Interview: Composer John Ottman on ‘X-Men,’ Honey Boo Boo, and his favorite score ever

POZNAN, POLAND-John Ottman is a traditionalist. The composer for such films as “XMen- Days of Future Past,” “Superman Returns,” “The Usual Suspects,” “X2: XMen United,” and “Apt Pupil,” writes scores in the style of his musical heroes, John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.

Here at the Transatlantyk Festival in Poznan, he talked to attendees about the emotional points film music should hit and lamented the lack of finesse in so many of today”s scores. Ottman is unique among composers in that he serves not only as the scorer for Bryan Singer”s films, he also edits them, which severely limits the amount of time he has to score. He recently emerged out of a three-year work jag that included working on “Jack the Giant Slayer,”  “X-Men-Days of Future Past.”

My colleague Kris Tapley interviewed Ottman about “Days of Future Past,”  in May so I decided to do a quick lightning round with him on different topics. We were both very jet lagged and kept laughing at our difficulty concentrating, but he came through like a trooper. And one thing he made perfectly clear: Just don”t visit him during a scoring session.

What”s the hardest scene to score?

A fight scene is one of the hardest scenes to score, for me, at least, because you have to search for what the scene is really about to be motivated musically and yet people are just hitting each other. If you can find out what the scene is about underneath the action that is going on, it”s easier to write music for it, but
some times you just have to go for what”s on the screen and that”s the toughest for me because I”m always motivated by things within the character.

What”s the easiest scene to score?

I would say a creepy scene, someone walking through halls and something”s going to happen. You”re really just suspending the moment.

What”s your favorite creepiest scene you”ve scored?

There are many moments in “Hide & Seek,” a movie I did which I”m very proud of. I”m very thematic, so there was a character called Charlie, who was [the main character”s] imaginary friend and I used string harmonics to create this “Charlie”s Theme,” so when he”s being talked about, it”s very creepy, even though in a strange way, it has a personality to it, which is probably what makes it creepy.