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[whitespace] John Ottman Tired of Being Captain Kirk: John Ottman used to dress up his San Jose garage to look like the deck of the 'Enterprise' until he decided that his real future lay behind the camera.

'Legend' in the Making

San Jose composer John Ottman steps up to directing with 'Urban Legends: Final Cut'

By Richard von Busack

FROM EARLY ENDEAVORS playing James Tiberius Kirk in the family garage in South San Jose, John Ottman has gone on to a respectable film career, editing and composing the music for the instant classic The Usual Suspects. Ottman makes his debut as a director this week with Urban Legends: Final Cut. Ottman's approach to the budding franchise is to brew up a Brian De Palma-style broth of reality and fantasy into a story of a masked killer picking off film-school students.

One of Ottman's concerns is that Urban Legends: Final Cut will be released during the "Enough, already!" stage of audience awareness. Ottman's film has to follow the hatchet job that Scary Movie did on the Scream trilogy and the other teen-slasher films. "It scares the hell out of me," Ottman admits. "The Urban Legend series is different than the Scream series, in that our series takes stuff seriously, even though the genre is ludicrous in its face: no one serial killer could do all the things that he does. Here, the humor is organic to the story."

Ottman stresses that you don't have to have seen the first Urban Legend to watch his sequel. The lone carryover (since something terrible happened to most of the cast in the first film) is the security guard Reese (Loretta Devine). She carries the tale of the murderer inspired by urban legends who prowled the gothic university in the first film.

Hearing of the mayhem, some film-school students at a fictional school pick up on the murders as an idea for their class project. Ottman shot the action at Peterborough University, "a fantastic location about an hour outside Toronto. I thought since this is supposed to be the world's most prestigious film program, it would be better to have a modern institution, with very bizarre architecture, very hard-edged, severe. The only drawback: I'd written a bell tower into the plot, in the spirit of Hitchcock, and Peterborough had no bell tower. It was a budget-buster: we had to build a 150-foot tower."

OTTMAN'S FIRST MOVIES were made at home in his parent's garage in the Pearl/Capitol Expressway area. "I just got with it," Ottman says. "I was pretty young, and the original Star Trek series was the meaning of life to me. So I started putting up fake cardboard computers in the garage, and I got my friends together to stand around on the bridge of the Enterprise. Eventually, I got tired of being Captain Kirk. Being in front of the camera wasn't for me." Naturally, Ottman was a fiend for movies. "Write down that I saw The Empire Strikes Back 12 times at the Century 22! I used to go to the movies at the big domes by the Winchester Mystery House. The longest lines I've ever seen were there. When I moved to L.A., I was shocked at how short the lines to the movies were."

Having planned on becoming a director, Ottman got much more work writing music for films. "I played clarinet in the Gunderson High School marching band, but then I dropped out," he says. "It was later when I got a MIDI that I could start composing film music as a kind of a hobby. I was editing Bryan Singer's Public Access [which debuted at the 1993 Cinequest in San Jose] "when the composer dropped out in the 11th hour. It was the first time I tried editing and scoring at the same time, and it all came together." Later, Ottman scored and edited Singer's The Usual Suspects, and the neglected Stephen King film Apt Pupil.

Some directors are known for composing their films to music, but Ottman says he doesn't work that way: "No, composing is the last thing that gets done. Composing is the last great hope of a film, a last chance to save the soul of a movie. I'm pretty much schizophrenic; when I'm making movies, I wear a different hat. I get preoccupied in the scene and try to think of the scene's theme, without any sounds." When I ask if there are any film soundtracks he's liked lately, Ottman replies, "You know what happens. When you work at what you used to do for fun, what you used to do for fun reminds you of work. I'd rather go play miniature golf or scrabble. It's embarrassing to admit it, but I only go see about two movies a year. Directing a movie takes a year and a half, and with that investment of time, you'd better think your movie is the greatest thing ever. As a composer, though, the film takes two months. If the film's a disaster, you can crawl out from under a rock all the earlier."

Debuting with a franchise film could be good for Ottman; film history is full of sequels that were better than their originals. "At first," Ottman says, "I was wondering whether I was going to do a sequel or go on to a more intelligent kind of film. But a franchise movie has a preordained structure, so there's a lot of fun things you can do, and you can have a good time. And I'd love to work with the cast again. It would really great to do Urban Legend 3 if this does good enough."

Urban Legends: Final Cut (R; 100 min.), directed by John Ottman, written by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson, photographed by Brian Pearson and starring Joey Laurence and Jennifer Morrison opens Friday valleywide.

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From the September 21-27, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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