The Usual Suspects / 1995 Composed / Edited

The Usual Suspects / 1995
Suite from The Usual Suspects
# Title Duration
Main Theme 3:42
Getting On Board 2:56
The Story Begins 1:09
Payback Time 1:39
Farewell Fenster 0:45
"He's Here!" 1:48
The Garage 2:25
Verbal Kint 2:09
Keyser Appears 2:34
"It Was Beautiful" 1:18
The Arrests 1:17
Redfoot 1:39
New York's Finest 1:46
Kobayashi's Domain 2:22
The Killing of a Rat 3:29
"I Work For Keyser Søze" 1:37
The Faces of his Family 1:45
The Plan Begins 1:56
Back to the Pier 3:37
Casing the Boat 1:55
A Gift 1:39
The Greatest Trick 3:18
The Water 2:33
Les Sons Et Les Parfums Tournent Dans L'Air Du Soir ( Claude Debussy - Performed by Jon Kull, Piano) 3:30

Director's Quote

"John astounds me with his seemingly endless ability to do anything. Not only does he constantly surprise me with his genius as a film editor, but he has invariably gone on to flabbergast all of us with his evocative and inspiring music."
- Bryan Singer

View a sample score sheet from "Main Theme"

John's Thoughts

Suspects was the film to throw tradition on its head, and I've tried to keep it that way ever since. From the way the score was recorded to the minuscule team I worked with, this film was testament to the argument that the cat can be skinned in many different ways to achieve the same goals. The scary part is that all the techniques I was attempting were pretty much uncharted territory. The doomsayers said it would never work. All I knew was that it had to.

Two people comprised my music team: Larry Groupé, who was working a full time job as a composer at Network Music (a music library company), and Damon Intrabartolo, a 20 year-old full-time student at the USC School of Music. Larry conducted and did orchestration and Damon did transcription. That was it.

Financial constraints forced me into making a little go a long way. The room in which the score was recorded was so small that we couldn't fit the entire orchestra in all at once. So we recorded the score multiple times with each section separately. The first two days we recorded the 38 strings, whose elbows practically rubbed the walls. I was able to foster the technique of "multiple-passing" the strings (which simply meant stacking three separate performances of string parts on top of one other) in order to create an almost larger-than-life sonic experience and great mix control of the string section. The next day was brass, then woods (3 of them recorded or stacked twice), then harp, percussion, and so on. Knowing the film like the back of my hand, we also saved a tremendous amount of time recording without a picture reference. I knew that if the click was correct, it had to be matching. Right? - I kept trying to reassure myself. And it was right. We interlocked the score to picture when we mixed it, and it fit like a glove - every hit was perfect.

Damon got to wear the hat of pianist when our originally scheduled player was only able to record the two title cues (that fiasco began at 12am and ended at 3am). As he grew weary, creative mixing kept his performance intact.

Suspects really was the genesis of recording methods and a reverence for the unconventional that I've carried with me throughout all my films. I've finally budged and now use newfangled equipment on stage like the Auricle. (And it is a Godsend.) But I still overdub my strings for power and control, as well as other techniques I'll never give up.

Juicy Suspects tidbits are plentiful. Here are two: Because a lot of the voice-over had been performed by me throughout the editing process, certain parts that Spacey did not replace in the dialog track remain. For instance any breathing you hear in foreground as we look from behind the ropes later in the film is me, my cameo I guess. One of many examples of other tidbits: In the Suspects script, there was never any explanation of how Kuyan was in New York one moment and in an Los Angeles Police department the next. It was confusing. So I grabbed an airplane shot that was shot for later in the film, wrote some dialog about Kuyan leaving a message on his voice mail and going to LA and dubbed it in. The weirdest part of the process was hearing the actual actors voices instead of mine throughout the film for voice-overs I had dubbed in.

Another tidbit was my other "cameo" in the film created because we decided to change a storyline: We decided to eliminate a subplot of a bomb being set by Keaton to blow up the ship. (All that remains of it now is Keaton asking Keyser in the opening, "What time is it?" This was because he knew the bomb he set was going to go off. Ever wonder why he asked that???) Anyway, we now had no way for the ship to catch fire and explode. So we mocked up a deck of the ship in Bryan's backyard. We put a glove on my hand and I dropped the cigarette, and then Bryan put on a boot and stepped on it. The close up of a burned skeleton on the pier was also done in the backyard on a little deck we placed on the cement. Ok and by now, many have recognized that I used a shot of 747 approaching for the taxi sequence, and a DC10 landing. It's simply because we had no shot of the 747 landing from the back, but the shot from the front was one of the few 2nd unit shots that was really cool; so I made the decision to use it and screw continuity. Then I made the scene comprised of jump cuts, so not many noticed.

Reminescent of Public Access's optical disaster we had a scary and painful incident occur after the first couple days of shooting Suspects. We were sitting in dailies watching the footage of Verbal in Kuyan's office, which was 75% of what was shot for him in that location, as well as many shots of Kuyan. Every shot of him had a large black bar on the left of the frame, creating a smaller frame for Verbal to fit into. Since the film was shot in Super 35mm (very wide) we thought the projectionist had the setting incorrect for viewing the film. Unfortunately, the projectionist had the settings correct. Suddenly a spontaneous sweat broke across the room as we realized the scenes had been SHOT that way. The camera's setting was set for another screen size. The short of the story is that we had to optically blow up all of these shots of Verbal until the image filled out the screen again. This created an on-going nightmare of dirt and grain problems until it finally looked right. In the theatre you could tell these shots were slightly out of focus and grainier, but it's impossible to see on laser disk. Once again we had many more optical "effects" than met the eye!

Hidden Camera at the Usual Suspects Recording Session

I recently found this dusty video tape in my closet of the string sessions for the Suspects scoring in October 1994. The camera doesn't do much but sit cock-eyed on the mixing console looking at musician's heads and listening to jibber-jabber off camera, but if you know the score it's fun to see the strings actually perform their parts. This was way back when I talked like an idiot at the sessions, whistling and humming passages to clarify what I had written as opposed to communicating them in musical terms. It was quite an education. The joys of hearing the score live is evident in the atmosphere. Voices of friend Stephanie Sellars (who brought the camera), Damon Intrabartolo, me, the engineers and Larry Groupé.

I moved from the valley in Los Angeles to the West Hollywood area shortly before The Usual Suspects was released. After living for one week in my apartment, I hadn't realized that from my balcony you could see lit up on Sunset Boulevard the billboard to Suspects. It was surreal standing there and looking at it. This little film labored over for so many months and then stuck in a can for a year had finally surfaced in a big way - at least bigger than we were accustomed.

From left to right:
Ottman, Singer, McQuarrie and Kokin