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Ottman, John (b. 1964)  
 
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In 1993, Ottman was asked by Singer to edit Public Access, his first feature-length film. When the scheduled composer dropped out after most phases of the production had been completed, Ottman persuaded his friend to give him a chance to score the film.

Thus, with the minimal equipment that he had assembled in his home, Ottman created his first feature-length musical composition. Ottman did not yet own a computer and relied solely upon a music sequencer, a couple of sound modules, and an electronic keyboard to create the entire score. Because Public Access did not have sufficient budget for an orchestra, the music was largely left in electronic form, although the sound engineer played guitar in some places to enrich the effect.

Sponsor Message.

As Ottman explained to Mike Shapiro in 1995, he sought to create "disturbing, dark, and twisted" music to complement the mood of Singer's film. Because Public Access was considered too unsettling to be shown in mainstream theaters in the United States, Ottman's provocative score has been heard by relatively few people (despite the DVD release in 1999). However, Public Access was released theatrically in Europe, and it attracted significant attention within the international independent film community. In 1993, it received the Grand Jury Prize for a dramatic film at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as the Critics Award at the Deauville [France] Film Festival.

Because of his association with Public Access, Ottman was quickly stereotyped (even by the many people who had not seen it) as a composer of dark films, and he only recently has been given significant opportunities to develop more lighthearted compositions.

In 1993, Ottman also produced another full-length score for a very different sort of film. Denied permission to reproduce the original music by Frank DeVol, Gemstone Entertainment commissioned Ottman to re-score the classic John Wayne western McClintock! (1963) for video release. Within three weeks, he created a new score, over one hour long. Because DeVol's music was literally married to the original film, much of the original dialogue had to be re-dubbed by other actors. Obviously, that factor limited the appeal (and consequently the distribution) of this release, despite Ottman's melodic and heartfelt score.

The Usual Suspects

In 1995, Ottman collaborated with Singer on The Usual Suspects, a neo-noir thriller that would change the course of both their careers. When he arranged to direct Usual Suspects, Singer insisted that Ottman be hired as both editor and composer. Because Ottman had not yet been involved with any motion picture that had been commercially released in the United States, producers feared that he would not fulfill these responsibilities adequately. Fortunately, Singer was able to deflect the repeated efforts of producers to intervene in Ottman's editing and scoring by enforcing provisions of their contracts that guaranteed their creative independence.

Because of constraints of time and funding, Ottman had to edit the picture within three months, although the editing of a film of this complexity normally would take five months. Virtually all of the film was edited on an old and cumbersome Steenbeck flatbed machine, set up in Ottman's living room. He showed notable resourcefulness in resolving mistakes in the filming process. For instance, he had to correct thick black bars that covered approximately 25% percent of each of the frames of a very important sequence, which could not be reshot. Therefore, he painstakingly blew up the good portion of each frame in order to salvage the segment.

In editing Usual Suspects, Ottman consistently favored performance over continuity, although he did try to establish logical flow, whenever possible. In a few places, his determination to feature the most powerful moments of acting meant that he was compelled to accept inconsistencies in props and in other minor details. In order to strengthen the portrayal of the characters, he effectively rewrote the script: rearranging parts of the dialogue, entirely cutting out statements that he considered ineffective, and, occasionally, even inserting some new dialogue to clarify transitions.

To encourage the audience to focus upon personalities, Ottman employed extensive close-ups, sometimes shifting quickly from one face to another, to emphasize interactions. Yet, despite this emphasis, Usual Suspects also deliberately frustrates efforts to understand all of the characters. Establishing the theme of mystery in the opening sequence of a burning ship, Ottman interwove close-up shots of the face of one of the protagonists, Keaton, with images of the torso and limbs of a mysterious and ultimately unidentifiable figure.

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