MICHAEL WANDMACHER (2011)

March 2, 2011 | By

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Drive Crazy is Michael Wandmacher’s latest film score for director Patrick Lussier (after My Bloody Valentine 3D), but it’s vastly different compared to his prior work in the horror realm.

Piranha 3D (2010) is an orchestral & electronic gnashing of sounds meant to accent the feeding frenzy of prehistory piranha fish, whereas Cry_Wolf (2005) is a largely electronic, and is built around a simple melodic hook that reflects a group of doomed snotty students trying to solve a series of nasty murders when a prank goes very, very wrong.

Lussier’s car-friendly film is about rage on the road, the raging revenge of a grandfather named Milton (Nicolas Cage) determined to save his daughter from a satanic cult, and people going through life with rage and intolerance for others (if not humanity as a whole) – making Wandmacher’s blend of heavy bluegrass and rock letter-perfect.

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Mark R. Hasan: Drive Angry is your third 3D film, and you’re probably one of the few composers to have scored so many in the format, if not in such rapid succession.

Michael Wandmacher: It’s true… and if [director Patrick Lussier] keeps going the way he’s going, that’ll probably be a trend that continues.

MRH: Was Drive Angry a project that Patrick had already lined up after making My Bloody Valentine, or was it something that was on his mind and had yet to be written?

MW: As far as I know, the story (and I’m paraphrasing this, and culling it from Todd Farmer, the co-writer) was Lionsgate had turned down the idea of doing a sequel to My Bloody Valentine, and so Patrick and Todd weren’t really sure what was next after that.

It was just odd to them that with a film as successful as My Bloody Valentine, [Lionsgate] wouldn’t want to do a sequel, so they just decided they were going to sit down and write a script, and do a spec and see what happened… Millennium Films decided they wanted to make it. Nicolas Cage loved the script, got attached, and off they went. It was just a straightforward turn of events.

MRH: And did Lussier ask you to score the film with some advance ideas, or were you brought onto the project when they started filming?

MW: I was brought on right away. Patrick usually likes to assemble his team pre- and post-principle photography as early as he can, and if I’m available and he wants to work with me, he’ll try to get me signed on before they even start shooting… In this case there were pre-records involved, so I had to do some arrangements before shooting even started.

There’s a bar scene in the film where I had to take the song “Sandman” by the band America and re-arrange it as a bluegrass song that was being played in the bar. It’s actually very appropriate to the film, but it was something where the band was actually performing the song during the scene, and there are actually quite a few cutaways to the singer and the performers.

MRH: Was the bluegrass song something you suggested or did it came out of your discussions with Patrick?

MW: It was originally Patrick’s idea to do a bluegrass style version of something. We went through a bunch of songs. We were trying to find things that were appropriate to the script, appropriate to the characters, and also trying to find songs that were available and that we could afford. Once we had read the lyrics and found out [“Sandman”] was available, that seemed the most appropriate.

He just wanted it to be more upbeat, so we changed the tempo quite a bit; it’s a very traditional bluegrass ensemble, and we inserted the lyrics and made it work.

MRH: Nicolas Cage has a certain screen presence and acting style. Were there any aspects of his performance that inspired you to change the original concept of certain themes and cues?

MW: I don’t know if it affected my scoring process so much as I guess I was lucky… We knew from the get-go – you can even tell fro the title – that there was nothing subtle at all in the movie. Everything was going to be very much in your face; very aggressive, straightforward… It was all about making it as big and gnarly and forward moving with a lot of momentum as possible.

The big nod in the movie was to tip the hat to seventies and early eighties kind of AOR album rock, as opposed to the really over-produced, alt-rock type of things that people are listening to now. It wouldn’t have felt right in this movie; it’s just not that vibe.

MRH: What I like so much about the bluegrass combination – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, really fat electric bass and drums – is that you can come up with the nastiest groove imaginable, making a sequence really edgy in a way that’s not really possible with electronics.

MW: No, it’s very basic, it’s very primal, and it speaks to a lot of people on some level… It’s a very charged kind of music, and at its core it’s very simple, but it’s also the foundation for so many other forms of music.

Even the bluegrass things that we did in the bar were very traditional, in the sense that I did the original lineup, which is mandolin, acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and a very small trap kit. It’s not even a drum kit; it’s somewhere between a hambone kind of thing and a drum kit… Blending those two approaches made for a lot of fun. It was very different from doing anything I’ve done before.

MRH: You can take those same instruments, particularly the acoustic instruments, and make them menacing, or incredibly tender.

MW: Where I was using the acoustic instruments, I would either process them heavily during moments when Milton (Nicolas Cage) was interacting with bad guy Jonah King (who’s played by Billy Burke); there’s kind of a supernatural element going on [and] it was almost demonic at points.

[For] the moments that he was sharing with Piper (Amber Heard) or just expressing regret or remorse or nostalgia or anything like that, where I’d been using an electric cello in one case, I’d use a real cello; or instead of using an electric guitar, I was using an instrument called a guitarviol which is a hollow-bodied instrument that looks a lot like if you smashed a viola and a guitar together around the neck. You play it with a bow, but it’s threaded and fingered the exact same as a guitar, so it has a very natural acoustic presence, but it’s different.

MRH: After you recorded the main instrumental parts, how much time do you spend layering in the electronics, doing the processing and refining everything until you get that balance for the final score?

MW: It’s all done at the same time. Process-wise, I come up with the programming part of it, the sample part of it, all the manipulations in terms of plug-ins and things like that, and the performances. When the cue’s done, the cue’s done; all the elements are there, and then it’s printed and then I give it to the mixer.

In this case it was Gustavo Borner who’s mixed a lot of Tyler Bates’ and John Murphy’s stuff that’s very hyper with a lot of electronic, rock & roll, and things like that. He’s really deft and bringing out a lot of the details and different elements, and making sure that they all play the proper role in the mix, but it’s kind of a gestalt process for me: I don’t do one thing and then add another; they’re all working together at the same time.

MRH: It’s interesting that you mention Tyler Bates, because in terms of a similarity, you both share this natural ability to balance all these different elements from acoustic, classical, blues, and electronic together. Everything is really beautifully orchestrated, and you can hear all the fine elements, whether it’s bongos, cello, and so on. It’s a great skill.

MW: Thanks, I really appreciate that. Tyler and I get bashed for that sort of thing a lot because it’s not a very purist approach to doing film scores: to be able to draw from both the electronic world and the acoustic world, and kind of see them both as their own entities.

You can do an entire score electronically, you can do an entire score acoustically, but I know for myself, and I know from the conversations that I’ve had with him, it’s something that when we approach it, we look at it as one complete palette.

It’s ‘Where am I going to draw sounds from?’ I’ve got these two things together that in my head somehow I can hear it overlap, and that’s just how I’ve evolved as a composer because I grew up dabbling in both as opposed to one or the other.

MRH: Probably Tyler Bates’ breakthrough score would be Get Carter (2000), which I still think is one of the best things he’s written, because it’s that perfect balance with rock, electronics and jazz. If you listen to one cue several times, you notice little subtleties, and that’s why I think it isn’t fair to denigrate that style, because it’s difficult to do.

MW: Yeah, it’s very hard, and I try to fight the good fight with people as much as I can and say there are a lot of instances where I’ve actually found composing the electronic part of the score much more difficult than doing the acoustic part.

[For Drive Angry, I recorded piano]. As I slowly took it apart, I was doing different things with it: hitting it with different mallet instruments and bouncing metal off it and recording it, and putting it into ProTools and trying to make instruments out of those sounds. That’s a very labour-intensive process, and it’s a totally different methodology.

In one way, the symphony’s palette of sounds is kind of limitless if you’re out there as a thinker…but you always know what you’re going to have when you walk into a room: you’re going to have a brass section, you’re going to have a strings section, you’ll have woodwinds, and you’ll have percussion.

There might be some extraneous instruments, different forms of ethnic winds or percussion instruments that are non-standard, [but] you basically know what you’re going to get sound-wise, so the interrelationships between those instruments [is] what you’re working with.

When you go into electronics, it could have a synthesizer, and you could be pounding the wall with a hammer and record that, and suddenly that becomes an instrument… It can become very daunting, so I find [the concept of fusion] gets set aside by a lot of people who are acoustic purists as being not valid film music for some reason, and that’s just not true; it’s actually very hard to do.

MRH: I’m actually surprised that there’s such a substantial amount of music on the Drive Angry soundtrack album. Is that a reflection of the 50-60 mins. worth of music you composed?

MW: Total score I wrote over 100 mins. Some cues got taken out, but I think the full score for the film was probably between 85-90 mins. Actually, I had to take out a lot to get the running time down to where it didn’t bore people to death.

[Patrick] likes to do a lot of music, and he likes to keep a tone established from the very beginning of the movie. He feels that music is really important to maintaining the tone in the film, even if it’s really quiet and at points imperceptible, he always wants to keep something in there that will keep you transported into the world of that movie, whatever it happens to be.

In some cases it might be some strange atmosphere or just little particular sounds you might hear in the background, and then in other moments the music just completely takes over the movie, but either way he likes to have a lot of music. In this case there wasn’t a lot of budget for songs, so I had to cover a lot of spaces that in a bigger budget [they would use songs]. I would love to have heard a bunch more songs in the movie but the budget just wasn’t there for it.

MRH: What is your next project?

MW: Right now I just started a television show called Breaking In that premieres April 6. I’ve three films coming later this year, none of which I can talk about yet because I’m still waiting for the deals to get done with the casting, and as soon as the actors are locked in I can talk about it, but right now I have to keep my mouth shut!

MRH: It’s a busy year.

MW: Yeah. It’s like I tell people, I’m in a happy paradox because I know the work is there and it’s coming; I just can’t say anything about it yet.

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KQEK.com would like to thank Michael Wandmacher for discussing his latest horror score, and Beth Krakower at CineMedia Promotions for facilitating this interview.

Visit Michael Wandmacher’s website.

Our 2010 interview with Michael Wandmacher regarding Piranha 3D (2010).

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Our 2008 / 2009 interview regarding My Blood Valentine (2009) and The Punisher: War Zone (2009).

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2011 by Mark R. Hasan.

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Related links:

Film:  Drive Angry (2011)

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Related external links (MAIN SITE):

Film:  My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009) —  Piranha 3D (2010)

Misc: Breaking In (IMDB entry)

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