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Teletipo BSOSpirit

Interview with John Frizzell

Versión en español

Interviewing this 39 years old New Yorker is a challenge for BSOSpirit. After knowing him at First Conference on Movie Music at Úbeda (Spain) and being elected as next Honorary President we have said all about his category as human being. The challenge consist in looking for the equanimity with someone who is already a member of our family. We hope to reach this objective with this interview and you know better this man and his next projects.

Madrid, September 2005

BSOSpirit (BS): Could I speak to John Frizzell, please?
John Frizzell (JF):
Hello, it's me!

BS: Hello John, are you ready for the interview?
Yes, I am.

BS: You started in this soundtrack business with Keys, a TV project. How did you involve in this particular work?
JF: In fact, my first true work as a composer, the very first score I wrote on my own, was VR.5. I got the job by an appointment of the series producer, John Sacret Young, who contacted my agent. It was a funny experience. With Keys, I finished my work, a promo, in about ten days. I worked on a synthesizer, adding only a little bit of flute and vocals to it.

BS: Opposite Corners was indeed your first work for the big screen. This movie was about boxing sports. Currently, with Four Minutes , you seem to go back to sports stories, which are known to require powerful soundtracks in order to capture the emotion of the film. Did you think of something different for these sports movies, when coming to write the score?
JF: Opposite Corners
wasn't only my first score for a film, but the first time I came to work with an orchestra. Would you like to know who the conductor was?

BS: No idea.
JF: Marco Beltrami.

BS: Was he?
JF: True, he helped me to get along with this first challenge. Going back to your question, in sport films one has to deal very well with a difficult notion such as “victory”. What does it really mean?, for whom? I love the way some sports films become unpredictable at the end, like Million Dollar Baby. So yes, it's valuable to try something different in these movies.

BS: You first solo score, series VR.5, passed in the 90's without much success, but it became a “cult” title later on. Your music in there was very experimental.
JF: I wanted recognition, so I worked very hard on that project; I used jazz-like compositions, some pieces closer to classical music, and some different aspects to proof myself in the craft of making film scores.

BS: In 1996 you worked for director Eric Red, a cult name in horror movies. Did you come to know him well?
We worked together in Undertow, a thriller-movie. It was a strange experience. Eric and the film producer were arguing all the time in order to take control of that movie, and I felt a little out of side.

BS: That same year you joined James Newton Howard for the first time in The Rich Man´s Wife. Am I right? Because many think you never met before Dante's Peak.
JF: The Rich Man's Wife was my first job in a big studio. At that time I already knew James, because we had been friends for at least two years. He planned to write a main theme for that movie, and then asked me to write a score for the performing sequences, which I did. The situation was exactly equal in Dante's Peak, so we worked again in the same way.

BS: Were you free to propose your own creative ideas?
JF: You're never free at all when composing music for the movies. You always have to adjust to timings or specifications made by someone else. But my experience in those two movies was really remarkable. I learnt a lot about Newton-Howard's music, about the score writing process and the importance to achieve a good main theme. I tell you, it's very hard to score a scene without a main theme in mind. James taught me how to pursue this main-theme resource.

BS: Crime of the Century was a TV-film very praised by the critics, thanks to a good script and a very good performance of Stephen Rea and Isabella Rossellini's. You came with it to score a drama. Does a drama need any different approach than a comedy or an action score?
JF: Don't forget the director's touch; it was Mark Rydell, a specialist in dramas. It was certainly a very brilliant film, and I used cello and piano sounds to make it touching. Producers hadn't enough money to hire an orchestra, so I had to forget about violins and write a score in very low keys. I learnt, then, that when you don't have the resources you wished you had, the only way is to become creative and take a lot of profit from a few things.

BS: Again, in 1996, you worked in the film Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, which took profit from this MTV animated duet success. Your music, nevertheless, seems too much serious to match with this kind of comedy.
Well, there is a story about that score. It was my first comedy, so I went to ask master Elmer Bernstein on how to score a comedy, the way he did with Airplane!. He told me that one should always approach to a comedy soundtrack as if he wouldn't be the chosen composer, like hanging around. I was struck by this opinion, but I followed his advice. The opening sequence looked like a King Kong movie, with strong orchestrations, but I think it matched quite well with Beavis and Butt-Head mad adventures.

BS: Was this soundtrack any opportunity to enroll in more animation projects?
I'm not sure, because the film wasn't a typical animation movie; so wasn't my score, I guess.

BS: You also put the music to back such an absurd animated guy as King of the Hill. How did you come to work for this TV-series?
JF: They asked me to prepare an occasional episode, and I had fun putting music to it.

BS: You began to be well known among soundtrack composers in 1997, after scoring Dante's Peak ...
JF: It was a sort of challenge for me. We are talking about a big film, with a lot of money put in it. There was a lot of pressure on the crew, and I was asked to have the score ready in almost a month. The reason was that the producers wanted it to be on the big screen before Volcano, so the making of that film was like a race. I had to work hard, and I remember walking sleepy each morning like a zombie, because of my intense activity.

BS: 1997 was really an intense year, from Dante's Peak to Alien: Resurrection. It must not have been easy to be in the shoes of Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner in order to score a movie about this well known alien monster...
Part of it was just serendipity. Daniel O'Bannon happened to be a friend of mine, and he encouraged me to become involved in the making of that picture. He wrote continuously to director Jean-Pierre Jeunet about my work, and ask me a kind of promo. Jeunet was himself very upset when he got it, and wanted to know where the hell I took the script of the movie from... “I have never seen the script”, I replied. He insisted that my music was so well adapted to the scenes of the script that he immediately agreed to use it. I was lucky...

BS: But it might be impossible to elude a comparison with the previous scores by Goldsmith or Horner.
Unfortunately, many people judge the music of the scores without thinking about the film they were put in. You cannot separate film music from the film itself. Alien: Resurrection had not the impact that previous Aliens had, but I tell you that producers made a lot of money through copies on video and DVD. In the end, it really became a success, and I'm proud of the part I took in it... Jerry Goldsmith is the greatest film score writer that ever existed. I didn't pretend to improve his musical concept of Alien . I just did my job, humbly.

BS: Your continuing soundtrack was Jane Austen's Mafia, Jim Abrahams ' comedy of that year...
JF: Bill Badalato
was the producer of Alien: Resurrection. Later on he decided to produce as well Jane Austen's Mafia. He said he immediately thought about me for the score. It was a funny experience.

BS: And then you seemed to be very happy scoring comedies...
As far as I remember, I've only done four comedies... I wish I could score them more often.

BS: In 1998, however, you started a kind of horror-movie saga with I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, continuing with Thirteen Ghosts and Teaching Mrs. Tingle.
JF: Those were very scary films, particularly Teaching Mrs. Tingle .

BS: Office Space, again a comedy, must have had interrupted your scary inspiration.
I approached that score with a lot of delicacy. In fact, many of the scenes and dialogues didn't need any music, so my work tried to be very subtle.

BS: Going back to Teaching Mrs. Tingle, that film allowed you to work with director Kevin Williamson. Did you start a good relation with him?
JF: Kevin was a funny director, and also a sensible man. At the time the film was ready to be shown, the nation was shocked by a killing which took place in a school near Columbine... The title of the film was first Killing Mrs. Tingle, but it was finally changed because of that mass-murder. I was asked to change the tone of the film with my music, which was a very attractive challenge to me.

BS: They edited two CDs about that film: one with songs and another one with your own music. Are you happy with this double edition?
JF: We are not the owners of the film rights, so producers can always do what they want. In the 90`s soundtrack records got a very good position in the music market, but all this changes when Internet became the main source of music to many people. Then, producers needed to add a commercial value to the soundtrack records, what they did by putting songs in it.

BS: Our fellow citizen Antonio Banderas was involved in a film you came to score: The White River Kid.
I enjoyed making music for that film, diving into bluegrass music, with fiddles, and banjos, and harmonicas... I still watch this movie some times, late at night, being showed by HBO, and I feel happy about it, the score that I created for that particular purpose.

BS: In the year 2000 you scored a TV-film called Possessed. Can you comment on the soundtrack?
JF: I suppose it was a strange music, because it was written in a very strange mood. I was asked to do the score in about a week, just after both my parents died (two weeks before). I tried to work on it without realizing really what I was doing... Now I should watch it again and understand why it sounds like it does.

BS: James Dean was another big TV-project by James Franco. Your score looks very urban, modern, with a jazzy taste. Why did you choose jazz sounds for this score?
JF: James Dean
had much to do with what jazz is all about. His times were times of great jazz music, so I clearly wanted to write a score based on jazz music. I also did some investigation on the subject, and found that James Dean loved jazz very much. This was one of the scores I'm most proud of. It's a lonely, sad, melancholic sound.

BS: Why wasn't it released in a CD, then? Can there be an edition in a near future?
JF: I hope it will be released some day. In fact, I've spoken to the TV people and they seemed quite interested.

BS: Star Trek Enterprise is a TV-series with many musicians involved: Brian Tyler, Mark Mckenzie, Jay Chattaway, Dennis McCarthy... How did you join in?
JF: They called me for an episode, and I was very happy to contribute to this great saga.

BS: Are you a trekkie?
Not really, but I enjoyed very much working in the series... I occasionally watch some chapters as well.

BS: A lot of soundtrack lovers think Thirteen Ghosts is one of your best scores. However, don't you think that film was too much noisy to enjoy the music parts?
JF: But it was challenging, exciting. I had a good time writing it.

BS: Ghost Ship was a kind of Thirteen Ghosts product, but I think the scores cannot be compared. Ghost Ship presents epic themes, horror sounds, stressful atmospheres and one of the greatest leitmotivs you have ever composed: "The Souls Ascend"...
My idea with Ghost Ship was to use romantic music, the result was indeed very different from Thirteen Ghosts. To work with the same director and the same producers does not imply that you have to make the same music.

BS: Gods and Generals is one of your fans favorite soundtracks. Randy Edelman, nevertheless, had a similar experience with Gettysburgh and happened to be also in this other film. Did you decide to do it all together?
JF: Randy was going to score the film, he was the first option. But he was also hired to score another film so he hadn't time to complete all the music needed. It was actually Randy who called me to work on the rest, and I was very thankful to do it. I also made good friends with the crew on that movie.

BS: You hired a famous violinist, Mark O'Connor, and a whistle and pipe player, Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains)...
Paddy only played one piece, but is a central piece in all the film. Mark is an amazing musician, sometimes difficult to deal with, because he's very talented and can improvise ten different themes to include (all of them perfect) in a single scene, making it hard to decide... Those were very great musicians, and I was very glad to meet them.

BS: You choose singer Mary Fahl for “Going Home”, and Bob Dylan wrote the closing song for a remarkable album...
Well, the songs were great, but I didn't choose them. It was the director's choice.

BS: Do you consider Gods and Generals your best score until The Price Winner of Defiance, Ohio?
Yes. That score changed my work and my career as a composer. Somehow, I became more mature.

BS: But this “matureJohn Frizzell also took part in scoring Looney Tunes: Back in Action. What part did you create? Did you meet Goldsmith and Debney?
JF: I did the beginning of the film, a six minute scene starting the road-runner. Unfortunately, I couldn't meet Goldsmith or Debney, because they worked on it later than me.

BS: The Woods will be next Lucky Mckee's movie, the blockbuster director of May. You happened to play some parts of this score in Úbeda. Will this score be different from other scary-movie scores written by you in the past?
I approached a bit the score of Thirteen Ghosts, using those strange sounds to create and back the films intentions.

BS: How was your relationship with Mckee?
JF: In fact, I wasn't the chosen composer for this film, but he couldn't finish and McKee asked me to join in and do my job. It's a little tricky situation, because I changed the former music ideas, and the technical crew seemed to depend then on what I was preparing. But I must say that Lucky is a very talented director, and I like his work very much.

BS: In BSOSpirit we had the honor to listen to The Prize Winner before the film has been showed, as a premiere. The music was really good.
Director Jane Anderson asked me to be very subtle with the music, so I wrote very melodic pieces. I did some piano demos to Jane Anderson, and we both decided what themes would be more adequate for each scene. I spent more time than usual in preparing the music, and I think it will be my best.

BS: The score is very rich in moods, standing from very calm tunes, Thomas Newman -like music, to more powerful themes.
That's the approach I made, it's just what I wanted and what the film deserved. It was a pleasure to put my music in a film of this superb quality.

BS: We think that score can be candidate to some awards. Will the film have enough promotion?
JF: Yes it will. Dreamworks is willing to promote The Prize Winner among the best films of the year.

BS: Four Minutes is your last written score up to date, going back to the sports action. It tells the story of the one mile record man, Roger Bannister. What elements have you incorporated in that score?
The story goes back to England in the 60s, and I deliberately chose a sort of religious hymn as the main theme, adding percussions in the fast running scenes.

BS: Is Four Minutes as good as The Prize Winner?
JF: The Prize Winner
is my proudest work, but Four Minutes will clearly work on TV, many people will like the sweet story with the powerful scenes.

BS: And the last question... We know you enjoyed a lot our soundtrack meeting in Úbeda last summer, because you'll come next year as the honorary president. Could you then address some words to soundtrack lovers?
JF: I had dinner with Sean Callery last Friday night, and we both felt how nice it was to be able to meet with soundtrack listeners and share their opinions and their ideas, the feed-back think of our creative works. We all feel inspired of you appreciation. You are all part of our music.

BS: That's all John. Thank you for your attention. We will keep in touch, preparing the next conference on movie music at Úbeda.
JF: My pleasure. Don't forget his official website:




Interview made by Jose Luis Díez Chellini
Questions by David Doncel
Transcription by Jordi Montaner

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