Scene Unseen:
The Usual Suspects: John Ottman Interview

Film After last week's interlude with Spike Jonze, here is an example of what a film maker interview can be like. Its a static shot of two people talking, Jess Bond of Film Score Monthly and John Ottman the composer and editor of The Usual Suspects. There they sit for fifteen minutes but its a startling riveting piece which takes in Ottman's career both with Bryan Singer and elsewhere.

The more interesting section describes the process of using a temp score on a first cut of a film. As the editor of the film, he knew the material better than many composers so when he added the temp track to the film using some of his favourite pieces from the time, but he did such a good job that the executives wanted him to create an original score which was very close to the temp track. Luckily he had already composed main theme so he was able to incorporate this throughout the film meaning that the music could still retain its own style. But then because what he had written was so good he found himself watching trailers and even other films were the theme would crop up either literally or reproduced slughtly. In fact, he turned up to score another film and found another temp track which featured something which sounded like The Usual Suspect and pretty much was, only slowed down.

I can see what he means. Time and again a film will be slightly ruined because I'll spend the best part of its running time trying to work out were I've heard the main theme before. But as Ottman describes, its largely not the composer's fault. Often they're an after thought - the last thing before the film is released - so they don't have the time to sit down and create something entirely original so they will spin off something they already know. One of the more amusing moments in the dvd commentary of Love Actually is when Richard Curtis says how good them music is at the end and Hugh Grant quiping how good it also was in Shakespeare In Love. Happily for Ottman he has the time to create something new and has actually stopped listening to other music. He's in a position in which you can tell that it's a 'John Ottman' score in the same way you can tell a 'John Barry' score -- but he doesn't say it out of arrogance -- its an example of self understanding and an appreciation of how far he's come.


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