sort of sobering when I finish one of these projects to realize how much you don’t have in your personal life. That’s what I’m sort of dealing with right now.

What was the hardest score to write?

“Jack The Giant Slayer” was the hardest time I’ve ever had in terms of cracking what the theme was of the movie because I broke my own sacred rule: never start a film score unless you've established your  themes first. I always write this sort of overture before I start the writing of the score, otherwise I’m lost. I was [in]  a fog every time Jack cam on the screen. I had a temporary place holding theme for him, but I never really liked it and not until I stumbled across something in reel 5 where he’s walking over to his horse, did I realize "There’s the theme right there.” Unfortunately most of the score had been sent off to orchestration. I had no time, but it would be wrong to just have it as it was, so I went back and re-scored every moment that was with Jack and then, only then, could I write the big rousing version of the theme because it was Jack’s theme.

What’s the one score you would take with you to a desert island?

The “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” of course, because I’m the ultimate Trekkie of the original series. When I say original, I mean the ‘60s, not “The Next Generation.” Even though that theme was used on “The Next Generation,” I associate it with “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” which was like the coming of Jesus Christ to me. The score is super thematic, it’s deep, it employs many modern sounds. Despite the fact that Goldsmith was traditional, he was always trying to find ways to be with the times that were, so he’d bring in the blaster beam, that thing that was the new thing and some of his efforts had dated themselves, like in the ‘80s we used some of those electronics, but Star Trek remains timeless. That Blaster Beam thing, a lot of the water phone sounds they use and so forth. you combine that beautiful sweeping version of that theme over the most beautiful thing ever created by man— the Enterprise— and it’s just complete, absolute orgasm.

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Recap: 'Big Brother' Sunday - Nominations and Skittle-Power
Credit: CBS

Recap: 'Big Brother' Sunday - Nominations and Skittle-Power

Strategy has gotten too complicated for the hamsters to handle on their own

When it comes to surveillance video, it's hard to get more disorienting than transitioning from a LiveStream in Ferguson, Missouri to CBS' voyeuristic "Big Brother" and it saddens me that that's what I find myself doing tonight.

Between this unfortunate media juxtaposition and some exhausting travel, I can't say that I'm all that involved with what's going down on Sunday's (August 17) "Big Brother," but the job is the job...

So let's watch what happens!

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<p>Deborah Ann Woll of HBO&#39;s &quot;True Blood&quot;</p>

Deborah Ann Woll of HBO's "True Blood"

Credit: HBO

Recap: 'True Blood' - 'Love is to Die'

Jason finds a new use for frozen veggies, Eric allows Ginger to use him, and Bill settles for being more useless than ever

With one more episode to go, it doesn’t seem too premature to go ahead and award Ryan Kwanten, A.K.A. Jason Stackhouse, the coveted Hit Fix Award for Most Valuable Player of the final season of “True Blood.” As already predicted in this space, Jessica and Hoyt have finally, fully reunited, falling in bed together after Jessica has broken down and confessed to Hoyt that they used to be a couple before she cuckolded him with the irrepressible, sexually irresistible Jason, after which Hoyt asked her to erase all his happy memories of their time together before lighting out for Alaska. Hoyt is all forgiveness towards Jessica, but he does injure his fist by applying it directly to Jason’s hard ol’ head. Hoyt’s ex, Brigette, loads the unconscious Jason into her car and is driving him to the hospital when he comes to. She tells him that he needs medical attention, because he probably has a concussion. Jason has to laugh; the dear girl doesn’t know that he averages a concussion a week. Sometimes he bleeds from the ears from the strain of trying to do long division. 

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<p>Masters of Sex</p>

Masters of Sex

Credit: Showtime

Review: 'Masters of Sex' - 'Blackbird'

Bill runs afoul of a black newspaper, while Dr. DePaul considers ending her cancer fight

A review of tonight's "Masters of Sex" coming up just as soon as my pretzels are syndicated...

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<p>Ann Dowd in &quot;The Leftovers.&quot;</p>

Ann Dowd in "The Leftovers."

Credit: HBO

Review: 'The Leftovers' - 'Cairo'

Kevin has a problem with Patti, Jill visits Nora's house and Meg can't shut up

A review of tonight's "The Leftovers" — which HBO renewed a few days ago — coming up just as soon as I keep my gun in the crisper...

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<p>&quot;A to Z&quot;</p>

"A to Z"

Credit: NBC

Take Me To The Pilots '14: NBC's 'A to Z'

Already available online, this rom-com gets by on likability not humor

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

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<p>Uzo Aduba</p>

Uzo Aduba

Credit: Phil McCarten/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images

2014 Creative Arts Emmy Winners include 'Sex,' 'Scandal' co-stars

'True Detective,' 'Sherlock' and 'Orange Is The New Black' all have big nights

The first round of 2014 Emmy Awards were handed out at the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony on Saturday (August 16) night at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. 

The ceremony, which precedes the Monday, August 25 Primetime Emmy Awards telecast, offered signs of hope for a number of drama and comedy hopefuls.

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Recap: 'Outlander' - Castle Leoch: Official home of the Scottish Santa Guild

Will Claire's cover story hold up under the interrogation of Laird High Santa?

Welcome back, ladies and gentleman (men?). Last week we left Claire in the tender care of Scottish Santa and his merry band of disoriented-by-female-agency helper elves. Will Jamie (not Jaime from “Game of Thrones” as I was spelling it last week…though let’s be honest ladies, we wouldn’t kick Nikolaj Coster-Waldau off the horse, if you know what I’m saying) and Claire continue their tentative friendship? Or will figuring out day-to-day life in Castle Leoch overwhelm our combat nurse? Let’s find out!


We begin exactly where we ended last week, with Claire entering an ancient stone castle on horseback. Only now all the hay and peasant structures have moved inside because TV shows have budgets dammit, so they’re getting as much use out of Leaning Shack #4 as they can. To differentiate from the outside, everything now also has a layer of mud on it. Spring cleaning has obviously not been invented yet, because grime is caked on everyone and everything. Honestly being a peasant would be more hygienic than being aristocracy if this is the gold standard of living.

Claire stands out like a sore thumb in her white dress as everyone else dismounts and goes about the process of unpacking the horses. She looks uncomfortable and mad at herself for being uncomfortable. I would like to take this moment to just appreciate Caitriona Balfe’s micro-expresssions. 

One of the Scotsmen says something about a gathering later and I can only assume he means a gathering of Scottish Santas because Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ THEY. ARE. EVERYWHERE. Scottish Santa in the mud. Scottish Santa with his bud. Scottish Santa looking down from above. It’s an infestation!

Just as it occurs to me Claire is seriously outnumbered by bearded men in kilts, with nary another XX chromosome to be seen, 18th century Mrs. Graham appears. Her name is Mistress Fitzgibbons and thank God there’s only one of her because clearly I can’t keep my industrious middle-aged women right…apologies to the maligned Mrs. Baird of Episode One.

Mrs. Fitzgibbons tells the men they smell terrible, which must be TRULY awful since living in this castle would make anyone nose-blind to all but the most pungent of odors, before noticing they brought home a stray. With the resignation of any mother who has ever indulged a child saying “It followed me home, can I keep it please? Please??” she attempts to bundle Claire off into a Makeover Montage. But Claire is having none of it. She’ll worry about her immodest appearance later because right now it is time for flawless Bitch Face™. Jamie clearly needs his wounds disinfected before he rolls around in the bacterial heaven that is everything…just everything.

I cant tell if Mrs. Fitzgibbons is impressed with Claire’s gumption and medical knowledge or is secretly trying to guess what size stick they’ll need to burn her on a witch pyre. 

So off we go inside. All that setup in Episode One pays off in spades as Claire is led through the castle. We’re treated to a flashback of her walking in the 1940s with Frank spliced in with her current predicament because remembering things from a week ago is strenuous on the audience. 

My main takeaway here is medieval castles were dark and gloomy and depressing as hell. Maybe Scottish Santas are allergic to excessive sunlight? It discolors their magnificent ashen beards, which are obviously the source of their power.

After setting up the impromptu nursing station, Mrs. Fitzgibbons says we can just call her Mrs. Fitz which bless her because typing out her whole name was gonna give me carpal tunnel and/or continuous giggle fits because the idea of gibbons in Age of Enlightenment dress is hilarious and I am five years old.

Um, someone call Frank because THIS is how you do exposition. Jamie is shirtless and has enough scars on his back that he’s either been flogged or is secretly an alpha werewolf struggling to protect his pack and his secrets and…nope he was just flogged. By Black Jack Randall. What a small, plot convenient world. While Claire changes the dressing on Jamie’s bullet wound, he regales us with the story of how he was beaten for stopping Randall from raping Jamie’s sister Jenny. During this story, we learn several things.

    •    Jamie’s parents had a thing for alliteration.
    •    Randall definitely has an M.O. and it is that he is an asshole.
    •    Jamie is really bad at what constitutes as a ‘seduction’ story.
    •    Alternatively, Jamie is really GOOD at what constitutes a ‘seduction’ story because now we all know he is anti-rape which is a fine quality in any potential mate.
    •    Jamie has a fantastic immune system to have not died from his wounds.
    •    18th century women’s clothing can magically restitch after being torn down the front.
    •    Jack Randall is not worthy of his line, “That’s interesting.” You are no Jack Sparrow. In fact, you are a disgrace to the name Captain Jack. Good day to you, sir. I said good day!

There is then talk of levies and history and four years ago the British government sent out parties to collect food and other taxes and oh noooooooo! Guys Jamie has been infected. He is vomiting exposition. Is no one safe from this scourge!? 

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Allison Janney wins her 5th Emmy

Allison Janney wins her 5th Emmy
Janney won for best guest actress in a drama for “Masters of Sex.” But she’s still up for an Emmy for “Mom.” PLUS: Joe Morton got an Emmy for “Scandal." UPDATE: Jimmy Fallon wins for guest actor in a comedy series for hosting "SNL." UPDATE 2: Uzo Aduba wins for best comedy guest actress for "Orange is the New Black," and Jane Lynch and "Shark Tank" win realtity TV Emmys.

Watch Stephen Colbert get 2 ice buckets poured over his head
Also, Ryan Seacrest took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Lena Dunham got a blonde bowl cut
The “Girls” star is now a platinum blonde.

The “Downton Abbey” cast mock the water bottle flub

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<p>Analeigh Tipton of &quot;Manhattan Love Story&quot;</p>

Analeigh Tipton of "Manhattan Love Story"

Credit: ABC

Take Me To The Pilots '14: ABC's 'Manhattan Love Story'

'America's Next Top Model' favorite Analeigh Tipton deserves better

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

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Worst and one little Best of 'Let's Be Cops'

Worst and one little Best of 'Let's Be Cops'

It was really hard to find one but we did it

We first received an extended sneak peek at the comedy "Let's Be Cops!" during CinemaCon, a convention for the nation's theater owners, at the end of the March. In that context, "Cops" looked funny. In fact, it looked like it could be a major summer hit and turn both Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. into legitimate movie stars. 

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<p>Anna Gunn of FOX&#39;s &quot;Gracepoint&quot;</p>

Anna Gunn of FOX's "Gracepoint"

Credit: FOX

Take Me To The Pilots '14: FOX's 'Gracepoint'

Eventually this may cease to just be a clone of 'Broadchurch,' but not through 2 episodes

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

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