Orphan / 2009 Composed

Orphan / 2009
Suite from Orphan
# Title Duration
"Glory of Love" Isabelle Fuhrman 0:24
Orphan 2:04
Suite for Jessica and Max 5:27
Opening / Labor of Love 2:35
Not Your Average 9 Year Old 3:59
Silent Story / Max's Theme 3:34
Saint Marianas 1:32
Destroying the Evidence 3:09
Painting a Story / Esther Comes Home 2:51
Something Nice 5:36
Wet the Bed / Black Light 2:43
Snooping 1:48
Finishing the Job 3:08
Finding Max 3:44
The Cold Shoulder 3:07
"The Glory of Love" Orphanesta Featuring Krystle Warren 2:49
"Orphan's Revenge" John Ottman vs. Mark "Dog" Sayfritz 3:38
"The Glory of Love" Jimmy Durante 2:48

John's Thoughts

"Ottman, I got a film I need ya to do. You've been out of touch for awhile, and you gotta do this one." This was Joel Silver calling me a few weeks after I emerged from the Valkyrie saga. Of course, when Joel calls, you don't ask questions. You just do it. That aside, I've always had a terrific time working with him and his group over at Silver Pictures and Dark Castle, so it didn't take much arm-twisting – and I didn't even know what the movie was about.

I was also unaware at the time that the director of the film was Jaume Serra, with whom I had worked on House of Wax. Jaume's the type of director who trusts the instincts of the composer, so things were looking up even more. When I went to see the rough cut of the film it was an odd experience because the film seemed to be struggling against a very cliché temp score – the standard booms, bangs and drones. I was trying to figure out why the film often felt awkward until I realized that it was trying it's best to be "smarter" than one might expect. This, of course was not the problem. The only problem was that the temp music was trying to pull it down into a typical silly horror box. So the answer, of course, would be to create a more "classy" score, where less overt music would actually bring out the best assets of the film. Orphan, of course, also needed an emotional core musically. In horror/thriller films you inevitably have to push the expected musical buttons, but, to me, the crux of the score has to have some sort of emotional through-line coming from the protagonist/victim in the film. If you don't somehow tap into and believe the character you're rooting for, the film will not only be less engaging, but far LESS scary. Oddly enough, the "grounding music" in a film does a lot to make the world more believable, and therefore more unsettling. For this reason, the music approach was to not skew the normal world of the characters until things really began to happen.

Kate and the Emotional Core

From past history with Joel and Jaume, I knew both were believers in the psychology behind the music instead in lieu of the obvious clanks and thuds all the time. This gave me the comfort to approach this strange thriller from that angle. The mother in the film, Kate, has a painful past, having lost her daughter Jessica to an accident years before. Her current daughter, Max, is deaf, but is clearly one of the joys of Kate's life. This was, of course, an invitation for me to create a theme that encompassed or bonded Kate, Jessica and Max. Even better, there was an early scene where Kate is composing a piece of music on the piano. I felt that the music she's writing should be the theme of the film – again, her music for Jessica and Max. So we stripped out the sound of whatever she was playing on the set, and replaced it with a rudimentary version of the theme ultimately called, "To Jessica and Max." Because it was a piece of music she was writing, I decided to give it a classical feel in three basic "movements." Part A is a simple classical piano and cello movement. Part B is actually Jessica's mournful theme, and then Part C is Max's innocent theme, characterized by added electric piano, harp harmonics and muted synthesized textures reflecting her deafness – literally a "ringing in the ears" at times.

In other areas of the film, the theme is alluded to when Kate confronts the demons of her past, namely her drinking. Writing Kate's piece not only gave me the opportunity to write a piece of music that could stand on it's own, but it also served as a well to draw from for Kate and Max in the film. The end title piece, Orphan, is really misleading in that although it's called "Orphan", it's actually an adaptation of Kate's music for Jessica and Max, but in a screwy way.


But what to do with the music for Esther? We all know from the marketing of the film that Esther's going to be a bad seed. Besides, the score should always reflect where the characters are coming from. So when Kate and her husband meet Esther in the orphanage, her music had to feel warm, inviting, intoxicating. The belief with the score was that it shouldn't start tipping any hand until the actual world of the film was being skewed. So initially, as Esther paints in the orphanage and is taken home, her music is a soothing three note motif rotating on a clarinet, imbedded in rich synthesized textures. As the film progresses, Esther's sweet music begins receding in favor of odd sounds instead of a theme.

When I watched the film, I thought that a simple sound for Esther, as opposed to ponderous music, would be far more unsettling and classic. By asking a question instead of dictating the character, the music let the mystery of the character be preserved. Within the sounds I found for her, my favorite discovery was African shakers. Even though her past has nothing to with anything African, the lone cluster of three shakers playing at one time, slightly out of sync with each other, gave her a sonic motif in the film that I found really effective and unsettling. The idea, of course, was that when you hear those shakers, you know Esther is nearby. The other "motif" for Esther was nodding subtly to the song she sings in the film, "The Glory of Love." Some of those cues are absent on the album, but on the film there are a handful of cues where the song is creepily alluded to with celeste and string harmonics.

Synth Has Its Place

Synthesized music may not often make the best listening experience on a CD, but for a movie like Orphan, it often helps make the film feel less cliché than straight orchestra. Therefore, for cost and creative reasons, the score was a heavy blend of synth with orchestra. For this reason, I wasn't even considering releasing a CD for the film. But when the powers that be said they wanted an album released, what was I to do! Of the 90 minutes of score for the film, the CD contains about 40 min of the score. There were many 100% synth cues for the film that did wonders for the scenes – especially ones underscoring dialog. But as a CD listening experience, it would be a little uninvolving. I should have included more of them in retrospect! That's why I always groan when a score to a film is judged by the CD. How it works on the film is the true art of film music. If it's the kind of score that's entertaining on it's own, that's icing on the cake. I hope the album to Orphan is at least enjoyable enough to the listener and perhaps can give a little insight as to what may "be wrong with Esther!"