Urban Legends: Final Cut / 2000 Composed / Edited / Directed

Urban Legends: Final Cut / 2000
Suite from Urban Legends
# Title Duration
Welcome to Alpine / Amy's Theme 1:20
The Tower 5:06
It's Going to be Ok / Cold Night 1:19
Meeting Trevor 3:51
Puppy Chow 3:59
I Know a Good Story 1:20
Sandra's Missing 2:47
The Scoring Stage 7:25
The Gods of Men 1:00
I Trusted You 4:06
The Way It Is 1:31
Disturbing Dailies 1:52
Tunnel of Terror 3:33
Daydream 1:30
Midnight Scream 2:28
Mile High Club 3:28
Conjecture 1:27
The Grate 0:45
Hitchhiked 2:43
Final Showdown 7:40
Amy's Shoot 1:31
A Soulmate / Alfred Hitchcock Theme 2:58
Over It* - performed by Amanda Gonzales 4:00
Wrong* - performed by John Torres 3:41

John's Thoughts

Over a year ago when I began the adventure of Urban Legends, I knew that the recording of the score would mark a milestone; it would signal the end of a long journey. At the time it seemed a distant fantasy, but when on May 26th I stepped into Arco Studios in Munich, I didn't take the moment for granted. The score was written and a year's creative angst behind me. All that remained was getting through 70 minutes of music in 30 hours, plus a few more weeks of finishing up my film. So being on that recording stage was surreal.

Most of the worry revolved around wondering if the sheet music was going to make it from LA for the next day's sessions. Sure enough, upon our arrival in Munich, three boxes of music didn't make it. I kept saying, "I knew it, I knew it!!" to everyone's irritation. No matter how long I stared at the luggage turnstile, those boxes were never going to slide out! So the night before recording was a nail-biter, tracking them down in Los Angeles. At 5AM before our first session, the last box flew in. Life on the edge!

Upon driving up to the outside of the recording studio in Munich, we weren't exactly at ease. The outside looked as if perhaps at one time the building was used for horse stables. But upon stepping inside, I was relieved to see no stacks of hay, but a real (and very blue) recording studio within.

Language barriers didn't prove to be much of a problem; although my oft-incoherent jet-lagged speech from the control room was probably more difficult to decipher than any German in the room. The Munich Symphony did a wonderful job diving into a tremendous amount of material, and conductor Damon Intrabartolo kept us on a frenetic track.

In this genre of film, characters are given very little time to meet the audience, and the composer's task becomes more daunting in terms of creating mini-themes that must form an immediate connection to them in snippet-like time. Amy's "theme" is two 8-note piano motifs that change hands throughout the score depending on the mood. Her theme has its brief orchestral resolution near the end of "Final Showdown." The character of Trevor has a mysterious, yet longing four-note clarinet motif which can often be heard intertwining with Amy's. This makes its debut on the CD about halfway into "Meeting Trevor." Two "mystery themes" play in moments of suspicion: One is darkly chordal in nature; the other more magical with piano and celeste. These two short themes briefly combine in the beginning of the "The Tower." Over-all the score hints that there is more of a thriller atmosphere, with homages to Hitchcock's era best touched upon in the action sections of the "Tower" cue. (Why else would I have had the writers put a bell tower into the script?!) You can also catch a bit of the original Urban Legend piano motif in the cues, "I Know a Good Story" and "Soulmate," as these scenes hint to the original film. I always wanted to use a wind machine in the percussion section, so listen for that imbedded with bowed gong. It's always fulfilling when acoustic instruments can create as strange a sound as a synthesizer might be used for.

Some of the action cues were a real work-out and hopefully will be fun to listen to. I hope you enjoy the strange world of Urban Legends: Final Cut.



When doing the editing on films that I score I sort of disciplined myself in the art of disassociation so that when I scored them, I would have objectivity to the process. With UL2 I had to also apply that disassociation to the editing after having just directed the film. At first I was not as objective. It's hard when you spend a couple agonizing days in cold weather with 150 extras and a huge impressive crane shot to, just a few weeks later, decide to cut the whole scene from the film. So when putting on the editor's cap this time around, it took a little adjustment. But I'm blessed by the fact that I tend not to remember tidbits like what we ate that day of shooting, or how hard it was to get a shot off. It all kind of blurs together later, which helped me not be too attached to sequences. In a couple weeks I was back on track in the editing room as if someone else had directed this thing. I'll probably be a schizofrenic mental patient later in life.

But editing UL2 was a learning experience because of its genre. The creative compulsion to linger on a shot, study a character has little place in this type of movie. This film's audience is used to MTV, and come in with expectations of all hell breaking loose, and they want it yesterday. This was challenging in that as the director I wanted the film to have a bit of a thriller feel and world that was a little more believable in a genre which has dubious believability from the onset! But my belief is that the more realistic a film feels to the audience, the more impact the plight of its characters will have on the audience later. So, yeah I really wanted the film to breath a little bit more editorially, but the evolution of this genre is demanding a lightning pace. I mean look at the trailer for goodness sakes! This is one reason these films do not have lengthy opening title sequences - which I LOVE to watch in films! I originally was going to have the credits of the film float through the clouds of the opening flight sequence, ending as the camera entered the passenger window of the 747. But in this genre, spending just two minutes on the front end would make the first act of the film drag. So all the credits went to the end of the film. Knowing this might be the case, I filmed a long sequence for the end of the film for the titles play over -- and it's one of my favorite sequences, leaving the audience - who chooses to stay - with just the feel I wanted them to leave with; not to mention a catchy piece of music everyone can hum on their way out of the theater. (The "Alfred Hitchcock" Theme.)

I'm glad that I was able to include my editing stylistics in some places, especially in a genre one would think unsuitable for them. The Tower montage was fun to design as well as Amy's daydream where all the characters appear in the mask. I shot all the actors facing camera saying key lines from their parts. No one knew what the hell I was doing, and I wasn't even sure what sort of montage I was going to create. But I thought it was important to show Amy's pre-occupation with the suspects around her and her suspicions. What better effective way to relay this than in a montage. This was different from most scenes like this that I've designed in the past. Instead of cuts, I used dissolves of the characters over a static shot of the mask, back-dropped by Amy jogging in the woods. In the end of the sequence Amy herself appears in the mask creating that imprisonment feel. (Remember when Luke appeared in Darth Vader's mask? Kinda like that!) But as usual, a lot of the editing was audio in nature - taking the voices of the characters, some unseen like Reese saying "Trust me" and using them to paranoid effect. Toby, Reese and Trevor all say "Trust me" in the film, so I over-lapped them to enhance the suspicious pastiche.

I had also done a flashback scene where Amy recounted the events of her perilous night in the Tunnel of Terror. I had filmed the killer actually leaving the tunnel as she ran to show that he simply let her go. This gave us the opportunity to, upon reflection, realize that the only way she was escaping was because he was intentionally letting her escape. (This part of the scene will be on the DVD as an extra.) When reflecting upon the story, it made the events more realistic. BUT, I ended up deciding to edit it out because in test screenings we felt it in the theater that no one cared about that. Just get to the next killing! Ugh. So it was interesting how the demographic of your audience dictates the creativity of the film. If this had been a Usual Suspects-like audience, the scene would have remained.

I do strongly believe in orientating the audience geographically in a film's story, however. In this regard, the opening of the film takes a moment to establish the setting. We could have cut it all out, but then this disorientation, I believe, effects the reality of the experience. You want the audience to BELIEVE that this IS the setting of the movie, and not some soundstage. Medavoy, at Phoenix, also being a big believer in this, allowed me to get another 75 extras for a single shot in the film. As Amy jogs past some buildings in the opening, the passage of time is reflected by having a few students change into 75 via locked off camera and a dissolve. This also showed that there was a real student population to believe existed. (Even though the shot only shows Amy from behind, Jenny insisted she do it herself, as she was concerned what girl's butt we might use! So she stayed up all night after shooting just to run into that shot. That's when we created the nick name for her, Hot Ass.)