X-Men 2 / 2003 Composed / Edited

X-Men 2 / 2003
Suite from X-Men 2
# Title Duration
Suite from X2 7:10
Storm's Perfect Storm 2:18
Finding Faith 1:29
Sneaky Mystique 3:30
Cerebro 1:26
Mansion Attack 7:33
Rogue Earns Her Wings 1:34
It's Time 3:39
Magneto's Old Tricks 4:57
I'm In 4:10
If You Really Knew 3:20
Playing With Fire 2:43
Death Strikes Deathstryke 4:50
Getting Out Alive 3:58
Goodbye 5:26
We're Here to Stay 1:48
Bonus Track: The White House Attack 3:19

John's Thoughts

Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii, May 22, 2003           

As I sip a Mai Tai on a balcony of the beautiful Halekulani Hotel I now have time to reflect on the long haul of X2, and fulfill the responsibility to my website by filling in this pain in the ass "John's Thoughts" section!  Dan Goldwasser's been ever so politely reminding me.  Well, ok, I'm not really sipping Mai Tai - it sounded good.  However, the tropical breeze is delicately blowing as I peer out at Waikiki beach and sip an iced green tea and crunch on some trail mix.  But I digress!  I usually write up these little reflections closer to the completion of a film.  At this juncture I can only really recall flashes in my feeble memory as they come.  - And some may, in fact, be blocked out!   So here goes.


For months I knew it was coming.  Everyday was a countdown to the departure from Los Angeles to Vancouver for filming and editing X2. I felt as if I may be boarding a plane to some prison island with hard labor and whips.  Finally came the date, around June 15, 2002.  But then I thought, "Hell, maybe it won't be all that bad."  Whenever starting a project for Bryan as both editor and composer, I always tell myself that somehow in about a year, I'll be sitting at the final dub stage mixing the sound onto a final edited film and integrating a score that has yet to be conceived.  Of course, I always follow up that thought immediately with a panic attack, "There's no way!  There just isn't.  How's this ever going to get done?!"  But I soon regain my composure and make a point never to forget that moment, so that when the day arrives a year later, I can recognize it in appreciation of having made it through.   Anyhow, I arrived in the truly beautiful Vancouver airport, which is so clean and modern you can eat off the floors.  Here's to airport taxes!  I arrived on a very hot (and always beautiful) day, and was driven to the building which housed the production offices for X2.  Just as I walked in, a fiery production meeting had just wrapped up where the danger room had, as is well known now, been cut from the script.  Clearly there had been an explosion I just missed and sort of saw the debris and war-torn faces around the office.  "Oh boy, here we go," I thought. 

Worries and the Evil Music Studio

The next day I went to the editing room, and there is was:  The Avid.  The machine I would be joined to, like a Siamese twin, for the next few months.  Of course my mind immediately raced ahead to my number one concern:  When in the hell am I going to be able to write this score, and what will it be?! I quickly shook that schizophrenic moment off and put the editing cap on, to be taken off at a future date.  A couple days later, filming began in the soundstages just a few hundred feet from the editing room, which was in a building on the Vancouver Film Studios lot.  To my surprise, aside from the normal strains and drama that go into making a film, there seemed to be a real harmony, which helped the 12 hour editing days become far more palatable and even enjoyable.  The more smoothly a project can go both with personalities and events, the more inspiring it is.   

A couple weeks went by as I continued to work on the scenes.  I usually worked late, so sometimes I would come in later in the morning to start the day.  To my shock, one morning I walked into find Bryan at the Avid watching the first scenes I had cut.  My heart stopped.  He looked up stoically and made some comment that what I had done was crap.  He tried to hold that in as long as he could before breaking face and saying, "I'm just kidding, it's great."  He just loves to be able to give me a heart attack, probably because I'm such a target in that regard.  From that point on I knew we were still in sync after a respite of a couple years, felt relief for a few moments and then immediately re-focused on my other on-going concern:  That looming SCORE.  After a restless night I went into producer Ralph Winter's office to ask if perhaps the production could disassemble, ship and reassemble my music studio up to Vancouver so that I would have it there should inspiration arise.  I wasn't even half way through my request when he said, "Done."  Whew - films with nice budgets are cool I thought.  So Casey Stone, my engineer, handled getting the thing and its millions of pieces up to Vancouver and reassembled in my editing room.  It was sort of a security blanket really.  But as the days went on, that little music studio took on an evil sort of aura - staring at me across the room, grinning, beckoning me to come write, when we both knew there was no time to do that yet.  It had an irritating little hum as its components surged, awaiting my company.  The next week I had an assistant get some baffles to block the little music studio from my sight, which helped a bit.  But it knew I would eventually have to give in and go behind those baffles and confront my demons. 

Before things got too terribly intense, there were the occasional get-togethers at Ian McKellen's rented house in Kitsilano, a suburb of Vancouver.  One weekend Ian threw a party for Patrick Stewart's birthday.  Patrick asked me how the music was going - to which I confessed my fears on every film: not being able to think of what to write.  He thought that to be "wonderful."  What I realized when speaking with him is what an artistic and empathetic man he was.  He, along with Hugh Jackman, is one of the most genuinely real and kind human beings I've ever met - and not too far away from his calming persona as Picard.  (This was elation, in that being a Star Trek fan, the last thing I would want to discover is that he was a jerk or something!  He was so much the opposite.)  So upon other encounters, Patrick would always inquire how things were going musically.  Little did he know how those queries didn't help the angst much! 

The Entourages

Bryan seemed happy enough with the editing process that a strange open-door program began in the editing room - meaning that at any given moment, a tour group consisting of actors and crew from the film, or visiting friends, family, parents, even visiting execs, would descend upon the editing room to watch scenes.  It got to the point that a little sign was put on the door saying, "Show and Tell Screening Room."  I always like to keep the door open when I work, and the stairs from the entry below ended right there.  Which means every time anyone would walk up those stairs I would prepare myself for the next tour group.   Then came the days following my creating the first trailer of the film.  It seemed that with every break in shooting, I could expect another "entourage" to see the trailer. It's amazing I ever got anything done!  "Entourage" became an oft-used word in the editing room.  My first question to my assistants when coming in the morning would be, "Has there been an entourage by this morning, and what did they see??  Tell me everything!"  But Bryan had a method to this madness, which was that we constantly got to see cut scenes with an audience of sorts, albeit a somewhat skewed one.  It also helped serve as a morale booster so that the cast and crew would have a good feeling about what was being created.  It's a little disconcerting to have an actor walk in to see a scene where you may have cut them up, or parts cut out.  So I felt I might get some evil looks from time to time when they departed the room, but everyone seemed to always see the bigger picture and have a real film-making sense about them. 

My Mouth

During editing, I didn't temp any of the scenes with music, except when I decided to put in Mozart in Magneto's cell.  I wanted that idea to stick, because it added so much to his character to be listening to that music, especially as he read, "The Once and Future King."  As for all other scenes I decided to do extensive sound effects work in lieu of temp score, which not only helped sell the cuts and add realism, but it also defined the sort of sound I wanted the film to have.  Music would be for another chapter in the process.  I wanted the scenes, at least individually, to be able to be enthralling on there own without music.  This meant designing the sound richly with ambiences and effects. Many times my enthusiasm to get a scene cut is looking forward to doing the sound design.  Sometimes I couldn't find the effects I was looking for, so I would resort to grabbing the microphone and doing the sounds with my voice, which I excel at as long as no one is watching and the door is shut!  Some sounds even remained in the film - like the jet losing power, where I hummed in a downward bend and pitched it down; or when Stryker pulls out the pin in the grenade behind the ice wall, where I whistled in a rising pitch, and then digitally pitched it up higher.  In the haste of our dub, a lot of my cheesy whispers remained in the film, especially when Jean has visions in the museum.  Embarrassing!

Shhhhhh, I'm Actually Writing Something!

So one rainy weekend, after some Mongolian barbecue, (I became addicted to this little restaurant and miss it terribly!) I had to unload some brewing ideas and get at least a rough structure of some themes written down and saved into the computer. So walked in, took my wet coat off, and there it was, still humming away:  My evil little studio.  It knew I would be there sooner or later.  So I stepped behind the baffles and began working.  I didn't want to herald to anyone that I was actually writing anything, or else we might have another entourage hearing some rudimentary beginnings of a score.  This could be disastrous, I thought - especially hearing a bad synthesized rendering of rough ideas.  The only person in on it was my biggest moral supporter, Elliot Graham, my second assistant editor at the time.  Elliot was so subjected to my daily "the world is at an end, I will never get through all of this" rantings that he deserved to be privy to the goings-on behind the baffles!  And his enthusiasm hearing the rudimentary beginnings of themes rubbed off on my own enthusiasm.  So, thanks for that Elliot.  Of course he made up for all of this by being an equal in the worry-wart, ranting-like-a-record-player-on-skip department to the point I wanted to slap him, as someone needed to slap me.  Eventually I promoted this fellow neurotic over-achiever to second editor.

Predicting the Future

There were many inevitable script changes as X2 was shooting; the main change being the new idea of Jean's fate, which was not part of the original plan.  Solving the logistics of this added some delays to shooting, and the weeks went on when I thought that perhaps maybe I could begin dabbling more with music.  But, as it turned out, film footage was flying in fast and furious, and it was all we could do to keep up with it all editorially.  My tactic with editing is to create a cut as close to what I feel the end product will probably and/or should be.  To do this requires a sort of clairvoyance as to what the ultimate practical and creative issues will be down the road from the studio as well as the audience.  What scenes or sections just reek of deleted moments for the DVD?  Why not cut them out now?  This approach also requires trust from the director.  But cutting through this fat early on helps accommodate many things:  Mainly it helps us concentrate on fine-tuning the cut during the director's cut period instead of using all this time to figure out what fat to cut out.  It also avoids throwing the baby out with the bathwater by later deleting entire sequences when all along you can keep most scenes if they're cut leaner from within.  And importantly for me, this early-on fine cutting buys me much needed time to begin writing music.  

Tense Moment, Advil, Fear, Booze and Ativan

Back in LA we continued fine-tuning the edit, and it was time for the dreaded temp score to be created.  Temp scores are a headache for any composer to deal with, especially when the person becoming his own worst enemy is himself.  As editor I had to create a temp with other scores for screening purposes.  In terms of the real score, I was just beginning to dabble.  Bryan had only heard the rough main theme and Jean Grey's theme, which he loved.  (This was a milestone to get past that initial phase of generally approving the thematic style I was going for.)  A few weeks later the film was completely temped with other music so that we could do a dub and present the cut to the studio. The ending music over the lake never really built to the end title card properly, so I decided to surprise Bryan and tack on a synth mock-up based upon the Jean Grey theme and dub it onto the lake scene.  We dubbed in onto the film before Bryan came to see the scene.  I remember being nervous and warning the sound mixers and personnel in the room that a "conflict" may be coming with Bryan hearing something new, especially when the temp music preceding it never suggested the theme to come.  So we showed the real.  Everyone held their breath as the lake scene came on. We were only seconds into the new cue when: "NO, that does not work at all!"  I suddenly had a deja vu moment to when I did this same thing over the opening titles of Apt Pupil, with a similar reaction.  The dubbing stage was silent, preparing for an eruption between the two of us.  It's rare for me, but I lost it.  "This is Jean Grey's theme!  It HAS to be here over the lake - and this is the best way to build to the credits!  You didn't even listen to the rest of it!"  Etc., etc., etc.   We made our cases back and forth.  Then he paused.  "Play it again."   We rewound and played it back.  "Well, maybe I'm reacting to the synthesized quality of it."  The room was still silent.  "Well, play it again."  . "Well, yeah, ok."  Again.  "Hmmm, it's nice."     These are the coronary arrests a composer must endure!  (Of course now it's his favorite part of the score.  Mmmhmm.) 

The time then came where I had to begin immersing myself into tackling the 108 minutes of music I had to write in just a few short weeks.  The (pardon the French) mind-fuck for me was having to go to executive screenings and watch the film with the temp as I was at the same time trying to write the final score.  This caused such a literal headache, that I had to take Advil when returning home from screenings to continue writing.  Staying in that "private writing zone" is vital to writing a good score, and being yanked away from it on a daily basis for a vast number of editorial reasons provided my greatest challenge.  A couple of weeks of writing went by and it was soon getting to that dreaded first meeting between me and Bryan where I show him cues.  He and I have a great fear of a serious creative confrontation tainting our relationship, and this is why three weeks of writing went by before either of us gathered the courage to actually get together and hear what I was writing.  I couldn't deal with the prospect of being musically crushed, and similarly Bryan didn't want to face perhaps having to do just that and shut me down creatively.  The gamble:  Before our meetings I had already been sending unapproved cues over to transcription/orchestration with the hope that all would go well. This was the risk that my chief transcriber/orchestrator, Damon Intrabartolo, and I had to make to maximize his time as well.  Everyday, Damon would call me, "Well, has he come over YET!?? AM I transcribing all these cues for nothing??!"  Then I would get the calls from Amanda Goodpaster, my music editor.  "Hasn't he been over there yet?  Are you nuts?"  So the tension was rising to have to bite the bullet and pull back the curtain to reveal the renderings of the score I was writing.  I always try to coordinate a showing of my cues with an evening Bryan may be going to a dinner or social occasion so that maybe he's relaxed with a couple drinks and hopefully will bring a friend so there's a lighter feel to the weighty meeting.  Night is a big necessity as well.  It just creates a more enthralling and focused aura in the room, and less distractions of lawn mowers, kids playing, phones ringing and the like.  In the past I jump from cue to cue out of film order so that he will know where I am taking themes, and then go back to show the birth of these themes.  But this time, it was, "No no no, show them to me in order."  Yikes.  So we began.  Gulp.  Fortunately, to both our elation he had minor notes on the music; and I think it was apparent that our musical eye-to-eyeness was still intact, thank goodness.  The relief in the room was palpable.  We gave each other a big hug of mutual respect, and I was reenergized to go on. 

So then came the next phase of writing for another couple weeks and doing our last meeting before recording the score.  This last meeting, given the crunch, and Bryan's inner fears that I would somehow become complacent writing since the first meeting went well (unfounded of course!), added to the building tension once again.  It was also tense being that we were to record in just a few days, and almost half the score had to be approved.  He knows I take an Ativan (mild stress pill) to calm me before these meetings, and he asked for one as well.  I gave him two.  From a friend who was present at the meeting observing us, we both became uncharacteristically calm.  I guess it would be like watching Cheech and Chong go over cues.  When Bryan left the meeting (which went almost too well), I was concerned he wouldn't remember anything he heard and may have doubts the next day as to what happened!  After these meetings I would call a very relieved Damon, waiting by the phone like waiting for a lab result.  The gamble worked.  We were right on schedule.

Captain on the Deck!

After a couple days of recording, Bryan walked in with a smiling Patrick Stewart. At that moment I felt things had come full circle from the time I confessed to him at his birthday party months ago that I would never be able to think of a thing.  There was now 108 minutes of score completed.  He went out to the orchestra to listen to them play, when Rick Baptiste, our paparazzi trumpet player leaped from his chair and snapped a picture of all of us on the podium.  One with all of us is on the site.  Thanks, Rick!

Music to Edit By

It was decided that we were going ahead with shooting another scene in the film.  Problem:  We had already recorded the score.  Because of the release date, there was no time to wait and have the scene filmed and edited before writing music to it.  So I read the script and imagined in my mind's eye the way it would probably look and be timed.  As Bryan was in Europe shooting, I was writing the score to the scene.  I named the cue, "Music to Edit By", knowing that, as editor, I would be editing this music in the scene as I edited the film.  I wrote repeated bars, long sustains, many variations of Jean Grey's theme to underscore Cyclops and Logan, as well as a Jean Grey moment when Xavier "senses" Jean.   The recording session was actually fun, especially with no picture to go by.  But would it work?  I had imagined the scene ending with a very long zoom into Xavier's face before we dissolved out to the lake to end the film.  What I didn't know is that Bryan changed his mind on the set and had Xavier read a book to the children as the camera pulls out.  And a magical thing happened:  I edited the music I had intended for his face and placed it over the shot pulling out as he read the story to the children.  I then faded out his voice, lingering on the shot and raised the music to bring us into the lake. It worked beautifully.  Bryan was in the other room as I was editing, and I immediately called him in, "Bryan get in here!  You've gotta see this."  (I immediately thought before he walked in, "If he doesn't like this I will KILL him!")  But he had the same reaction, and it became one of our favorite scoring moments. 

The Final Dub & Judging Scores from Albums

Walking into the final dubbing stage is like getting to that final level of Donkey Kong.  This moment I did not take for granted.  As editor, my job was to direct the dub, but at the same time the CD of the score was being edited, which I had very little time to supervise.  Cutting out 47 minutes from an album is painful and makes it nearly impossible to give full development of the themes in the film.  A final CD for a score of this length is sort of a sampler of sorts.  It's funny when scores are reviewed based upon a CD release.  Although the reviews of the X2 score were for the most part very positive, I began to think how nuts it is to judge a score from an album for two reasons:  Firstly, no one has any idea listening to an album how the music is working for the film - which is the main purpose and true art to film scoring.  Secondly, the cues are often so edited or missing, that proclamations about thematic development or theme presence is almost ludicrous to discuss sometimes.  When half of a score is missing from the album, those missing moments are often the thematic sinew that binds the score together.  Reviews should be based upon an album experience and reserve observations about the actual score until seeing the film and what the score is actually accomplishing to create that world.  Glad I got those points off my chest! :) 

But back to the dub:   I had to let go of soundtrack considerations and concentrate on the most important task - the final sound mix of the movie.  I often would make an executive decision to intentionally drop phrases and sections of music cues to avoid musical burn-out which is all too common these days.  Peaks and valleys is what we always strive for.  I also had to bury the score under some of the Cerebro mayhem moments, as we needed to hear key words like, "Kill the humans!" etc.  I really want to establish when doing the dub that there is not an agenda from the composer, and that instead the editor's sensibilities are directing the sound.  In this vein I sometimes erred too far and it was actually Bryan raising a cue from time to time.  My fear is that cues a director has not heard for quite awhile might suddenly seem alien.  As is always inevitable, there are little last minute music edits and rearrangements of bars here and there.  Fortunately I agreed with his wishes to do these things, and also fortunately the composer was there to direct this smoothly along with his trusty music editor, Ms. Goodpaster.

Now that it's all finished, I hope there's an X3 so I can expand upon the themes that were born in X2, and further the saga with new ones.  The question is who will be back and who will make new appearances???  ---   Stay tuned ...


What the Critics are Saying!

"...editor and composer John Ottman...imparts cool tension in his cutting and surging romanticism to his music." - Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

"...computer-generated images pop, wiggle and shimmy to the throb and roar of John Ottman's music." - A.O. Scott, New York Times

"The editing and suitably heavy-handed score by John Ottman are both top-notch." - Greg Weinkauf, Dallas Observer

"Things to remember? Most of the dramatic tension is caused by the score, a calamitous thing by John Ottman..." - Alastair Mckay, The Scotsman

"A big plus this outing is longtime Singer collaborator John Ottman, who performs the dual functions of editor and composer of a rousing, full-throttle score that really drives the movie." - Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter

"John Ottman, a Singer regular who did not work on "X-Men," returns to the fold to reassert his uniquely ambidextrous skills as an editor and, especially, as a composer with his own good ideas of how to score a mainstream picture." - Todd McCarthy, Variety

"Ottman delivers a beautiful, moving, and powerful score for X2, complete with an entertaining and memorable piece of theme music for the X-Men (one which I can hum, and for that I am thankful!). His score adds a real sense of strength to Singer's visuals, and one can't help but wish that Ottman had been around for the first X-film." - David Server, CountingDown.com

"John Ottman replaces a virtual army of composers and editors from the previous picture. Handling two key post-production chores is nothing new for Ottman -- he's done double-duty on all three previous collaborations with Singer as well as Urban Legends: Final Cut -- but Ottman has also never worked on a film as large or demanding as X2. That he is able to deliver Oscar-caliber work as both a composer and an editor ... is certain to go down as one of the most staggering achievements by any film artist or craftsman this year. " - Wade Major, Box Office Online Reviews