Super powers. Gift or curse? Depends on the power. While pregnant, I had the super power of scent. If you were in a train car with me and you had a watermelon sucking candy in your mouth, I knew it, and I hated you. And summers in Manhattan? I’m sure you’ll agree that this super power was a curse, but what about the ability to serve as both editor and composer on a major feature film? Gotta go with gift on this one.
John Ottman, who met Superman Returns’ Bryan Singer back at USC Film School, has edited all of the director’s films except the first X-Men due to a scheduling conflict — let’s just say a teen slasher film got in the way. When the student Singer saw first-hand how Ottman could manipulate a story in the editing room he called on him to cut his 20-minute film called Lyon’s Den. That led to editing Singer’s first feature, Public Access.
But while all this editing was going on, Ottman was dabbling in music as a hobby. When the composer dropped out of Public Access in the 11th hour, hobby became second profession. “I told Bryan, ‘I know the character. I’ve created him in the editing room and I can score this movie.’ That’s when I realized I loved writing films scores.”
And when Singer started his next film, he wanted Ottman to continue in his dual role. Ottman edited Superman Returns along with Elliott Graham. They used Avid Meridien-based Media Composers V. 11.2.6.
“We don’t really go into huge cutting mode until we have the whole thing put together,” explains Ottman, “but Bryan will make general comments about the mood that’s being set by the scenes I’m putting together. And if he likes the sequence he’ll bring in people from the set. So by the time we have an assembly we’ve had a lot of mini-preview screenings, and I think it helps us keep perspective through the eyes of other people.”
Once they have the film assembled, “then we started cutting it down, and I know that I have this gargantuan task near the end of also writing the score, so we try to keep that in mind and keep lean so I don’t lose time writing the music. And when I do start writing the score I have so little time compared to what most composers have.”
What about composing while editing? “I wish I could say I was thinking of themes as I was cutting, but I really have an editing cap and a writing cap, but there is a little bit of an overlap,” he admits. “I think I subconsciously create pregnant areas in the movie that I know will be musically driven and I will leave room for the score, but what the score is going to be, I don’t know yet.”