John Ottman is a filmmaker in the absolute purest sense of the word. He may be best known for his work as a composer, but his numerous contributions to film are much greater than just music. Ottman has served as an editor on films like The Usual Suspects, X-Men 2 and X-Men: Days of Futures Past. He’s served as a producer on movies such as Valkyrie and has gotten the chance to direct his own film, Urban Legends: Final Cut.
Director Bryan Singer has had a long and fruitful working relationship with John Ottman. They have collaborated on many films together, with Ottman partnering with Singer as a composer, producer and editor. Amongst their many film collaborations includes the blockbuster X-Men saga. Ottman has worked as a composer and editor on three X-Men films, including the latest release in the series, X-Men: Apocalypse.
I spoke with John Ottman about his filmmaking process and his work on X-Men: Apocalypse.
You have gotten the chance to wear many hats within the world of film, everything from film composer to director. Does one of your many film jobs, or film roles, stand out to you as a personal favorite within the world of moviemaking?
I usually want to do something else when I do one thing for too long. I have been out of the film-scoring picture for too long because I have been making movies with Bryan for the last year and a half. Now that Apocalypse is done, I would like to do some more scoring because I miss jumping from one genre to another. As a film composer, I can wake up and get in my bathrobe and work from home. I don’t have to drive anywhere and I can work on a movie for 8 to 12 weeks and then work on something different.
When you work with Bryan at what point in the film’s production do you usually start focusing on the film’s score?
If I am working with Bryan as an editor I don’t think much about the music during pre-production or production. When the film is put together in a rough form I start thinking about the music. Having said that, I had one melody in mind early on for Apocalypse and that was Magneto’s theme. I had sort of established the theme in the last movie (Days of Future Past) but I expanded upon it in this one. I was singing this humanistic, major chord version of his theme all the time in my head and I used that in the movie. Fortunately it worked because a lot of times you sing these themes in your head and they don’t work, but this one worked out really well.
This was your third time working on a X-Men film—do you feel like you have a pretty good grasp now on what makes a strong X-Men score?
I know the world very well and I feel like I have a handle on the characters. It makes it easier but every film has its own challenges and problems. I have a handle on that world, but it still can be difficult.
Have you defined for yourself at this point what the music should sound like for X-Men? How would you describe the musical score that should accompany an X-Men project?
The music should be thoughtful because it’s dealing with more pathos and a lot more psychological issues than other superhero films. I think an X-Men score has to be more psychological and really come from the character’s point of views.
You have worked on other superhero films, like Fantastic Four (2005) and Superman Returns. How do you make a superhero score standout from all the other superhero scores out there?
I think if I stay true to myself mine will sound different. I write differently than other guys. I am far more traditional and cinematic than a lot of composers. I have my own sensibilities. If I stay true to myself my scores will set themselves apart from other superhero scores.
X-Men: Apocalypse is in theaters now!