Science-Fiction Filme) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think you´re work have got a huge fan base here in Germany. Especially because for films like ALIEN: RESSURECTION, 13 GHOSTS or DANTE´S PEAK of course. But also for television series like THE FOLLOWING. A lot of movie maniacs know the films you´re involved. Could you please tell us what you did before you come into filmbusiness. Why have you choose the way of being into composing?
John Frizzell) As a kid, I sang at church and then got hired to sing in the children’s chorus for the Metropolitan Opera Company and the The Paris Opera Company. But that all ended abruptly, when my voice changed. I started playing rock guitar and later discovered jazz. I went on to study music at USC and Manhattan School of Music. Then I figured out how to make a living scoring TV commercials in New York; and got a reputation for scoring commercials that needed a cinematic tone. A friend recommended me to Ryuichi Sakamoto who hired me to orchestrate on synthesizer or ‘synthestrate’ for him on the mini series, Wild Palms.
SFF) You started with television films as a composer for the branch. But before that you did a lot more in the world of music. How did your first involvement in film come about?
J.F.) After working with Ryuichi Sakamoto, I knew I had to really try to score films. I couldn’t stand the advertising business so I basically quit and started over. I was introduced to James Newton Howard and, eventually, got the opportunity to co-compose the scores to two films with him; The Rich Man’s Wife and Dante’s Peak.
SFF) Do you have any personal idols or role models in your business? Is there a movie or an event which make you think: “I want to do the same thing.”?
J.F.) James Newton Howard has had the biggest influence on me. It’s not just the amazing depth of his music but the way he works, the attention to detail, the pursuit of always pushing yourself to do better. James has really been my role model all along.
SFF) Not only do you have a distinctive way of dealing with music, but you also use very unusual instruments, which makes your compositions always "different" and extremely audible. Where does your soft spot for this kind of music come from?
J.F.) I have always enjoyed exploring odd sounds and interesting synthetic sounds. I often set a goal to incorporate electronic or synthesized sounds that can not be distinguished from acoustic ones yet are non-imitative. So I like to say that if someone asks me the question if something is acoustic or electronic, the answer is ‘yes!’.
SFF) You don't only compose for films, but also work for documentaries or TV series or specials. How do these different projects differ in terms of your compositions? Let's take ZAPPA as an example. Isn't it incredibly difficult to write a score about a brilliant man who has also done brilliant compositions?
J.F.) Yes! I was terrified to write music for Zappa. Alex Winter the director was really amazing in helping me understand Frank Zappa’s appreciation of film music. I just didn’t want to put music under images of Frank Zappa that he would have hated. I feel great about how the film came out and reasonably sure Frank Zappa would have not hated my score? I sure hope so. I have so much respect for Zappa it can’t be put into words, so honoring his music and life means everything to me.
SFF) While we are on the subject of other genius composers. A question you've probably been asked more than once: are there any great film music artists who, in your opinion, have made a lasting difference to film music? And if so, why?
J.F.) So many, in addition to Morricone and Goldsmith and of course Williams, I really love the film work of Prokofiev and Copland and Corigliano
SFF) How do you prepare yourself as a composer for projects like GODS AND GENERALS?
J.F.) I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. I tried to imagine what I would feel being a solider in the 20th Maine- being almost certain I would die an awful painful death. I wrote that score with that in mind and all the other unimaginable anguish and human suffering associated with war.
SFF) Over the last few years I have interviewed a number of artists who worked on the first four parts of ALIEN, such as Dennis and Robert Skotak, Gino Acevedo, Brian Johnson, Alec Gillis or Mark Rolston. Only from the fourth part so far none (except Mr. Gillis). And since I'm a big fan of this series I just have to ask you about ALIEN: RESSURECTION. First of all, how did you get into this engagement?
J.F.) My great friend Daniel Schweiger urged me to to try to submit my score to a film called ‘The Empty Mirror’ to Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I was just starting my career and was certain i would never have a shot at the job. Daniel kept asking me what happened and I said ‘nothing’ and he pressed me to to send in my music again… and again and again.. And the somehow, Jean-Pierre listened. From there it went really quickly and i was hired right away.
SFF) Each of the first four films has its own style, its own approach to the ALIEN mythos. Each film bears the director's signature. And so the music sounds accordingly. While Goldsmith brought a lot of subliminal gothic variations with his atonal style for the first part, Horner brought action back into the game in the second part. Goldenthal brought a gloomy sacral mood into the series. Your composition also reflects the way Jeunet directs films. Many skillful gimmicks and a great summary of the previous three parts paired with an immense force of your own shares. How did you approach this composition? What were your intentions?
J.F.) If I had to pick an attribute of my score, I would say sexuality and sensuousness. Perhaps it is an erotic score? I tried to create themes that were dark and sexy at the same time.
SFF) One of, if not my favorite track of the score is THEY SWIM..., because it simply contains everything that makes up the whole score: fast change, pompous music, exciting build-up, recognizable sequences. Does the music come to you while you are watching the film in the rough cut or right away while reading the script?
J.F.) Thanks on ‘They Swim’. This is the most difficult cue I have ever written to this day. It took me about three weeks to write the cue and Jean-Pierre wasn't crazy about it the first time he heard it. I was crushed and hid under my sheets in dispair for a couple days then wrote another version. Jean-Pierre didn’t like version two either. Panic set in and I wrote a third. The final cue is a hybrid of version 1 and versions 3. It was a challenging creative process but those are the best kind right?
SFF) ALIEN 3 had the problem at the premiere that he was absolutely misunderstood. Only years later did his star really rise. The same can be said of the fourth part. what do you say to these perpetual criticisms? Has this become part of our culture, to first talk everything down?
J.F.) I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about things I have finished. I put every bit of myself into it when I am doing it and give myself completely to the film. People who don’t ever create stuff often have the most opinions and I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. Office Space was a similar experience. few people understood the film was genius when we finished it. Seems like everyone is a fan now.
SFF) I am really into science fiction (or fantasymovies in general) because I think, that those kind of movies are the best way to show actual political and social events. For example SOYLENT GREEN or SILENT RUNNING. Do you believe that these genres can transfer something to the people? Would it make sense to return to this tradition in today's difficult socio-political times? The transport of overcoming social problems through entertainment films?
J.F.) Sci-fi can be a pretty good ‘warning system’ for a culture or society. I think the book 1984 is a good example. Satire can do this well too; Jonathan Swift and Voltaire come to mind. To me, films and literature are to a society as dreams are to an individual. I think films express our cultural unconscious to some degree. In the same way, it’s unhealthy for a human not to dream while sleeping, it’s also a problem for a culture not to create stories. And in the same way you can get an idea of what is going on with a person with what they dream about, you can read into a society by what stories are created and are popular.
SFF) We all have our favorite movies. Mine is PHASE IV for example. But which movies do you really don´t like and why?
J.F.) Which movies do I not like? Most.. hah. I like very few movies, so I don’t like 99.9 percent of movies. Ha hah
SFF) Do you know which movie is my Guilty Pleasure? GHOST SHIP to which you also contributed the music. I love this movie because it praises the genre and at the same time it is ironic. When you look at your work, you can see that you have also set music to a lot of genre films especially during the mid 90s til mid 00s. Do you have a weakness for genre films?
J.F.) I’m glad people enjoy that film. It is an odd one for sure. Also, I get alot of people telling me they really love Thirteen Ghosts, its become a bit of cult thing perhaps? Again, I just put myself completely into these and pushed to make something compelling and terrifying.
SFF) You have written film music for many horror films. What actually scares you?
J.F.) Nihilism. I’m terrified of nihilism. I have spent most of my life trying to identify if an avoid it.
SFF) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
J.F.) My favorite film I have scored and most enjoyable creative process was 2022’s Beavis and Butt-head Do the Universe. Bringing those two idiots back means everything to me and I was thrilled. I’m really grateful to have won an HMMA award for my score. More than anything I want to do more animation. I just love it.
SFF) Hand on heart: Which film would you have liked to be involved in?
J.F.) The Matrix, but I couldn’t have done as good a job as Don. He’s just too good.
SFF) What tips do you have for prospective composers who would like to work on feature films?
J.F.) Hmm. Study works of music you love. I do what I call ‘musical autopsies’ on the great works.. I spend years studying them and figuring out what makes them tick. Then keep showing up and be really stubborn and never give up.
SFF) I held up with the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult project you were working on and why?
J.F.) Difficult in the sense of ‘challenging’ or difficult in the sense of frustrating? I seek out ‘challenging difficulty’ all the time. Dante’s Peak was extremely difficult in terms of how little time I had to write it. Something like four weeks for the whole thing. I hardly slept. But, I found out I could do that. It really stretched me early on to realize I could take alot of pressure and in some strange way, I kind of like it.
SFF) Dear Mr. Frizzell. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.
J.F.) Thank you so much!