John Ottman is a native of San Diego, California. His scores for Usual Suspects, The (1995) and Cable Guy, The (1996) gave him some recognition and since then he has created the scores for many major motion pictures, ranging from Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) to Lake Placid (1999). He composed and conducted the score for Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000) in 2000; this film also marked his directing debut. This interview was conducted following the theatrical release of John's directorial debut 'Urban Legends: Final Cut' (2000).
What made you go for directing and composing for "Urban Legends: Final Cut"?
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 blase 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.) 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. I also felt that this genre might be a good showpiece to be able to display an array of directorial situations (chase scenes, serious dramatic scenes, sex scenes, etc) that a more independent film might not show off. (Then of course, after signing, 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!)
Do you think that the sequel is as good as the original?
I'm a little biased for that one! It's really quite different. I think it is more real than the first one and a bit more classy and sophisticated. To me that's better and hipper - but we'll see if that concept is embraced or not in this genre!
From what I know, apart from Joseph Lawrence you gathered a practically unknown cast. Was this a conscious decision or was it just the way things worked out?
Our shooting schedule was concurrent with all the TV shows, so all knowns were unavailable. But I am glad I have a fresh cast with no baggage. My lead, Jennifer Morrison is fantastic, and all the actors have a great freshness and originality to them. Even Joseph Lawrence will surprise you. If you have a cast that you associate with no other films or shows, you tend to believe them and their world more. It's sort of like the original Alien. These actors were all relatively unknown, and this worked for it's extreme believability. The one lead I found, Matt Davis, had never acted in a film and is already starring in Joel Schumacher's Tigerland
John enjoying X2 premiere.
Would you be able to describe the plot-line for "Urban Legends"?
Alpine University houses the most advanced film school in the world. Each year, the student who wins the Hitchcock Award for best film is pretty much guaranteed a directing career in Hollywood. Amy (Jennifer Morrison) has only been making documentaries but knows she must make a fictional film to be elligable for the award and to prove she can make more than just nature films. After talking with the campus security guard (Reese), Amy has a great idea - to make her story about a serial killer who bases his murders on Urban Legends. Only, Amy's crew begins to fall victim to many "accidents", and Amy must prove her suspicion that they were murdered, before she too becomes an Urban Legend.
Many fans were a little disappointed that the producers decided to create a sequel that did not comprise of the original's survivors. What are your feelings on this?
This is a completely new film with a whole new feel than the first one. Therefore I needed a new cast to help shape this world and its believability. These are very colorful and dynamic characters, and therefore needed new actors with new back-stories.
Could you tell us what Reese's part in the sequel is, and also if her role is larger than in the first movie?
Reese is disgruntled for having been fired from Pendleton University and having to get a lesser security position at Alpine. She was fired at Pendleton, as she says, because she wouldn't help cover up the murders there. I'd say her screen time is about the same as the first one. I think she's more fun in this one because I wanted her to have more of an attitude this time around.
If "Urban Legends: Final Cut" is successful, would you consider going back to direct/compose a third installment?
It would have to be REALLY successful! I want to explore other genres so I don't get pigeon-holed too early. A period piece drama, or a black comedy would be fun. Who knows? It's all about finding great stories and good material first, and whatever the genre it is, it is.
"Thanks for your time, John!"
You can visit John Ottman's official site by going to: http://ottman.filmmusic.com