October 20, 2010 | By

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Remaking classic seventies drive-in shockers has never been more popular, and Michael Wandmacher’s own slate of retro films began in 2009 with My Bloody Valentine, the first of three 3D films he’s scored for blood-hungry audiences.

In our conversation about Piranha 3D, Wandmacher describes working with grim filmmaker Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes), and crafting a score that maintains an edge when so many elements are direct homages and satirical jabs at the conventions unique to killer fish movies.



Mark R. Hasan: I didn’t think that Alexandre Aja had a sense of humour!

Michael Wandmacher: Oh very much! He does have a sense of humour.

MRH: I’ve seen a number of his films, and he has one of the bleakest views towards life among current filmmakers.

MW: He actually had a lot of fun with the jokes. In fact, during the process, anytime there was something funny going on in the film he wanted to make sure it was highlighted.

Jerry O’Connell’s character is kind of a riff or a spoof of the Girls Gone Wild guy, Joe Francis, but he takes that kind of guy and plays it to the hilt… There’s a tongue-in-cheek sense in the whole movie, and when you really think about it, it’s a bunch of kids on spring break being chased by prehistoric fish who are eating them, and when you look at that as a premise, how serious can you be?

There was definitely a sense of humour about all of it, and I know even during the process of making this movie he had talked about more than once in the future of wanting to do a drama-comedy, and he definitely loves the jokes.

MRH: Was it difficult then to pinpoint where the humour and the terrifying moments would be in the score? There was a 9 min. clip shown at ComicCon, and the footage was tremendously gory.

MW: Yes, and that was only a part of it!

For KNB, who did the effects… this was the first time they had to do hardcore gore – ripping body parts kind of gore in broad daylight – and normally they’ll be in the dark or in the shadows, and it’s easy to hide inconsistencies and mistakes, but in this case it was out in the middle of the summer sun, and you could see everything… It was a huge, huge challenge to make it look real, because there was nowhere to hide. For them, what they’ve pulled off in the world of special makeup effects is pretty miraculous.

The music generally highlights all of the gore and action in the film; the jokes are mainly done by the actors, in just the characters they play, or in some cases the caricatures they play, and the types of people you would expect.

They’re kind of played over the top, like Christopher Lloyd’s character [as a marine biologist] and Jerry O’Connell’s character. Kelly Brooke has some pretty choice lines in the movie that are very funny, and the music doesn’t need to highlight that stuff. Alexandre definitely doesn’t want to Mickey Mouse the music in terms of pointing fingers at the jokes.

During all the attack scenes, and when the fish are in the general vicinity, or you know something is going to happen, that’s when the music creeps in. The whole score is really aggressive and really chaotic and really thrashy and abrasive, and that’s definitely what he wanted.

MRH: Was it his choice to go for an orchestral sound?

MW: Yes. He wanted something hybrid, where there were electronics involved and orchestra involved, and I think that had to do with the fact that in terms of scale, this is some of the biggest stuff he’s ever had to do.

The marina attack scene is huge… and he wanted music that had real muscle and would be able to hold its own during that sequence because there are hundreds of kids screaming, there’s explosions, there’s guns, there’s motorboats going and all this thrashing in the water, there’s megaphones, there’s all these types of things going on at once, and it lasts a good 14 minutes, and just doing some kind of electronic atmosphere or beats like that in the background would’ve gotten lost in the mix.

Especially with high strings sounds, he wanted that orchestral chaos that really played into what was going on, and during the quieter moments in the film, we definitely mixed a lot of electronics with the orchestra.

Another big part of it is the fact that the fish are entirely CGI, so to offset that sort of ‘electronic look’ – the fact that the fish aren’t organic in the sense the way they were created – he wanted something to back them up that was organic, and that’s another big reason why the orchestra was used in the score.

MRH: Because the film is basically a satire and tribute to the crazy seventies bodycount films, I guess one of your roles is to add some dramatic support and subtext to the characters, some of whom will be underwritten or disposable?

MW: Definitely. The music is very much centered around the fish. There are other themes and ideas that tie in to some of the other characters, specifically the kid; Steven R. McQueen’s character’s little brother and sister have their own kind of musical identity.

They always seem to be getting caught in situations that they don’t try to get caught in, but do, but the themes and the real motive in the film are all centered towards the fish. Most of the score grows out of that because they’re the stars of the film, but it was very important to give them a personality all of their own.

I remember the thing that really solidified getting the job for me was the first idea I came up with, which was taking a scene that was written with actually col legno strings which is where the string instruments are played with the wood side of the bow instead of with the bow hair, actually knocking the instruments, so you get the clacking sound along with the pitch. I recorded a melody that way, and then modified it with some filters and some distortion and got this very brittle, biting, toothy sound, and that became the cornerstone of the score. It’s cool because the sound is evil and funny at the same time, and Alex really liked that… It a sense of ominous and evil but also there’s a sense of humour about it.

MRH: The fish also look humorous because they’re like piranhas on steroids.

MW: At the beginning of the film there’s an earthquake and these fish are released from an underground lake that’s been in stasis for millions of years, so the fish look like they came from millions of years ago. The most interesting part is that they have personalities, and beyond the pack mentality that piranha normally operate with – the swarming, feeding frenzy mentality – they all have their own little moments on screen; they’re very funny, but they’re also very precarious, and that was intentional and makes them more interesting, and plays into the whole B-movie pathos that the film is tipping its hat to.

MRH: This is your second 3D film, but because you’ve started work on your third 3D film, Drive Angry, is there anything that you’ve learned during the process so that when scoring a 3D film, there certain steps that you need t follow, either when you’re spotting the film, or scoring it?

MW: It’s pretty straightforward in terms of how the music serves the film, either in a context sense or pacing or in a emotional sense.

The only difference – and we found this to really be the case on My Bloody Valentine (2009) – was when you go for something big, make it really big because the film can carry it. It’s as if there’s this whole extra set of square footage added to the house that is the film that you need to fill up, and it didn’t exist before when the film was in 2D. Suddenly it’s there, and when you want to go make something louder or aggressive or a chase scene really needs to have some weight, you can really go there. You can add layers, you can add a lot of thump just make the piece overall more dense and textured, and have more gravity; something that might feel over the top in a 2D arena won’t feel that way in 3D.

It’s just a perceptual thing, but it’s real, and it’s there, so you have to take that into consideration.

MRH: And your next 3D film, Drive Angry, reunites you with My Bloody Valentine director Patrick Lussier. Is it basically a revenge film or more of a horror film?

MW: It’s definitely a revenge film. It’s a very interesting movie because it defies a lot of categorization, in terms of ‘What kind of movie is this?’ It covers a lot of ground.

I can’t say a lot about it because Patrick wants me to keep it close to the vest, but it’s first a road revenge movie, and there are some huge car chases that are definitely done in the old school, late sixties style; everything is in-camera, there are real cars blowing up for real, it’s shot in similar ways that films like Vanishing Point (1971) was shot.

There’s also an element of a strong anti-hero, which was popular in the late sixties/early seventies, say with film like High Plains Drifter (1973), where the guy you were rooting for wasn’t actually a very good guy, and that’s the type of character that Nicolas Cage plays.

As much as I can say, there’s also a supernatural element involved, there’s moments of great horror, there’s gore, there’s sex – everything is completely in your face. It’s like a pulp novel come to life. That’s the best way to describe it.



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

For more information on Michael Wandmacher, click HERE.

To read a detailed film profile of Piranha 3D, check out the August double issue of Run Morgue Magazine (issue #103) HERE.

To read our 2008 / 2009 interview with Michael Wandmacher regarding My Blood Valentine (2009) and The Punisher: War Zone (2009), click HERE.

To read our 2011 interview regarding Drive Angry (2011), click HERE.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2010 by Mark R. Hasan.


Related external links (MAIN SITE):

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


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