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URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT - Director John Ottman Video
The composer-editor (APT PUPIL, THE USUAL SUSPECTS) steps into the director's chair.
By Steve Biodrowski
September 21, 2000
The slasher film sub-genre received a shot in the arm with the blockbuster success of Scream
a few years ago. Since then, numerous sequels, follow-ups, and imitators have emerged; only the first sequel really matched the box office of the original, but by and large the films have been profitable, because they rely on the concept, rather than high-priced stars, to sell the product to viewers.
One such success was Urban Legends
, which earned approximately $40-million (versus a $14-million production cost) when it was released in 1998. In the wake of that success comes Urban Legends: Final Cut
, a sequel that abandons character continuity in favor of spinning a new tale from the same basic premise: a serial killer using urban legends as inspiration for his crimes. In the new scenario, film student Amy Mayfield (Jennifer Morrison) hits upon the idea of using (you guessed it) making a film about a serial killer using urban legends as inspiration for his crimes; unfortunately, life starts to imitate reality, when her crew begins dying in horrible ways that echo the scenes she's shooting.
The new film was directed by John Ottman, from a script by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson. This is Ottman's first feature-film directing gig, but he has an established career as a film editor and composer, having scored and cut such films as Apt Pupil
and The Usual Suspects
. Ottman also composed the music for Lake Placid
, a previous horror film from Phoenix Pictures, the company behind Urban Legends
, so it was only natural that he should make his directing debut on the sequel.
Below is an edited transcript of Fandom's video interview with Ottman, which can be viewed by clicking on these links (you will need RealPlayer video):John Ottman Video Interview, Part One
John Ottman Video Interview, Part TwoQUESTION:
BESIDES THE OBVIOUS REASON (THE FIRST FILM WAS SUCCESSFUL), WHY MAKE A SEQUEL TO URBAN
: Why? Well, I think that's why the studio wanted to make the film. Why I made it, was because I was looking to direct something. And it just came about as a surprise in a meeting I was having at Phoenix Pictures. I had worked with people in the past on a couple other films. And they knew me really well, and we had a really good relationship. And I just had a casual meeting with them one day to lay some seeds, telling them that, you know, at some point, I want to direct. I was supposed to go score X-Men
first, and come back, and look around for directing some, you know, independent film.
And then - before I was even able to get half my sentence out, they just said, 'Well, how 'bout directing this?' And I'm, 'What is that?' And it's Urban Legend II. And so I had some reservations about directing a sequel to a teen horror film. But that's basically why I did it...because I was handed it. And you...don't kick a gift horse in the mouth. And also, I liked the script and thought as a director I could show off a lot of different styles of film making within this genre, which offers a lot of opportunity for directors to show off - you know, suspense, sex scenes, loves scenes, chase scenes, all the sorts of things you can do that you might not be able to do in a gritty independent film.
WHAT ABOUT THE PROJECT OR THE SCRIPT APPEALED TO YOU AS A FIRST-TIME DIRECTOR?
Well, anyone who's gone through film school and reads this script has a good time reading it, 'cause it's about film school. And that's why I had a good time with it. And also, what I liked about it was that normally in these teen horror films, the reasons for the killer's murder spree is a little questionable or so confusing you don't know what the heck he - they - or why they really did it. To this day, I can't even explain why the person did it in Scream III
or Scream II
. Maybe I didn't know the series well enough, but I can't think right now what the reasons were. It was too confusing. And I thought, well, gee, actually, this one makes sense, you know, at its basis because of the genre.
It's all cheesy. But to me, it was the less cheesy of what I've read. Because the reason the murderer was doing these things made sense to me. And I thought, well, that's good. At least the whole film will headed in the direction where people wouldn't go, oh, this makes no sense at all. And that combined with the film making aspects of it is what made me interested in it, aside from the fact that it was offered to me too, [LAUGHTER] you know.
HOW MUCH INPUT DID YOU HAVE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROJECT?
A lot. I had a really good relationship with Phoenix 'cause we had worked together for so long on some other projects. And so they gave me a lot of control and faith. And so I sat with the writers early on, and we sort of developed the original script they had written to my liking. And sort of I infused my 'isms' into it. And we worked on it for a couple months - and so all along, they let me have a huge amount of input all the way from - you know, the casting was something that in the end - even though you always battle with the casting, I get my way. And so they were very supportive the whole way.
Nevertheless, the script was in flux all the way through until the end. We never really knew - even though we knew who the killer was gonna be and why the killer was gonna do what the killer did, we didn't know exactly how it was all going to resolve in the end. Because it wasn't really fleshed out very well. So we kind of went into this with a script that wasn't complete, so that was very frustrating. I mean, it was very hard on everyone. But we needed to hit a certain window in production to get the film out by a certain time. And let's face it, this kind of movie is a bread and butter kind of film.
So we just went in and dove into it with something that wasn't quite ready to go, and so that was hard. But I think ironically though, the end of the movie is the audience's favorite part of the film. So we ended up pulling it off, but it was very difficult.
WAS IT DIFFICULT TO FIND WAYS OF NOT SIMPLY REPEATING WHAT HAD BEEN DONE IN THE FIRST FILM. WERE THERE THAT MANY GOOD URBAN LEGENDS LEFT TO WORK WITH?
Well, that was sort of the audacity of making Urban Legends II
, [LAUGHTER] - there wasn't that much left to work with. And so how are we gonna make this movie? And so the answer was to make it a story that wasn't completely dependent upon urban legends but just included urban legends. In other words, if you removed the urban legends from this movie, you could still tell the story. And that's, I think, a lot of the strength in the story is that it's a strong story. I mean, it's a story that stands on its own without them. But - and they do play a major role in the movie. Let's not think they don't.
But it was hard, because there's not that many urban legends left to - that are murderous or creepy in nature. There's a ton of urban legends out there, but they're very innocuous, like, oh, my dog's a sewer rat. I mean, you know, you can't really build a murder scene around that. But we did our best to have the movie earn its title by having urban legends in the film. And I just hope people - - I mean, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't, when you make a sequel to a movie. Because in one way, you want the film to be different from the first ones, so people have something fresh and new to watch. But then some people will see it and go, oh, it wasn't enough like the first film. But then in the other way, you try to make it enough like the first movie where you're not alienating your audience. But if you make it too similar, you'll get lambasted for that as well. Like, oh, it's too much like the first film. So you really are screwed either way when you do a sequel. And so I try to make it different from the first movie. I think it has a definitely different feel to it and at that same time is still very much a part of the series. So we'll see what the reaction is.
CONTINUING IN THAT VEIN, THERE'S LITTLE CONTINUITY WITH THE FIRST FILM, WITH JUST ONE RETURNING CHARACTER. WAS THERE EVER ANY THOUGHT GIVEN TO MAKING THE CONCEPT BE THE ONLY REAL CONNECTINO BETWEEN THE MOVIES? AND ON THE OTHER HAND, WAS THERE EVER CONSIDRATION GIVEN TO MAKING A MORE DIRECT SEQUEL WITH SEVERAL RETURNING CHARACTERS?
No, there was never any consideration with that. We wanted to make a completely new story that stood on its own. In other words, you can see Urban Legends
not having seen the first movie, and you won't be lost at all. It's sort of like, in a way, you could see Aliens
not having seen the first movie and be fine. But, yeah, we made a conscious effort just to have Loretta Devine come back and reprise her role as Reece so that we had some continuity, so for those people watching the first movie would have someone they could relate to.
But there's nothing wrong with having a film franchise where in every film the cast changes. Although, if the film is successful enough and there is an Urban Legend III
, I would love to see our surviving cast members come back and be in the third one, which would be a blast.
ARE URBAN LEGENDS REALLY THAT RICH A SOURCE FOR HORROR FILMS? IT SEEMS AS IF THE MOVIE VERSIONS ARE OFTEN EMBELLISHED WITH MURDERS THAT DON'T TAKE PLACE IN THE STORIES THEMSELVES. FOR EXAMPLE, IT'S NOT ENOUGH TO HAVE THE MOMENT OF REALIZATION WHEN SOMEONE WAKES UP AND READS A MESSAGE WRITTEN IN BLOOD FROM A KILLER; IN THE FILM VERSION THE KILLER THEN JUMPS OUT WITH A KNIFE.
Absolutely. I mean, these legends are have to be spruced up to make them exciting. Again, they're not all that exciting unless you do something to them for the movie, especially the ones that were left over that we had [LAUGHTER] to deal with. But actually, we have a couple really good ones in the movie that are well known and really glad that we put one in, in the last minute, which is an extremely well known urban legend, probably more well known than any in the first movie, at least this one.
But, yeah, of course, you have to make them more exciting, and that's part of the difficult part in making a movie with the title Urban Legends
. But I think again, if you go in with the right expectations, then I think you can walk out saying, I had a good time. And that's the main point.
HAVING WORKED ON FILMS IN OTHER CAPACITIES MUST HAVE PREPPED YOU FOR GOING BEHIND THE CAMERA AS A DIRECTOR. WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST SURPRISE, THE THING YOU WERE LEAST PREPARED FOR WHEN YOU WERE ACTUALLY HELMING A FEATURE FILM FOR THE FIRST TIME?
I guess going in with my plan and walking out with a leg blown off sometimes. Because as an editor, I had a huge amount of shots that I wanted to do in a day, which was the good part, since I was organized enough to have a complete list detailed out down to the last, you know, frame and distributed my list religiously to the crew. But, you know, the fact is, when you have very little time to shoot a movie like this, you really can't get all the shots done. So you have to live with the fact that you're not gonna get all the shots you want.
And the learning experience was how to immediately put on your panic hat and figure out how to pull off a scene in a different way with much less shots and economize your time. I think I wasn't as much of a deer in headlights in that regard as I thought I would be. Because again, I had so much experience in the editing room, I pretty much could think on my feet. I guess that would be the biggest surprise, not that I wasn't expecting it. I knew that - - I know the time is short on shooting these films.
BOTH URBAN LEGENDS
FILMS WORK HARD TO KEEP THE POLICE OUT OF THE STORY. WHY IS THAT?
Well, that's part of the genre, not just Urban Legends
. I mean, you always got to keep the police out of the story. But we knew that was a problem. And when we tried to make this more smart than these movies, we actually decided to head off the subject. We tried to bring up the subject and just be head on with it. In other words, we brought it up in the film. Why don't you go the police? And so we thought of this sort of reason why they can't go to the police. It's sort of an illusion to it. We never really give the specific reason. But one of the characters says, we can't go, because I have a bad history, basically. And if we go, then I'm gonna get arrested because of other things I've done. So we really can't go to them. And also, Reece, the security guard, implies to our lead, Amy - and she says, look, if you're the police, nothing's gonna happen. They're just gonna chalk this up as some sort of, you know, vandalism, and it's gonna go nowhere. Believe me, I've been there and nothing's gonna - so basically, we did bring it up ourselves so that people wouldn't go, why don't they go the police?
And so it's a risky thing to do that, because we actually reminding the audience all the time about the police. But we hope that by bringing it up, then people wouldn't ask that question. And so far, I think we were pretty successful. And in the screenings we've had, I think the question is asked far less than most often in these movies. And only a couple people would bring it up. But then, other people in the test groups would go, oh, but they mentioned that. So I mean, we'll see.