Archive for the Interviews Category

Scoring Horror: Interview with NATHAN WHITEHEAD

Posted in 2013, Barry Dejasu Columns, Film Scores, Horror, Interviews, Killers, Murder!, Music for Film, Science Fiction, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, The Future with tags , , , , on June 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents…An Interview with NATHAN WHITEHEAD
By Barry Lee Dejasu

It’s that time of year again, folks!  Yes, Purge Night is here, where for twelve solid hours, any and every crime is 100% legal.  So go out there and get your deepest, darkest urges on, and remember: all emergency services will be suspended for the duration of Purge Night.  Good night, good luck – and have fun!

ThePurgePosterThis is the world of THE PURGE, written and directed by James DeMonaco (LITTLE NEW YORK, 2009; also the writer of 1998’s THE NEGOTIATOR and 2005’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13).  In an alternate America where the regulated legalization of crime helps reduce its effects on the populace for the rest of the year, a family is preparing for another long, safe night indoors on Purge Night.  This time, however, things don’t exactly go according to plan, a group of masked visitors come knocking…

The visitors arrive.

The visitors arrive.

Such a grim cinematic tale naturally has to be told with a voice of thorough suspense.  With all things visual and verbal being handled by the actors and the director on their respective ends of the camera, there is the necessity of bringing not only traumatic stimulation to the eyes and ears of the audience, but to subtly introduce tension and empathy to the soul—and for that, the music is key.  For this purpose, composer Nathan Whitehead was brought in to unleash his talents.

Composer Nathan Whitehead

Composer Nathan Whitehead

No stranger to cinematic tales of suspense and action, Mr. Whitehead’s credits include work on LORD OF WAR (2005), TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011), as well as TV and video game work.  Mr. Whitehead was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on scoring THE PURGE.

BLD: How might you describe your score to somebody who hasn’t yet seen the film?  (Or better yet: what kind of story did you try to tell through the music?)

NW: I would describe the score as dark, textural and fairly minimal.  We wanted to convey a sense of unsettledness and dread surrounding what’s happening on this Purge Night, but we also wanted to explore what this means as a society.  What does Purge Night say about us as human beings?  With the music, I think we were trying to tell both of these stories; how can we survive this night and even if we do, what does that say about us?

BLD: What kinds of instruments and/or vocals did you incorporate for the score?   

NW: The score incorporates a lot of synth and sound design elements which are both tools that I love to work with.  There are strings in certain moments and sparse piano but also a lot of synth pads and textures.  Even with the more electronic sounds, I tried to keep them organic and it’s difficult to discern what is an acoustic instrument and what is a synth.  Almost everything was processed in one way or another too, so even if it started as a shaker or something it usually ended up morphing into something completely different.

BLD: Did you implement any unusual instruments or playing methods, or even construct any new kinds of instruments for it?

NW: Yes!  I think “unusual instruments and methods” describes nearly the entire score.  I really love thinking about the emotional content of sounds, especially things that on the surface might not seem to have any emotional content at all.

I was visiting my parents and there is an ancient microwave in their basement.  The door on this microwave had this great spring rattle sound when you closed the door.  It probably rang out for five or six seconds.  I always travel with a little pocket recorder of some kind so I can grab any interesting sounds I find.  So I put my recorder inside the microwave and slammed the door and got these great, growly spring decay sounds.  I took this back to my studio and just started experimenting with them – distorting, filtering, weaving a bunch of them together to create a longer bed.  Eventually I had this unsettling low throb that seemed to feel organic and odd and it became a central component of the score for THE PURGE.  It just seemed to have this nagging discomfort and familiarity that felt right for what was going on.  Most of the synthetic sounds in the score are made in similar fashion from some sort of real-world recording like traffic or wind through leaves or banging on a trashcan.

BLD: What were some particularly favorite scenes that you scored?  (That is, if you’re allowed to be, or are comfortable with, talking about them)?

NW: Well, I don’t want to say too much, but I really loved scoring the scenes that highlighted the internal human struggle going on.  Not just the struggle to survive but more the sinking realization or question of “What have we become as people?  As families?”  There are some great moments; just simple looks between James (Ethan Hawke) and Mary (Lena Heady), when we feel the weight of how messed up things have gotten—those were really juicy moments to explore, musically.

Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke star as Mary and James in THE PURGE.

Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke star as Mary and James in THE PURGE.

BLD: You’ve worked in a number of genres and mediums.  Do you wish to work more in a particular medium and/or genre than others?

NW: I’ve been really fortunate so far in my career to work on a wide variety of projects.  I love that variety.  I think working in different genres and mediums keeps things fresh and challenging and also allows me to continue to learn new things.  Each project generally informs the others in one way or another, and that’s exciting.

BLD: What kinds of films do you enjoy watching, in general?

NW: It might sound a bit generic, but the short answer is I like films that are good stories.  I love movies and storytelling in general because of their ability to make a human connection, whether it’s entertaining or challenging or terrifying or something else.  I don’t think I can narrow it down to a particular genre; there are too many great but different movies out there!

BLD: What was your first instance of noticing music and sound in film?

NW: I guess the very first was probably RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983). It was my introduction to John Williams and STAR WARS, so that’s difficult not to notice.  The theme from the TV show AIRWOLF (1984-1986) also was really exciting to me.  Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN wasn’t first but I remember being amazed by (Danny Elfman’s) music in that movie.

BLD: Who and/or what are some of your biggest musical inspirations, in general?

NW: There are too many great ones to mention them all, but to pick a handful I would say Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Fugazi, NOFX, Operation Ivy, The Cure, Bach, Carter Burwell, Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbaugh, the list goes on…

BLD: What led to your film work?

NW: Music has always been very exciting to me.  It has always felt magical or like a superpower.  I’ve also always loved experimenting with electronics and gadgets and computers.  Early on I remember playing with this Casio keyboard that my brother and sisters had as kids.  It was an SK-1 so you could do really basic sampling with it.  We would make either short stop-motion videos or skateboard videos and I would “score” them with the SK-1.  It was a precarious arrangement to record the Casio’s output onto the audio track of a VHS tape and it meant that I erased whatever sound was there before.  (I actually still have an SK-1 which I used a bit on THE PURGE.)  In high school, I had played guitar in a punk band and started putting together a basic project studio. I really loved working in the studio.  I started recording local bands in college and also creating music and sound effects for some short films.  I think it just clicked that writing music in my studio for film (or games or TV) combined all these things that I love, things that consumed my thoughts and imagination anyway, so I should explore doing that for a living.  After college I moved from Tennessee to L.A. and started working for a sound design company while writing music for any project I could get my hands on.  Slowly I started doing programming and arrangements for other composers around town and that eventually led to scoring films on my own.  I have been really fortunate to have some great mentors along the way, particularly Steve Jablonsky.  He gave me some great opportunities and we still collaborate on projects today.  I think there’s a huge part of film scoring that you have to learn on the job and it’s crucial to find those opportunities to learn.

BLD: Are there instruments that you haven’t yet used that you’d someday like to explore and experiment with?

NW: All of them!  I have a pretty insatiable appetite for exploring and experimenting with new instruments.  I am a guitar player but I’ve never used a real dobro; I think that would be fun to work with.  I would also love to experiment with a cristal baschet.  I know Cliff Martinez has one and I’m a huge fan of his work. It seems like such a beautiful instrument.

BLD: If you could re-score any pre-existing film (but preferably older ones, and the older, the better), which would you choose, and why? (Other composers have mentioned NOSFERATU, for example.)

NW: I would choose the original 1954 GODZILLA.  Godzilla has always been one of my favorite monsters and I think it would be really fun to score all that mayhem and drama.  Plus Akira Ifukube (the original composer) created Godzilla’s classic roar with, I believe, a double bass and I think that’s awesome.

BLD: There are tons of films always in the works.  If you could choose and score anything in particular, which would you jump for? (Anything from a new documentary to, say, one of the new STAR WARS films?)

NW: I would love to work with the Coen brothers, Spike Jonze, or Michel Gondry someday and I would jump at any opportunity that came along.  I would also love to score (Steven Spielberg’s) ROBOPOCALYPSE.  The book was great and I’m very excited for the movie.

BLD: Would you like to add anything else?

NW: Thanks for the great questions, this was fun!

THE PURGE opened everywhere on June 7th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu


Scoring ACTION: An Interview with BRIAN TYLER (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Barry Dejasu Columns, Interviews, Magic, Movie Music, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, Superheroes with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring ACTION Presents:
An Interview with BRIAN TYLER
By Barry Lee Dejasu

Part Two: NOW YOU SEE ME and the Future

NowYouSeeMePosterBARRY LEE DEJASU: With a film that deals so much with magic, and the stage, and all eyes on the performer, how did you evoke that kind of mood for this movie?
NOW YOU SEE ME is a really interesting combination, tonally, as a film, and I don’t think it necessarily has been done like this as a film before, so musically it needed to go along with that tone.  You’re combining two different genres; you’re combining the idea of magic and illusion, which the music at least will give you that kind of sense of… You might think of HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS, and things like that, and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (1977), where you have that, but on the other hand, you have this heist movie.  These guys are pulling off a heist (and) rob a bank in Paris, and pull off all kinds of different, crazy things like that, which goes more toward things like CHARADE (1963), like cool ‘70s heist movies all the way up through retro-heist and retro-chase movies like CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002).  These kinds of music don’t typically go together, so I kind of came up with this sound like a ‘60s James Bond/CHARADE/Henry Mancini kind of vibe, crossed with LORD OF THE RINGS and HARRY POTTER! (laughs) And that kind of thing is like, how does that work?  It turned out to be this great combo, and it’s got elements of groove, and fun, and upright bass, and drums, and vibraphone, and kind of retro ‘60s stuff, with also a magical, shimmery element that was the London Philharmonic.  These two unlikely kinds of pairs, kind of like the underground New York jazz club from 1962 meets the London Philharmonic, strange bedfellows.  It ended up being one of my favorite musical experiences, and the fact that also feels like sleight music, like the music is beating you in one direction, like, look over here, or look closely here, but you’re looking in the wrong place, you know.  It was like a giant puzzle, this whole score, and I can’t wait for people to check out this movie and hear the score.

BLD: There seems to be a lot comedic elements at work in the movie.
Very much so.  You have this team of four magicians that are thrown together.  They’re definitely kind of a motley crew; they don’t necessarily like each other at the beginning of the movie—they’re thrown together for this mission, and it’s hilarious; they’re great together.  It’s really funny, and it’s got a lot of twists, and it keeps you guessing.  I’m just interested in magic from the point of view of illusion, myself.  Each one of the characters, it’s like there’s a corollary in real life, like the Woody Harrelson character, he’s like this mentalist like Darren Brown, and you have Morgan Freeman, who’s like a debunker, like James Randy, who goes around and calls out people that claim to be psychic and are full of it.  You got a guy that’s more like David Blaine that’s more like close-up magic, street magic, things like that, (and) a dude that’s more like (David) Copperfield; he does big illusions in Vegas.  To put all these people together, you needed to have the fun.

Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco in Now You See Me

Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco in NOW YOU SEE ME.

There’s an action element to it, of course, as well; there’s a streak of THE BOURNE IDENTITY(2002), well, not in terms of it musically, but more like the film, where there’s something at stake here.  It’s fun the whole way, and you’re constantly guessing, and the whole movie is actually kind of like watching a really cool magic show unto itself.  The story is really the illusion, and the mystery you have to try to solve while you’re watching.

BLD: The fact is it’s still an audience watching a performance.
Yeah—for sure.  It’s almost like you’re pulled into it.  It doesn’t rely on special effects, it’s more like the trickery of how does someone outwit the other person with what is obviously not real magic, but with illusion.

BLD: Can you speak of any projects you’re attached to, or circling?
There are some directors that I work with that are working on some movies.  There’s STANDING UP, from DJ Caruso, who directed EAGLE EYE; I’ve done a bunch of movies with him.  There’s also a movie (also by Caruso) that I’m hopefully going to be doing very soon called INVERTIGO which is great, a really cool story.  And John Liebesman, who I work with a lot, has NINJA TURTLES; we’ll be doing that together, and he’s great, he’s amazing.  Steve Quail (FINAL DESTINATION 5, 2011) is directing a movie called BLACK SKY, and there’s some other things that may be coming up as well.  I would love to work with Marvel again, and of course Shane is a fantastic director, so we’ll see what’s on the horizon here.

StandingUpPosterBLD: If you could re-score any pre-existing film (but preferably older ones, and the older, the better), which might you choose?  (Previous answers have often included NOSFERATU and GODZILLA.)
I don’t know if I could improve on it, but I’d love to take a whack at MANOS: HANDS OF FATE (1966).  (laughs)  I just would love to write some music for something that’s that strange.  There was so much blank space in it, filming outside of car windows, driving alongside it endlessly… It would just be cool to go back and score something like that.  I’m sure I could pick something that’s actually good, but I have a thing for films like MANOS: HANDS OF FATE.

ManosHandsofFatePosterBLD: There are tons of films always in the works.  If you could choose and score anything in particular, which would you jump for?  (Anything from a new documentary to, say, one of the new Star Wars films?)
Also MANOS: HANDS OF FATE! Or (its sequel), TORGO RETURNS! (laughing) It’s a good question.  Walking into something like STAR WARS would be amazing, of course, but John Williams is the impossible bar to reach.  I would love to just see where the Marvel universe would go; that’s really interesting to me.  And also something that I would love to do is just a historical drama of some sort, to just sort of mix it up, but it’s something that I personally love.  The things I watch most of on Netflix are documentaries, that kind of thing, and my major in college was history.  It would be great to dive into something historical.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

IRON MAN 3 is now playing.
NOW YOU SEE ME comes out in theaters on May 31st.

Scoring ACTION: Interview with BRIAN TYLER (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Barry Dejasu Columns, Interviews, Movie Music, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, Superheroes with tags , , , , , on May 24, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring ACTION Presents:
An Interview with BRIAN TYLER
By Barry Lee Dejasu

CONSTANTINE. WAR. RAMBO. THE FINAL DESTINATION. LAW ABIDING CITIZEN. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES.  Do any of these films sound familiar?  That’s probably because they’re tent pole examples of summer cinema from the past decade—big-screen tales of action-packed suspense.  There’s something else that they all have in common, however: the vibes of epic excitement and suspense were in no small part the result of the musical contributions of film composer Brian Tyler.

Composer Brian Tyler

Composer Brian Tyler

With a resume reaching back into the 1990s that runs the gamut of comedies, dramas, made-for-TV specials, and horror movies such as FRAILTY (2001) and DARKNESS FALLS (2003), Brian Tyler been making an increasing splash for himself with scores to numerous franchises, including the third, fourth, and fifth movies in the FAST AND FURIOUS series and both EXPENDABLES films.  He’s also done a bit of work on video games and TV shows, including TERRA NOVA and HAWAII FIVE-0.

Most recently, Mr. Tyler lent his talents to the first major blockbuster of 2013, a little something called IRON MAN 3.  This film furthers the adventures of genius billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), in the wake of the explosive events of THE AVENGERS (2012), as he faces a mysterious and powerful new enemy, the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), as well as Stark’s personal demons in his efforts to protect the woman he loves (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Later this month, moviegoers will hear Mr. Tyler’s music in NOW YOU SEE ME, an all-star suspense caper about a group of stage magicians utilizing their talents to conduct mystifying thievery.

Mr. Tyler was kind enough to share some of his time to dish about his work on IRON MAN 3, NOW YOU SEE ME, and his musical approach to suspense and thriller films.


Part One: Brian Tyler and IRON MAN 3

BARRY LEE DEJASU: What was your first instance of “noticing” music in movies?
My first memory, I’d say, would be STAR WARS (1976).  Huge STAR WARS fan.  I wanted the music to go along with the action figures.  The double-album (was) pretty amazing.  I really walked out of that thinking, “Wow, this is cool!  This is something I want to listen to.”  And as I started playing instruments and started writing music, it was just kind of… I always had scores around, I always collected them, and I was into it.  So it naturally kind of influenced the music that I would write, and it led me to what I do now.

BLD: With the majority of the movies that you score falling into a suspense/action vein, you obviously enjoy them to some extent.  Do you find that you’re just drawn to them, or does the work just get brought to you?
Yeah, where I seem to have landed in my career is partly what I like to watch.  I love all kinds of movies, so I’m not really genre-specific in that sense, but I love genre films.  I love scifi, I love horror, I love action, and pretty much everything.  But certainly, I got started in offbeat, quirky films, some quirky horror stuff like BUBBA HO-TEP (2002) and FRAILTY, and then it just kind of expanded into different kinds of adventure films.  IRON MAN 3 is such a great canvas to do a superhero film.  I’ve done movies based on comics before, but never a legit superhero.  So that was really cool to jump on board.

IronMan3PosterBLD: How did you come about jumping on board this movie, following Ramin Djawadi’s and John Debney’s respective scores for the first and second films?
(The filmmakers) were looking for something very specific.  The music for the first two was a little more rock-based, hybrid-orchestral kind of vibe.  On this movie, for the majority of the score, they needed something that reflected the post-AVENGERS sort of world of IRON MAN 3.  Tony Stark used to be this billionaire, playboy, inventor dude, who’s brilliant, but he had this vibe of kind of devil-may-care smartass kind of thing, which is great, and I think that worked with the score with the Black Sabbath songs and AC/DC and all that, and that kind of had his attitude.  Then all of the events happened in THE AVENGERS, and he fell in love with Pepper, and he has something that he really cares about now.

Robert Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark, “Billionaire, playboy, inventor.

Robert Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark, “Billionaire, playboy, inventor.

The post-Avengers world, in Marvel, you can mark everything pre-Avengers and post-Avengers, kind of like pre-9/11 and post-9/11.  And it was such a huge event that the stakes are raised, and all of a sudden, the music for Iron Man can be superhero music; a legitimate superhero theme.  Even though he’s a reluctant superhero—he’s been thrust upon this position, in a way—it still nonetheless needed one of those soaring melodies.  In the first two movies, it just wouldn’t have worked; it would have been strange to hear that.

So (IRON MAN 3 writer-director) Shane Black, and (producers) Kevin Feige at Marvel, and Stephen Broussard, and Dave Jordan, (and) a lot of other Marvel people… I had no idea, but for years they’d been listening to my soundtracks, and really loved the thematic writing, the melodies, and things like that on films that I did that were not as well-know, like THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED (2005) and ANNAPOLIS (2006), and films like that that had big, soaring melodies.  They wanted a melody that you could walk away with and be like, “Oh, that’s Iron Man,” the way that (the melody in) RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) is Indiana Jones, the melody, the march, it’s like, “Oh, that’s him.”  So that was the drive; that was the goal, so I did my best, and it’s cool seeing how people have reacted to it.  It was my best whack at that kind of thematic writing.

BLD: It must have been pretty flattering and an honor for you.
For sure, and as a fan, as a kid before the IRON MAN movies, you know, (I read) Iron Man, and Tales of Suspense (and other comics).  It was great, it was really cool.  To have had the fortune to happen to have landed this, and to come to different projects like STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE (TV series, 2003) and ALIEN VERSUS PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007), and RAMBO (2008)…all these different kinds of established franchises there, I’d come into as a fan long before I began writing for them.

BLD: How do you approach genre-blending films such as BUBBA HO-TEP (2002) or BATTLE: LOS ANGELES (2011) and right up through IRON MAN 3 and NOW YOU SEE ME, in which radically different genres are mashed together?
(Laughs) All these things kind of tap into something that, for me, probably just comes from being a movie fan.  I can’t help but think of my favorite alien invasion movies when I watch BATTLE: LOS ANGELES., but at the same time, it had a tone like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) or PLATOON (1986) or something.  You end up subconsciously merging (and) doing genre mashups in your head.

IRON MAN 3 has a lot of different things going on there, because you have this great writer in Shane coming along, and I think that wanted to use something that was risky, and he uses dialogue in a certain way that’s snippy—all these different things that went into the story.  I think that Kevin Feige over at Marvel, and Shane and I, all of us were genre film score fans and comic book fans.  IRON MAN 3 is an example of the inmates running the asylum.  (laughs)  We’re all really big fans of film, and we got a chance to do what we really wanted, and that’s hard to do, and it’s rare, when you talk about how expensive movies like that are to make.  That’s why I love those guys so much; they’re kind of like me—they just got into it because they love movies, and so it’s really not far removed at all from what goes into making something like BUBBA HO-TEP, in a way.  For me, I approach it the same way; just like, “Hey, this is cool, let’s try to do something that’s really great, that will give audiences something to walk away with that actually has some kind of emotional impact.”  It’s definitely not like churning out a product; none of the people involved on IRON MAN 3 had that approach—they approached it like film fans.

BLD: Going all the way back to silent movies, film music can be light and cheery when the heroes are on the screen, then drops to “dun-Dun-DUN!” when the villains appear.  How did you approach this pairing-off for IRON MAN 3?
(Laughs) Well, sometimes you go with conventions, sometimes you don’t.  I think the most important thing for me to keep track of is how the whole thing works together, and writing scenes that will embed themselves in the subconscious of the viewer.  (If you’re) watching the scene, and all of a sudden you do some melody over on the English horn way in the background of a character that’s not even on the screen, you start to think of that character, subconsciously, even though you don’t know you are, you know?  I do a lot with identity in the IRON MAN 3 score, and if you go back and watch it a second time, you realize certain themes for certain people are playing at the times that you might not think would be—should be—playing, but it all makes sense when you see the whole movie.

I think you can also put convention on its head slightly when you do things that are melodic-based, because you can play melodies in so many different ways that you don’t expect.  There’s a scene where Tony Stark is dragging the Iron Man suit through the snow, for instance, and in that scene you could have gone with something really powerful or whatever.  I don’t think many people would have thought, “Gee, let’s have a solo instrument for Tony, what’s it going to be?  Oh, it’s going to be a harp!”—but that’s exactly what it is, it’s a harp, and it feels really, really lonely.  Those are sometimes the things you try to give it a flavor that really resonates (even if) it might be really out of the box.

Tony Stark dragging his Iron Man suit through the snow

Tony Stark dragging his Iron Man suit through the snow

And certainly the Mandarin’s music is kind of quasi-religious and spiritual, almost as if he sees himself as some kind of televangelist, in a way, but there’s this artifice as well, like he’s kind of full of shit, a little bit.

So all of these things kind of come together, and you try to make it work as a whole, and I kind of thought how the original STAR WARS had such a great grasp on how music works in a movie.  (There) you have the score theme playing super lonely and sad when he’s looking at the twin sunsets on Tatooine, but then you can have it during the Death Star battle and it sounds badass, but it’s the exact same melody, and it’s triumphant at the end in the throne room, and you don’t necessarily realize it’s the same melody when you’re watching it.  I think people remember the main theme and the Imperial March as good guy/bad guy, but there’s a lot of different nuance in there that I find to be the fascinating part of scoring.

BLD: It’s kind of impossible to watch a film like this one and talk about the score without making some kind of cliché comparison to the sound as being industrial, especially in tracks such as “War Machine,” where there are literally clangs and pulses.
It was a combination of different stuff.  The majority of the sound was the London Philharmonic, you know, that’s kind of the base sound of it.  Then of the little extras, about ten percent of it, you get those sonic little “hinges” that are unique to your film.  There’s choir work in there that’s sometimes kind of big and heroic, and other times it feels like a falling choir, like you’re falling towards the ground, and instead of a literally falling, the choir goes in reverse, it goes up.  I scored the scene where they fall out of the plane and are plummeting towards the earth, so instead of being like they’re falling, the music is really like the earth is coming up towards you, so actually that cue goes upward.  Things like that, I was like, “Ooh, I want to take a twist on that.”

People falling from an airplane in a memorable scene]

People falling from an airplane in a memorable scene]

And certainly for “War Machine,” and for “Iron Man,” I used literal metal.  Not metal like Pantera, but hitting big chunks of metal, you know, anvils, big brake drums from a truck, and hit them with a hammer, things like that, give it some “clankiness.”  And then there is, with “War Machine,” since the story kind of takes it in kind of a dark turn with War Machine, there are some manipulations of some old 1970s synthesizer stuff, distorted and kind of weird and floaty, and you combine it and it all just sounds kind of weird on paper, but somehow, internally, it all makes sense.  Even when you’re dealing with like instruments from score to score, it sounds very different, just like the Beatles’ “She Loves You,” and “Black Dog” by Zeppelin, and there are the same instruments, but do they sound anything alike? No; you know?  So it’s also the way the actual instruments are played and written for.  So for IRON MAN, I tried to make it match the personalities of the characters, and make it tweaky, and kind of unexpected for the scenes.

DifferentSuitsLineupBLD: What were some challenges in scoring this film?
The challenge was definitely finding that main melody, wanting to make something that was memorable, and that’s of course one of those things that’s of course very subjective.  But I did my best to kind of find the voice of Iron Man in a way that also, since it’s this sort of post-Avengers/pre-Avengers scenario, I needed to find something that the director wanted, which was to build this instant nostalgia, so you hear the theme and you go, “Oh yeah! I know this is Iron Man!,” even though it’s brand-new; that was the thing—it wasn’t established yet, this type of theme.  I had to build in.  It’s like buying games that are trashed already when you get them; (we) wanted the music to sound like it was always there.  That was a huge challenge.

BLD: Were there any favorite scenes that you scored?
No, I totally hated all the scenes.  No, I’m kidding.  All the scenes, one to the next, I loved it.  To pick a favorite is like, “What’s your favorite cute puppy of the litter?  You have to choose.”  So I guess the finale is pretty awesome; it was a great scene that I loved scoring, (SPOILERS) with all the different Iron Man suits showing up, and the big battle, with Tony running around and doing a lot of his work outside of the suit, which I thought was so cool; he was just a man having to use his cleverness.  It was a lot of fun doing the whole last ten minutes of the movie, which included the end title sequence, which was kind of a retro thing; that was a lot of fun, too.  If I kept going, I love the scene where he’s dragging the suit across the snow, and so much of the ramping-up of the music as the movie kind of reveals one twist after another; that’s always fun as well, because you can build in little Easter eggs in the music, and they’re certainly all over the movie.

BLD: Would you like to work on other superhero films?
Oh, sure!  I love superheroes, and the movies are just such a great canvas, because there really are not a lot of borders to what you can do, musically, and IRON MAN 3  was just a total joy to score, no question about it.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with MICHAEL WANDMACHER

Posted in 2013, Barry Dejasu Columns, Classic TV Shows, Horror, Interviews, Music for Film, Science Fiction, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , , , on April 17, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
By Barry Lee Dejasu

Film composer Michael Wandmacher

Film composer Michael Wandmacher

 For over two decades, musician and composer Michael Wandmacher has scored a little bit of everything, be it action, horror, science fiction, and comedy.  Just a small handful of his film works include Twin Dragons (1998), Cry_Wolf (2005), Punisher: War Zone (2008), Drive Angry (2011).  He’s also ventured into video games (last year’s Twisted Metal) and television, including the now-defunct Night Stalker reboot, and the Fox comedy Breaking In.  Most recently, he’s scored this year’s sequels to 2006’s The Haunting In Connecticut, and 2010’s The Last Exorcism.

 The Last Exorcism, Part II continues the first film’s story of Nell (Ashley Bell), who is somehow still alive after a grisly supernatural possession.  Nell is trying to get her life back into order, but the demons of her past—literal and otherwise—are far from finished with her…


Michael, you’ve worked in a wide variety of film, television, and even video game genres.  Are there any particular areas that you like working in more than others?

Well, not really.  I like genre stuff because that’s what I grew up with.  So I guess from a comfort level, that’s what I like to do, and it’s easier for me, just because it’s something sort of ingrained in me.  I’ve been watching monster movies and cartoons and reading graphic novels and comic books and things on TV since I was a little kid, and I kept on doing that my entire life, so all those types of storytelling are very familiar to me.

It really boils down to what the musical approach is on a particular project.  Dramas can be fun because they tend to focus more on melodies and fleshed-out musical ideas, so that’s a different challenge.  Comedies are fun because there’s a very broad spectrum of what exactly comedy is; they can range anywhere, from more that actually sounds like doing songs that are produced without vocals, to what a lot of people consider to be classic comedy music—that’s more kind of an upbeat orchestral approach, going back to what was done in ‘40s and ‘50s cartoons, the kind of zany, Carl Stalling-type thing.  It’s really broad, and that can be fun because each one, even though it might be classified as a comedy, it can be a completely different kind of take on what that is, exactly.  I just like different things; I like the variety, because it continues to keep things interesting (and) to not get stale, and you’re always trying to find ways to approach something differently.

Even in your days of working on various Jackie Chan movies, you have brought lots of variation to the situations going on, from screwball to slapstick to action.

His brand of comedy is sort of an evolved variety of the Keystone Cops.  It’s cartoonish, it’s comedic, although the action is played pretty straight.  Depending on the film, there’s sometimes an Asian influence, but most of it is pretty modern, at the time, modern action scoring because it was all based on him being either a cop or a spy or some sort of government operative, and he would go from being in a very serious situation where someone’s wife was in danger, or there’s a big car chase, or explosion, or some chase through a building that was burning down—something like that to being a complete misfit in social situations.  Those scores are challenging, because a lot of times… within a single cue, there was a transition between a big moment in terms of action and it would literally cut away to something that was going on that was simultaneously very goofy and zany, and to sew those two together into one cue was really challenging.  But it’s fun!  It’s great, and when it doesn’t work, it can make you crazy.  (laughs.)  He’s a great physical comic.  He really has a gift for it, and for those stunt people, it looks like it’s easy, but it’s not; the people who can do physical comedy really well are few and far between.

TwinDragonsPosterWhat was your first instance of noticing music and sound in the cinematic experience?  (Including in video games and television?)

I think on TV, the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75) was the first thing that I really got into, music-wise.  It was something that I wasn’t even supposed to be watching, but I’d sneak downstairs with my brother and watch it, and that had a big impact on me because the music in that show was something that really added to what was going on.  That show really scared me.


And on the movie side, as with a lot of people in my generation, seeing Star Wars for the first time, because it was coming out on the end of a whole run of films in the ‘70s that were sort of… they were more jazz-based scores.  You go back and see a Dirty Harry movie, or something—all the action movies, and the sci-fi movies even, had very jazzy, very combo-ish type of scores, and that classic, golden age-sound of Hollywood music hadn’t really been heard in a film in a while.  So when you’re sitting in a theater, and you see that very first…that Star Destroyer coming across the screen, and that massive fanfare playing, and everything.  The title coming up, the back story rolling across the screen… There was this huge-huge-huge music playing with a very definitive theme that left a huge impression on my ten-year-old brain.  So that was something that sort of set me off from there, and got me into film music.  At that point, I started collecting film soundtracks, and listening to scores from that time.  I still have a lot of that vinyl, and I still listen to it from time to time.  I was a score collector and enthusiast before I even got into working on them directly.

StarWars1977PosterWhat led to you working in the field?

I guess the straight answer would be… I don’t know; I just liked music, and started out in playing in bands, and I was also really interested in technology.  It was something that I did all through high school, started in junior high, just experimenting with whatever electronic instruments I could get my hands on.  I started playing guitar, and I was listening to film scores at the same time, so I was sort of absorbing both sides of the spectrum, and that eventually led to coming out of college, (when) I started working doing advertising music, just all commercials, network promos, news music, that kind of thing, which was great.  At that time, it was a great learning experience, because you have to write so many different kinds of styles of music, you have to do it fast, and you have to think in terms of music in both five second increments and five minute increments.  So getting all those skills was really good in terms of applying it to film music because I moved into that.  I lived in Minnesota, and I left there to pursue film music, and that’s when I started to get into television and movies.  It grew from doing short films to doing really small independent films, and a couple in California, and as you form relationships, it blossoms into something bigger.  The most important thing you can do, as a composer, is try to form alliances with young filmmakers as you’re coming up the ranks, and hoping that they keep the team together, and continue to work with you; so as their responsibilities grow, they bring you along, and as everyone works together, the projects just keep getting bigger.

Speaking of experimenting with different sounds and instruments, in your score for The Last Exorcism, Part II, there’s such a variety of sounds being employed.  Some of them are more immediately recognizable, such as stringed instruments and piano; however, there were a few sounds that were almost unrecognizable; what were some of the other instruments you used?

For each score, I try to find a different template of sounds.  In the case of The Last Exorcism, I knew, going in, that in terms of the score, it was going to be smaller in sound.  It wasn’t going to be a big orchestral score, or even a big electronic template, like some of the other horror scores that I’ve done.  It’s an intimate story, basically centered around one character, and we found that just using a smaller template was scarier.

It was a long experimentation process.  The film score went through a few iterations, in terms of trying different approaches.  It started out as experimental and very open, and kind of avant-garde and weird, and ended up being much more scene-driven, but there were sounds that we came up with early on using instruments like a guitar vial, and an old baroque instrument called a psaltery, and I used a few traditional instruments that were played in really weird ways.  If you listen to the score, you’ll hear this kind of bending, screaming solo string sound in a lot of the cues, and that’s me doing a kind of random bowing technique on a variety of string instruments, and it’s meant to be sort of a juxtaposition between the two main voices in the film, and that’s Nell’s evil side becoming seduced by the demon presence in the film.  You can hear those two elements are separated, and other cues where they’re sort of coming together into one complete thought.  At moments it can feel really cacophonous, and suddenly there’s a consonance that happens as they sort of consummate with seduction.  It was cool!  It was a very odd, unorthodox sound, it’s not something you normally (use) in a score, and I’ve had other people ask me, “What is that?”  It really came out of a period of sitting here, trying out different instruments, playing things like string instruments with things besides bows, or…I don’t know, just taking a random shot at it and seeing what happens.

There’s been a lot of experimentation going on in film scores, I think, in the past ten or fifteen years.

It’s definitely a trend.  Every composer I know is constantly searching for a new sound, a timbre, a texture, a color, that they can use in a score; (something) that sticks out, that might give some sense of time, place, some particular emotion, that is new.  Even if it’s an instrument that some people would consider traditional, or something used in the past even often, they may find a different way to utilize it.  Some composers build their own instruments.

What I did on The Last Exorcism was basically destroyed a piano in the process of doing the scoring.  I was playing a prepared piano with lots of different things.  I got particularly good effects by using chopsticks that were taped together, and squeezing the strings between the chopsticks, and then either hitting the chopsticks with another stick, or rubbing them up and down the wound strings really, really fast.  It (brings) almost a human quality to the sound of it when it was resonating; it sounded like someone was breathing very shallow and quickly, and (it was) creepy.

The one way that composers can differentiate themselves, try to make the process more interesting and fun for people on the outside, when you’re trying to sell yourself on the job, is that they like the idea of doing something new and different.  (By) taking some chances and find a new sounds, things that are really particular to the films that give it a unique twist, musically, that’s important.  Even in films that are thematic, it can help to have some kind of texture in there, or some tone or instrument that is a sort of really unique color in the whole palette of the film score.  It’s just one part of the process that makes it more fun.

Do you find that everything comes together, depending on what one film requires versus another?  Or do you have a checklist somewhere, of instruments or sounds that you wish to use someday?

It’s both.  There’s always what I call a “mad scientist mode” on a score, where I’ll take two or three days for no other purpose than to figure out a set of sounds that are particular to that project, and I can never say for sure where they’re going to come from.  It might be a very typical source, and it might end up being me banging on the washing machine with a sledgehammer—I have no idea.

I’m pretty much willing to try anything, and I’ll use that, and I have an idea of what kinds of sounds will work in the score, based on what it is.  If it needs to be, say, more fluid, or more legato, or more melodic, or if they can be very percussive, or metallic, or something that’s more soft; it’s something that speaks of wood, or cloth, or something warm in tone—those are just generalized terms that I might be throwing around in my head while I’m looking for particular sounds.

A good example, and every composer goes through this, is, say, small percussion; finding the right ticking sound, or little tiny percussion sound, right when you need to create tempo, or pacing something—you need background ticking sounds.  So many different ways to create that sound, instead of, say, using a shaker, everybody’s constantly looking for little new, cool ways to make a little ticking sound.  I sampled the igniter snap on the range here in the house; it’s that snapping sound of trying to light the gas flame (on our stove).  I recorded that, and cut it up, and used it as a sort of a hi-hat, and it’s got a very short attack and release, but it really cuts through everything; it has a really powerful snap to it.  If you play it back in a mix, it sits in there really nice, but it’s really hard to figure out what it is, because it’s not anything actually being struck, it’s air moving.  I don’t want to get too technical about it, but it’s just a really cool noise, and I never would’ve thought of that, but when I’m in that process of, “What’s going to be cool in the score?,” my ears are open.

So (my wife and I) are sitting there making dinner one night, we turn on the stove, and I’m like, “Wait, that’s cool!” (laughs) “Do it again!”  So I run and get the recorder and stand next to the stove, going, “Okay, start it!” (laughs)

So you must be listening to sounds all the time.

Yeah.  I did a lot of sound design when I was working in commercials.  I’d spend fifty percent of the time I was working doing sound designing, and the other half writing music, so I had a lot of practice doing that.  My brain is sort of in that world all the time, a little bit at least, and being aware of things that just have different tones and textures and might elicit certain emotions very well, even if it’s just a single tone.  You’d be surprised how many mechanical things that are just sitting in the background, anywhere, in an airport or a mall or something, and you just listen.  You go beyond the voices and just listen to the tones of the place, the lights, the air conditioning, the guy cleaning the floor—the things that have more of a drone-y qualities, they usually have a pitch, and I’ll tune in on those things, and then think, “Okay, that sounds really cool, if I can capture that noise I can sample it and put it in and re-pitch it and script it so it’ll work as an instrument.”  And you have something that’s both organic and electronic at the same time, and you often can’t quite place it with your ear, which makes it more interesting.

With so many movies in the works, any number of possibilities of scores could happen.  Which ones would you want “dibs” on, given the chance?

Anything that has to do with superheroes; that’s still something very near and dear to my heart.  I still so totally believe that every single superhero movie, you should come away with a theme that’s so knocked into your head that you’ll never forget it.  What’s sad is that a lot of the (superhero) films that have come out, you don’t have that, at least the newer ones; some of them do, some of them don’t.  I just think that should be very much a (given) for the score.  We need a theme that everybody’s going to remember.  We need the next Superman, that sort of thing.  I need to do that, that sort of challenge-movie, that would be awesome.

I don’t know, I would love to do something that’s more of a sword-and-sorcery-type epic.  A Lord of the Rings type of film would be such a blast, because you get to do so many different types of things.

What would be most fun to do one film that was completely acoustic, very traditional, because those are usually the films that are the most fun to do, musically, and then do one that was completely electronic, where you have to create all the sounds from scratch, or—I was telling the director on The Last Exorcism that I would love to do a horror film just with a choir, and nothing else.  That would be a lot of fun, because I really believe you get the scariest noises with humans.  To be able to use both acoustic choir writing, and then to take the voices and manipulate them into other things, but to use nothing but a forty-person choir for the whole score, would be a blast.  That would be the scariest score of all, because people always respond to in music, if it’s there, the human voice.  If it’s in the cue, if it’s in the theme, singing the theme or whatever, your ear always goes to the human voice first, no matter what.  It’s the most relatable thing, the human voice.

What about scoring the next Star Wars movie?

I don’t know if Star Wars would be (for me). Like, talk about pressure!  Oh my god!  I just don’t think…   My personal feeling is, no-one should touch that.  Even if they have to take the old music and re-record it and re-cut it for the new film.  They got it right the first time, and that’s the most iconic film music of all time, so don’t touch it, don’t try to change it, don’t try to update it.  It’s like trying to cover Pink Floyd—just don’t go there.  I even felt that way with Superman (1978).  That’s another Top 10 theme of all time; don’t mess with it!

What about a Tarzan movie?

That would be incredible!  I especially love primitive instruments doing period movies from the time of the Bible, or the Dark Ages, or Ancient Egypt, or something where you can really go back and use indigenous instruments, get something that’s really raw and primal would be a lot of fun.  Those scores are always a great learning experience, not just from the writing standpoint, but you learn about an entire culture, musically, when you’re doing that, too.

As a composer, you just want to keep skipping around, doing as much as you can.  The biggest problem for a lot of composers in Hollywood is they get pigeonholed very quickly when (for instance) most composers do a lot of action films are completely qualified to do comedies and vice versa.  Or people do a lot of, say, period dramas could do an action film, and vice versa.  They’ve got a lot more ability than people give them credit for.

The Last Exorcism, Part II comes out on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 18th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Scoring Horror: An Interview with TODD BRYANTON

Posted in Barry Dejasu Columns, Interviews, Scoring Horror with tags , , , , , on September 4, 2012 by knifefighter

The Tall Man
: An Interview with TODD BRYANTON
By Barry Lee Dejasu

Todd Bryanton wrote the music score for THE TALL MAN and other films.

Written and directed by Pascal Laugier (well-known for his previous film, 2008’s MARTYRS), THE TALL MAN is set in a small mining town in the state of Washington, where children are disappearing without a trace, reportedly at the hands of a mysterious being known only as “The Tall Man.”  When a nurse (Jessica Biel) discovers her own son has been kidnapped, the boogeyman becomes quite real as she sets out on a dark path to reclaim her child…

For any horror film that features a soundtrack, the music has to be appropriate to the mood.  Quick glimpses of a phantom silently stalking unsuspecting characters, meant to unnerve, have to be scored carefully so as to not overwhelm—or distract—the audience with bombastic orchestrations.  Composer Todd Bryanton worked hard on the score to achieve that certain kind of creeping terror in THE TALL MAN—to bring that extra dimension of mood that reaches out of the film and haunts the audience in their voyeuristic position.

“I think the musical philosophy of THE TALL MAN was to underscore not only the horror elements, but also the drama/mystery,” Bryanton says.  “The core mystery—‘Why Are the Children of Cold Rock Disappearing?’—deals with themes of childhood and innocence and loss, so the score often required subtle, breathy textures.  But the music also needed to be very visceral and hit hard to match the elements of horror and suspense.  I think it was important to keep that sense of dynamic range, to match the shifts in the story as it unfolds.”

Here is my interview with Mr. Bryanton:

Would you say THE TALL MAN was your first venture into full-fledged horror?
I guess you could say that.  However, I did score Jennifer Lynch‘s thriller SURVEILLANCE (2008) and I also composed the music for a lesser-known Canadian feature called HUNGRY HILLS (2009).  Both of those films went to some fairly dark places and used music to underscore tension.


How did you and Pascal Laugier go about the planning and composition of the music to this film?
Pascal spoke with me about the tone and emotional feeling he was looking for in each scene.  He also referred often to the works of Bartok, Penderecki and Ligeti for inspiration.

Did you work with any of the actors, as far as the direction and/or composition of the music?
I didn’t work directly with any of the actors.  I mainly worked with Pascal, and with the music supervisor George Acogny; they’re both fantastic, very knowledgeable about music and a pleasure to deal with.

Did you have certain themes, passages, or other ideas in mind, going into this film?
I try to stay fairly flexible to the needs of each project going into it; in this case the rhythm of the cuts and the picture itself naturally inspired a lot of the musical choices.

Did you do anything different, unusual, or experimental with this composition?
I did some unusual things with my voice and processed them.  There are some fairly eerie, alien sounding effects that are just me screaming or singing in falsetto or breathing into the microphone, and then stacking those effects, pitch-shifting them, and using granular synthesis to stretch out the sounds.

Did you and Mr. Laugier make use of silence, at least as far as where the music is concerned, to build tension during certain scenes (such as a certain cat-and-mouse scene which takes place around – and under – a truck)?
I think silence is a very important part in any composer’s toolkit.  It’s an old musical truism that the notes you don’t play are often more important than the notes you do play, and dynamics play a huge role in reeling the audience in and heightening their anticipation.

Do you have plans—or indeed, any desire—to score other horror films in the future?
I’m currently working on a science fiction movie that has some horror elements; unfortunately I can’t really give any specific details away.  But I love horror movies and I love working on them, so I hope to get the chance to work on more in the future.

What music did you love growing up?
I listen to all kinds of music, but I really loved listening to bands like Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy growing up.  I think there’s a lot of things about those bands that translate well to film (and especially horror films) in terms of the use of distortion and ambient soundscapes.

Can you name some films in which you first noticed the soundtracks?
I noticed the soundtracks for a lot of different films growing up, but I think the first one that personally inspired me, and that I tried to emulate at the time, was Clint Mansell’s score for PI (1998).  I think it’s important to draw inspiration from a lot of different sources, though.  I enjoy a lot of synthetic, unconventional scores but THE TALL MAN is also much more of an orchestrally-based score.

If you had the chance to score an older film, especially anything from before the 1970’s, which one(s) would you choose, and why?
Am I allowed to pick non-narrative films?

I love Harry Smith‘s animations from the ‘40s and ‘50s; they’re very visceral and organic looking, and I think it would be an interesting challenge to trying scoring them.  Here’s a link if you’re not familiar with them:

Are there any films in the works that you would want first dibs on scoring?
If there are any directors out there reading this interview, I would love to work on your movie.  I love making music, and all I require is to be fed and watered semi-regularly.

Would you like to add anything else?
Thank you so much for asking me to do this interview! It’s a great honour.

THE TALL MAN is currently available On Demand, and will have a limited theatrical release on August 31st.  It will be available on Blu-Ray and DVD on September 25th.

© Copyright 2012 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Cinema Book Review: DARK STARS RISING

Posted in 2011, Book Review, Books About Movies, Interviews, Nick Cato Reviews with tags , , , , , on October 2, 2011 by knifefighter

DARK STARS RISING by Shade Rupe (2011 headpress Books / 560 pages / trade paperback)
Book Review by Nick Cato

When you can get through a 560-paged book in two sittings (as I did with this semi-door stop-sized volume), that’s saying something.

International film festival producer Shade Rupe delivers this collection of interviews with 27 film makers, artists, writers, actors and performance artists. Each interview is as unique as the person being questioned, from cult movie icon Udo Kier to artist Andre Lassen, from everyone’s favorite drag queen Divine to legendary director Alejandro Jodorowsky, there’s something here for anyone who loves unusual entertainment (especially cinema).

A couple of chapters even hit me on a personal level. The late Chas. Balun (who not only gave my old fanzine, STINK, a nod in an issue of his DEEP RED magazine, but was an inspiration to me as a DIY guy) has a very informative interview here, conducted in 1994. Chas. was a fan’s fan, a true horror fan who did more to get seldom-seen films into the hands of horror geeks around the globe than anyone else I can think of. In the wake of his passing, some of his statements here actually made me all misty…

Rupe’s interview with COMBAT SHOCK director Buddy Giovinazzo (conducted in 1995) is chock-full of info I was unaware of, and I was thrilled to see him get such long-overdue coverage in a book of this nature (Buddy was also a film teacher at my local college, the College of Staten Island). Great stuff.

Rupe has introduced me to a few people here, and I found myself equally interested in every chapter, regardless of how familiar I was with the person’s work. As a bonus, this Headpress Book is simply GORE-geous: there’s countless photos, ad mats, and rare stills, something you’ll never be able to fully appreciate on an e-reader (and MAN does this ink smell GOOD!).

Horror and cult film fans take note as there are interviews with William ‘MANIAC‘ Lustig, Gaspar ‘ENTER THE VOID‘ Noe, Jim ‘DEADBEAT AT DAWN‘ Van Bebber, and Tura ‘FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL! KILL!’ Satana. There’s also a rare “talking” interview with the usually silent Teller (of Penn & Teller fame) that turned out to be one of the more enjoyable sections of the book. Comic geeks will also be thrilled over the Arnold Drake interview, as well as Rupe’s yak-session with MEAT CAKE creator Dame Darcy.

If you’re a die-hard cinephile or art nut, there’s no reason not to have this on your shelf ASAP. I’m quite impressed…

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato


Posted in 2011, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Interviews, Special Columns with tags , , , , , on September 30, 2011 by knifefighter

By Colleen Wanglund


Mike White and Mondo Justin love movies. Actually they REALLY love movies. So after years of writing about movies for various magazines and websites, Mike and Justin started the podcast THE PROJECTION BOOTH. Each week the guys and their guests discuss a (usually) obscure or cult film, bringing awareness to their audience. I recently interviewed these movie nuts. ~ CW

COLLEEN: So starting off….You guys are both from Michigan right? So how did you end up meeting each other?

JUSTIN: Orginally….Mike just found me online. He had approached me with this press release of sorts about his new book, IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY: A CASHIERS DU CINEMART COLLECTION. He had asked me to review the book for the web. We exchanged a few emails, and through conversation we realized that we were only about twenty minutes away from each other, so we met up for lunch one day and the rest is history.

COLLEEN: How did each of you get into writing about film?

JUSTIN: I’m not sure if I even consider what I do to be film writing in the traditional sense. I’ve written some fun pieces on particular movies, but not criticisms. In fact I really dislike film writing that deals in theory and criticism. It’s boring, and for the life of me I can’t understand why someone would read that stuff. Why in the hell would you let anyone imprint their opinions in regards to what a film “means” on your brain? Why would you allow someone to tell you if a film is “good” or “bad”? Figure out what it “means” for you. Decide on your own if a film is good or bad. Calculate your own interpretation. I’m more interested in deep researching and then writing up background histories on particular films and how that film fits into a particular context.

Also, I’m big on interviews. Interviews are my life blood. I’ve always been a huge fan of interviews. Above anything else, interviewing someone is probably my favorite thing to do. It’s just so personal. It’s one-on-one, and very intimate. And that’s very relative to how we each experience film ourselves.

MIKE: When I went to college I thought to myself, “What is one of the most useless degree’s I could earn?” Philosophy and Art History didn’t appeal too much, so I decided to go into film. When I graduated I was still very much in “paper writing mode” and had a love for ‘zines. I decided to throw my hat into the ring and start Cashiers du Cinemart.

COLLEEN: Speaking of that Mike, what is/was CASHIERS DU CINEMART?

MIKE: It started as a photocopied rag of rants and ended up as a more polished rag of me being a blowhard about movies or topics I wanted to explore. Along the way I made a lot of friends with other folks who would contribute reviews, articles, artwork and more to it. I put it on hold, thinking that it was dead, back in 2007 but jumped onto the “Revenge of Print” bandwagon that Atomic Books in Baltimore started for 2011 and just published the 16th issue.

COLLEEN: Justin what about your website, THE MONDO FILM & VIDEO GUIDE?

JUSTIN: I just started that site out of boredom really. I was bored and wanted something fun to do. Plus I figured that if would afford me opportunities to talk to filmmakers and actors/actresses that I was really interested in learning more about. Prior to that, when I would go around the web and read interviews with people, I’d only be able to find these horrible interviews that really had no thought behind them. So at a certain point, I just thought to myself, “You can do better than that.”  I think I do a pretty good job. People are reading. I started in 2008, and after that first month I had 300 visits.

Last month I had over 70,000 visits — so we’re growing. I mean the studios are looking at it. I did a big interview with a particular actor last year. After I published it online, he notified me that Paramount Studios had contacted him about a project because they had read the interview we had done together.

COLLEEN: Mike, what’s up with you obsession with the movie BLACK SHAMPOO?

MIKE: You’ve seen the film, so I don’t think I need to answer that question. In all seriousness, it just hit a need that my high school friends and I had. It was funky enough to fill our blaxploitation quotient, had some good softcore scenes in there, and was infinitely quotable. It became our ritual to watch that movie as often as we could. After high school it became something more of an obsession in regard to tracking down all the people involved and asking them about this film that was such an influence on us.

COLLEEN: Justin, is there a film that you obsess over in the same way?

JUSTIN: There are a few. But it goes in sprees to be honest. Right now, I’m completely and utterly obsessed with the Orson Welles film, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942). Researching that, and with working on other projects that I’m working on currently, I’m seeing a similar correlation in terms of how that film was mistreated with something like William Peter Blatty’s EXORCIST 3 (aka LEGION). Both films are beautiful disasters that were ripped out of the visionary’s hands and corrupted by their perspective studios.

Then this little movie from 1989 called, SHAG. I’ve loved this movie for so many years. It’s this wonderful little coming-of-age movie set in the south during the summer of 1963. Like Mike with BLACK SHAMPOO, I’ve interviewed almost the entire the cast, the son of the director, the location manager, the producers, the writers etc…

COLLEEN: Do each of you have a favorite movie, and why is it your favorite?

MIKE: I don’t think I could pick one. There are favorites that are such because I think they’re brilliantly crafted and they’ve expanded the vocabulary of cinema. Then there are favorites that are just trashy flicks that tickle my funny bone whenever I see them.

JUSTIN: I don’t think I could pick just one movie either. I have so many movies that I just love the hell out of. Maybe a favorite filmmaker? I love the films of Jerry Lewis because they’re extremely innovative in not just their comedy but also in film technique. His movies are very innocent too. Child-like, even. Then Kenneth Anger I love, cause of the internal response I get from his work. That work is scary as hell to me, and who doesn’t want to flirt with the dark side at times? Todd Haynes, Gregg Araki, Ken Russell as well. I tend to be really interested in strong visuals in film over anything else. Also, I love to champion bad movies with redeeming qualities like SHOWGIRLS (1995) and LAST ACTION HERO (1993). While many find a lot of faults in movies like those I just don’t because I’m always looking for the positives in everything. The acting in SHOWGIRLS is horrible, but does that make it bad? I think it’s entertaining and campy, a bit raunchy as well and the movie is actually really visually rich.

COLLEEN: So what is THE PROJECTION BOOTH, and where did the idea for it come from?

MIKE: The seeds were sown on a long drive that we took shortly after we met one another. We drove down to Franklin, Indiana for a film event/critics panel that will remain nameless. During the drive we listened to some podcasts and found flaws with several of them. I believe Justin suggested that we start our own and really do it up right. We both started making lists of things we wanted to do and to avoid if we ever created a podcast. First we had to have our declaration of principles. It all went from there.

JUSTIN: I don’t think I suggested it, but maybe I did? I recall that it was you who suggested it (but not seriously) and then like six months later I brought up the idea again randomly one day, and we decided to just do it, and “bring it” big time like Hulk Hogan in NO HOLDS BARRED.

COLLEEN: How do you guys decide on which movies to spotlight each week? Does your decision hinge on the guests you’re able to get?

JUSTIN: It’s very simple. Mike makes a pick one week, then I pick the next week. Usually we plan months and months in advance, and it’s easy for a pick to go by the wayside if we are having a problem getting a guest on-board. The guests come pretty easy for us though for the most part.

MIKE: The show really includes films that we both feel deserve more attention or that we can bring something special to. I think we’re both trying to provide a service to let people know about movies that they may not have gotten into before, or giving them more information about them than has previously been known.

COLLEEN: Do you guys generally agree on the films you’re going to do or are there sometimes arguments?

JUSTIN: It’s a free-for-all. There isn’t any final say or anything like that in the sense that Mike or I have to approve each other’s picks. I respect his picks, and I think he respects mine. Now with that being said…We have had a couple heated debates on-air over the last year, but they are only exactly that. Any disagreements about one particular film doesn’t translate into life when the microphone is turned off.

MIKE: It’s almost a little boring if we both agree 100% on a film. What I tend to rely on is that we both come at movies from different angles and pick up on different things. Justin may have a read on a film completely different than mine and that’s what makes it fun. Two guys sitting around saying, “That was cool” would make for a pretty boring conversation.

COLLEEN: For anyone that hasn’t listened to your show that may be reading this, do you have one show that you’ve done that you feel that everyone should listen to it even if they’re not a fan of podcasts?

JUSTIN: Well, that’s a tough question. I mean we alternate picks each week, so what about re-phrasing the question to “What’s one film that you’ve picked each and done a show about that is your favorite to date?”


JUSTIN: I’d have to say the show we did about THE WARRIORS (1979) from New York City or more recently our KENNETH ANGER show. Probably…For some reason I’m really partial to an early show we did this year about RED SCORPION (1988). I think it’s because around the airing of that episode I think it when we really figured out our format, and the show then became a well-oiled machine, I think.

MIKE: If I had to pick one show to submit for the Podcast Awards it’d be Justin’s THE WARRIORS show. My other favorites include the ROBOCOP (1987) show because I got to talk to a lot of great people and had a blast editing that one. But I think I had the best time when Justin lined up an interview with the creators of FREAKED (1993). Listening to those guys was a blast.

COLLEEN: What are you hopes for the future success of the podcast?

JUSTIN: As far as podcasts go…I don’t know. I fantasize that we’ll someday get offered a paying talk radio gig. It’s a fantasy though. I mean our show is doing really good. We’ve been picked up for syndication, and we’re FM radio in the deep mid-west. We’re on iTunes. We get these big guests. There are only a couple other shows out there that get the guests we do, and frankly they’re not very good. I think what makes our show good is that it’s informative, well edited, thought-out and often relaxed and fun. Plus our show has a great diversity to it as well. In any given month we’ll have a spectrum of guests that is as wide as: John Waters, Orson Welles daughter, Dolph Lundgren and then Trina Parks. I think the show is fun, and frankly a little bit of a secret out there.

MIKE: Total world domination…(laughing)

COLLEEN: So what else are you guys working on?

JUSTIN: Right now I’m very busy. Besides THE PROJECTION BOOTH show, I’m working on content for the website as usual. On top of that both Mike and I have been asked to contribute to this book coming out after Christmas called COMMENTARIES ON MINOR CINEMA CLASSICS. I’m writing the chapters on EXORCIST 3, HARDBODIES and HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH. I contribute one or two interviews each issue to SHOCK CINEMA magazine. Then after the New Year I’ll be co-authoring the biography of actor Wings Hauser with Wings Hauser himself. So maybe you should consider it an autobiography? I don’t know. Exactly how does that work?…(laughing)

MIKE: I’m currently working on an article about horror parodies of the early ‘80s for PARACINEMA magazine. How’s that for specific? I’ve had a lot of fun writing about subgenres for them such as the rash of body swap comedies in the late ‘80s and the myriad of talking genitals films. I’m also working on a piece for COMMENTARIES ON MINOR CINEMA CLASSICS. Keeping with the parody idea, I’m writing about AIRPLANE 2: THE SEQUEL. I’m also working on a biography of Greydon Clark and a book I’m temporarily calling “GOULD AND SULTHERLAND IN THE ‘70S”.

THE PROJECTION BOOTH can be downloaded from iTunes or directly at the website And don’t forget to check out where you can also link to THE PROJECTION BOOTH podcast. And Mike White’s website at:

© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund