Mister Ottman, how did you come on Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer?
Well I got a call from the director asking if I was interested in doing it, and I responded, “are you #%^&# kidding? Of course I would.” Because we all got along great on the first one, it was assumed I would be doing it. If at all possible, if it’s the same team on a sequel, the same composer comes back – as long as things went well the first time around.
It’s a theme that establishes the Surfer as a conflicted entity with a noble soul. It was meant to tell his story in a nutshell – from a mysterious threat, to a sad torn character to one who ends up becoming the savior of Earth. I wanted it to feel introspective and elegant, yet also tortured. The same theme then becomes triumphant, signaling his new conviction to confront his master. It also contains a pretty “part b” of the theme which conveys his eventual bond with Sue Storm in the film. She reminds him of someone he once knew, and somehow she awakens his conscience just in time to save the Earth – although a little late for all the other planets he’s helped obliterate! Oh well.
How did you make it evolve from the beginning where he’s a bad guy, to the end, when he’s nice (Noren Rad)?
Well it’s all how about how it’s orchestrated and the attitude it’s given. The same theme can sound mysterious, evil or sad depending on how delicately it is performed, and what instruments are chosen. There are are also moving string and woodwind lines that blur to create a harmonic backdrop to his theme – and if they are performed in a sort of whispy ethereal way it totally changes how you feel.
Did you know at the beginning that you would have to write a theme that would encounter these transformations?
I knew there would be an arc to this character based upon the script I had read. And I knew he would sort of dominate the film. It doesn’t happen often, but when I read the script on a plane trip, I ended up humming a rudimentary version of his theme right away. It became this little thing I would catch myself humming all the time, and finally one day I got it out of my head and played it on the keyboard to flesh it out and develop it into a piece to present to the studio. The piece I presented was then later prepared for orchestra and is the first cue on the album.
The Harmony of this theme is very lyrical, with a lot of tension. How would you describe it?
Well that was the challenge in his music – to convey a basically sympathetic character but also have it feel a little disturbing (representing Galactus’ presence.) So I wove in a boomy synth sound I created to offset the lyricism in the music. I also wrote those fast-moving arpeggio-like lines behind his theme which made the harmony feel even more otherwordly in a sort of intelligent way.
Can you tell me about its orchestrations? The sound of the strings, the mixing with the horns, and the big low and loud and brassy notes at the trombones. Please, may you explain this choice?
Well it’s basically a traditionally orchestrated theme, and the specific orchestral flourishes or deep brass surges are just my way of further defining him, and making the music become very masculine and “important.”
Some of the orchestral overtones created a sonic illusion of an organ, but there wasn’t one used :) I think the last time I used one was in House of Wax – and also a short cue in X2.
I usually do not write music to anything on the surface. The music’s job is to bring out inner qualities – the soul of the characters and the film. As with any scene, I look at the objects and/or characters and ask myself what the scene is really about beyond them, what is the challenge or angst of the character. Then I comment on it musically. I thought it would be cheesy to do “shimmering” music just because he was silvery.
How did you treat Galactus? It’s more about sound than theme, right?
What sounds did you use? It seems to be about Chaos, and souls from all destroyed planet cry out help.
Yeah, there wasn’t a lot of depth given to “him” in the film. He’s simply a threat full of dread. And yes, I wanted there to be an inherent tragedy felt in the music, as heard in the first scene of the film when he first appears destroying a planet. Because he has brief moments, an instantly recognizable sound had to define him. This was basically an extremely low orchestral cluster, characterized by the tuba playing in its lowest possible register. To this I added a booming synth sound I created from a sound I found in a synth effects library. It really tears apart the sub woofers!
How did you come to the idea of using synth elements (whereas you don’t seem to be used to do it often)?
I’m not sure what made me feel that choice was right. It’s just something I feel when I see a film. This one had a more serious tone, and I wanted the music to feel as if it was evolving from the first film – and feel just a tad bit more modern and clever. There was a lot of sensitive underscoring required that needed a little edge – and often a little “otherworldliness.” Even though I like to stretch the orchestra as far as it can go to convey these things, the pure orchestra ensemble sometimes lacked the subtle oddities I needed. So I added synth textures and dark tones to weave in. If used in an organic manner, synths can be a legitimate section of the orchestra. They really are just another “instrument.” The trick is to use them wisely, just as you try to do with any part of the orchestra, and also not to simply use synth as an easy crutch. I use synths more than people may think, but usually they are practically invisible in the orchestra. With this film, I brought them to the forefront, often to be featured.
I love this part with jazz pattern played at the woodblock and the harp. It’s very refined orchestration.
Orchestrating is my favorite part of the process. I write every part and accompaniment down to the last little triangle ping. As I touched upon earlier, a cue totally changes its character based upon orchestration alone. One slight alteration in orchestration can make a cue fail or succeed. So, for me, it can’t be left to someone else to come up with the orchestrational features of a cue. It’s a very sensitive and important process. I also need to do this so that I can prepare a synthesized mock-up of how the score will sound so that everyone knows what they’re going to get and so they can make notes on cues before we record them. Nothing is left to the imagination except that it will sound a lot better when performed. Damon arranges my string and brass lines, corrects my sloppiness, and he also redoes the time signatures so that the orchestra can better read what I write after he’s transcribed it to paper.
There are definitely light and “comical” moments in the film, as with the first. However, over-all, this was a more serious story because of the Silver Surfer and potential end of the world. The F4 films are lighter fare, so the music has to often confirm this, yet not put it over to the top and be too cliché. An example is when Johnny switches power with Sue, as she floats on fire above the street. I had to make this a little “fun,” but not campy. Serious music on this Sue-on-fire scene would make the sequence feel too horrible – a woman burning to death. By playing both sides, blending tension with playfulness, it allows the audience to enjoy the scene and keep the lighter tone of the franchise cohesive. But no, I didn’t want the music to feel cartoony, which it could have easily lapsed into in the lighter scenes. It’s best to let the comedy play and not comment on every little action as with a cartoon. It’s best, again, to comment on the feel of the scene or realizations of the characters in general. When I initially wrote a cue for Ben changing powers with Johnny, I was hitting every little action, and it felt like a Tom and Jerry episode. So I just put in many rests and chose my musical comments carefully not to step on the “comedy”, but help it work better.
There also seem to be more and deeper emotion. Like at the Wedding. How did you approach this scene?
Well for Sue and Reed, I used their love theme from the first film, but this time I made it richer and more emotional. Just as their relationship has evolved, I wanted their love theme to evolve as well. There’s also less frivolousness between the two of them in this film. They’re serious now – they’re tying the knot. So the music had to reflect this, plus the doubt Sue feels.
Well, sometimes music other than the score can help a scene better than score ever could. In X2, I wanted Magneto to be listening to classical music in his prison cell. There were some long sequences that would be silly to score. Yet the scenes felt a little dead and less ironic without some music echoing throughout the cell. It also comments on his character too - that he listens to classical music. Then when he attacks the guard, the score comes in. If the entire scene had been scored all the way through up to this point, then the initial attack on the guard would not have had nearly the effect it did. It’s good not to “blow your wad”, as it were, until necessary.
Other times, in rare instances, classical music can be blended with the score depending on myriad of situations, such as the white house attack in the opening of X2, where I adapted Mozart’s Requiem to make the action scene less cookie-cutter and more unique – with an added sense of gravity to it.
What are you favorite classical composers? Do you owe them that wonderful complexity of your scores in action scenes?
Well film music is sort of the modern way of being commissioned to write music that’s often orchestral. Concert music in its day was also commissioned, often with rules by which the composer had to adhere. The “rules” with film music are far more confining, far more political, and it’s way more of a science. And with film music, the number one priority is to serve the film. If that means an uninteresting drone somehow just makes the scene happen wonderfully, then anything beyond that could be the composer’s ego getting in the way. It’s hilarious how scores are often judged based upon the CDs. The music may sound great on the CD, but it could have been terrible on the film. The opposite case is that a boring cue on a CD may have worked miracles on the scene in an inspired way. That’s the science, art and obligation of film music. It’s a whole different animal. A film composer is an artist, but in ways one may not expect. Hans Zimmer put it best in an interview recently, saying that a good film composer is a filmmaker first, and a composer second. It’s true. I think sometimes when the inner composer gets too much in the way of the inner filmmaker, the effectiveness and poignancy of a score can suffer. It depends on the film. But it happens. The best scenario occurs when the music is both effective on the film and away from the film. I always endeavor to do that and create good compositions. But it’s not always possible. The film must come first. That’s what we’re hired for.
Well the four main characters in Silver Surfer really didn’t go through any evolutions that the music could comment on except the deeper love theme between Sue and Reed. Doom had the most changes musically. When he reappears he’s sort of in this mischievous and less malevolent state. So much of the film is dialog that I had to keep the underscore going to support these scenes and keep them interesting. It was a challenge because the music needed to provide these dialog scenes with energy, but without feeling too busy and getting in the way. But drony stuff would just make the scenes drag. So I devised a sort of quirky “up-to-no-good” motif for Doom with periodic tremelo string lines, woodwind clusters, electric piano, synth pulses, and a guiro. It was painstaking light orchestrations, but this music also served to convey his suspicious state before he resumes his full-fledged Dr. Doom persona again. When this happens, I pulled out the Dr. Doom theme and pushed it a little further than the first film, yet definitely a reprisal.
Will there be a third opus? Would you like to be part of it?
I have no idea if they’re doing one. Of course, I’d always want to be part of a world that I was involved with from the beginning. You sort of feel an ownership of it, and besides, I hate when there is no congruity between scores of franchises. It just drives me crazy.
Can you tell me a little about The Invasion?
And what about you others projects (Walkyrie, Logan's Run & The Avengers)
I’m in Berlin right now in editing jail doing Valkyrie. Then we go back to LA in mid October and continue constructing the film. It’s a complicated film editorially – written by the screenwriter of Usual Suspects. We’re all back again doing this film – a sort of thriller set around the assassination attempt on Hitler. It’s paying heavy detail to the actual historical events and people involved. But it’s also a thriller in a way. It has to play both sides – being a historical drama and being suspenseful we hope at the same time. Everyone knows the ultimate outcome, so we just have to make it an interesting film to watch. I will record the score sometime in March I think. As usual on these projects where I’m also the editor, I am never sure how to find the time to write the score. We’re thinking more an eclectic approach for the music, but it’s way too early to tell. I don’t temp with any music as I cut.
Please may you confirm us you will be part of Superman The Man of Steel?
If and when it goes, I’m sure I’ll be on board, yes. We’ll all be tired after Valkyrie, so it’s ok with me if Bryan takes his time getting to it!
For a new project, if you could choose you a genre, a kind of story and a filmmaker, what would it be?
Something with character redemption – something very emotional and inspiring to people – Like Chariots of Fire was in its day. Or even like a Billy Elliot kind of story – Personal triumph stories I guess I’m trying to say. Any filmmaker who trusts the film composer and lets the creative process happen is the kind I love to work with.
Usually my favorites are tragically ones very few people have heard. It’s well known that my score for Incognito is, for me, one of my best moments. And little personal/quirky things like Pumpkin and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for sure. I had a blast on that film – a great film – and I think you can hear it in the music.
Among the Four Fantastics, who is your favorite and why?
Hmm, that would be Johnny because – well – I mean he’s just the best isn’t he?
2 Galactus Destroys/Opening
3 Pursuing Doom
4 Wedding Day Jitters
5 Chasing the Surfer
6 Camp Testosterone/Meeting the
7 A Little Persuasion
8 Botched Heroics
9 Someone I Once Knew
10 The Future/Doom’s Deal
11 Sibling Switch
12 Outside Help
13 Springing the Surfer
14 Doom’s Double Cross
15 Mr. Sherman / Under the Radar
16 Four in One
17 Silver Savior/Aftermath
18 Gunshot Wedding
19 Noren Radd