John Ottman is best known for his sterling work as ace composer of the soundtracks to some of recent years most interesting movies, from THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) to APT PUPIL (1998), and the criminally underused score for HALLOWEEN: H20 (1998)- amongst many others. He is also a talented editor and has now, after years of making short films, turned his hand to the big screen- as director of the upcoming URBAN LEGENDS: THE FINAL CUT, which is the sequel to the 1998 slasher hit, URBAN LEGEND. Which is described, from a short synopsis from the IMDB, as thus- "Urban Legends: The Final Cut follows Amy Mayfield (Morrison), a student at Alpine University who struggles to complete her thesis film on urban legends - only to have her crew members fall prey to fatal 'accidents.' Suspicious, Amy investigates and discovers a much more sinister hand at work. Now she must unmask the killer before she, too, becomes an urban legend."
John was good enough to answer some questions about his upcoming film in the latest interview:
Q Back in June last year, when it was announced that you were due to direct the URBAN LEGEND sequel, it was said that UL2 would be a ""young person's Hitchcockian thriller instead of a slasher," centerd around urban legends." Were you quite keen to avoid the 'slasher' tag for your film?
Yes, I wanted to avoid the film being placed in the slasher category. I wanted the movie to be a little more sophisticated in terms of feeling real to the audience rather than being a farce and making fun of the genre. The world of UL2 is to be believed, and therefore more scary I hope. The more you believe in the characters of a film, the more invested you'll be in the story and affected by it's outcome. So the attempt was to make a tense thriller that's enjoyable via the situations and the colorful characters. I think young audiences may be looking for something a little smarter, which I hope they think is more hip.
Q It was also stated that "[UL2] will not be a sequel but a stand-alone pic". Are there any links to the first film?
The only links to the first film is that Reese, the security officer from Pendleton University, is now the security officer for Alpine University, after having been fired from Pendleton for not helping cover up the murders there. And although Urban Legends play a role in the film, it really is a completely new environment and feel.
Q Presumably, if that's the case, then you were freed up quite a bit in what you could do with the whole urban legends angle. Is there as much of a similar reliance on modern folklore in your film as there was in the first?
The story of UL2 could almost be told without Urban Legends, but Urban Legends add color to the film. The funny thing is that most urban legends are pretty inocuous: ie."You get good eyesight from eating carrots." Whoopty doo. There aren't a hell of a lot of very scary ones out there. We did our best to dig ones up, but again, the story and the who-dunnit quality of the film is center-stage.
Q I remember reading that a great script had wowed the big- wigs at Sony and secured the interest in the sequel- I think it was by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson. Did it end up as the shooting script?
I was brought on after Paul and Scott had done their draft. We then spent a couple months working on it, tayloring it to my vision of the film, and that's basically what became the shooting script. Although we were re-writing up to and through shooting. It was crazy. The script called for many locations (much more then the first), and more sets to build, yet we had ten less days to shoot than they had on the first film. So it was brutal.
Q Your work as a composer and editor are well known. UL2 is your first full length feature as a director, although you studied film at college and made many short films (- apart from a great realplayer clip I haven't seen it all but I loved the sound of your "early Chucky film"- OUT OF THE CLOSET (1986), where a nerdy character gets given stuffed animals every year from his Aunt and subsequently puts them in the closet; but, "One day a stuffed animal takes charge and terrorizes Jerold in a wild cat and mouse game of stalking and suspense."- For a peek at that and the sequel OUT OF THE CLOSET II: THE FLIGHT you can find clips, and more, of John's work over at his site- The Asylum: Projects ... Was it a dream come true to be helming your own big budget picture?
Well, life is a funny thing. I had always dreamed of directing, but when I was finally offered to do it out of the blue, I was ambivilant. Just five years ago I would have jumped through hoops, but after having been in the biz awhile and having it sort of demystified, and also being fulfilled by scoring, I was suddenly humored by the fact that here I was being offered this and was kind of blaze' about it! My plan to direct was a little more methodical: I was to score X-men, for which I was contracted, then find an independent picture to direct once I had finished that chapter. But things never go as planned, of course. I was in a casual meeting with a Phoenix executive (who I had worked with on Apt Pupil and Lake Placid.) Phoenix knew my aspirations to direct, but out of the blue, this executive whips out a script and says, "I think you'd be great for this." I was stunned, and said, "Oh. What is it?" She then said, "Urban Legend 2." I think I looked like one does when he receives that birthday present he's not sure how to respond to. Obviously I pondered this as to whether it would be a wise idea for my first film considering the expectations based upon Usual Suspects, etc. But since X-men was not even green-lit and had a release at the time of Christmas 2000, it looked as if our schedules wouldn't collide and it would be a good idea - as long as I could make it more a thriller with a little style. If I could somehow make it different and have it still satisfy the core audience, I'd be into it. Then of course, after signing on, X-men green-lit and pushed their release to Summer 2000! So, it was a costly decision, and I guess I'll know in the end if it was the right one
Q Obviously you are providing the score for UL2 as well. Which came first, the actual shooting or the score?
Composers hate this question! Of course the score to the film is taylored to the picture that it shot and edited. Therefore no score had even been written yet.
Q I really enjoyed your UL2 diary (which can also be found at The Asylum). It came across as a very honest and gritty account of making a movie- as opposed to the 24hr champagne lifestyle many of us, mistakenly, think a film director enjoys whilst on the job. The last entry, that was there when I visited was from December last year, starts with the line- "Well, all I can say is we made it through alive." Do you hope for an easier time on your next project or do you think they'll all be like this?!
There aren't many positions in this industry that are glamorous or easy. They all demand 12-15-20 hour days with very little time to even relax. Any director feels a great sense of relief when the long arduous hours of shoot are complete, but when you're on a film with an extremely short shooting schedule, it makes it even harder on everyone because every moment counts even more intensely, and more has to go off without a hitch. We also filmed alot of nights in very bitter cold. So, in that regard, it would be nice to have a bit easier the next go around!
Q Where are you up to with post-production?
I'm preparing the film for test screenings and soon will begin composing the score. Being the director and editor as well makes me have to be in ten different places at once, so writing the huge amount of music I have to write for the film is going to be very trying! See how glamorous it all is?!
Q Have you got a tentative release date set?
Release will be in the Fall.
Q As you're aware is a haven for all slasher movies and psycho-dramas (both good and bad!)- but I've always had a special place in my heart for those from the early 80's (MY BLOODY VALENTINE, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, THE BURNING etc). Did you have any favourites from that era- if indeed you liked any of them?!
I'm not sure when it came out, but Evil Dead is certainly a favorite. As well as Day of the Dead (the one in the shopping mall - isn't that it?) I hope those were in the 80s, or else I'm going to feel even older! But being a sci-fi freak, I was mostly busy watching Star Trek II, III and IV in the 80s!
Q Talking of cheesy early 80's slasher flicks, Hart Bouchner (who plays Professor Solomon in UL2) played a doomed teen in the Jamie Lee Curtis horror flick TERROR TRAIN (1980)- did he mention his previous excursion into the genre?
I had no idea Hart was in Terror Train. I have to see that again now! No, he didn't mention it. He'd probably be surprised you caught that!