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Ghost Canyon

John Frizzell   (Composer - 'Stay Alive') John Frizzell (Composer - 'Stay Alive')

'How To Compose Death Enough To Stay Alive!'

Composer John Frizzell has just scored the music to the new horor movie, 'Stay Alive.' Written and directed by William Brent Bell and starring Frankie Muniz ("Malcolm in the Middle"), the film tells the story of a group of teens who stumble upon a new video game called Stay Alive.

The game details the grisly true story of a 17th century noblewoman known as "The Blood Countess." A chilling connection is made when the gamers are murdered in the same method as the character they played in the game. Touchstone Pictures releases the film March 24.

'Stay Alive' explores the composer's suspenseful side, successfully explored on his score for the cult classic 'Ghost Ship' and the upcoming thriller 'The Woods.' Frizzell recently completed work on 'The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio,' starring Julianne Moore as the mother of ten who, in the 1950s, supported her family by writing jingles and entering them into contests. For that score, Frizzell teamed up with newgrass band Nickel Creek, whose latest album hit number one on Billboard's Internet Sales and Independent Album charts.

Frizzell is known for using a colorful array of instruments for his scores, from a psaltery (an ancient harp-type instrument) to African drums. He has written scores for a variety of genres, and has proven his musical talent and versatility.

Chatting recently with John Frizzell himself, and taking it from the top, I first asked him what attracted him to scoring a film about a video game that details the grisly true story of a 17th century noblewoman known as "The Blood Countess" that suddenly begins to murder its players?! "McG was very enthusiastic about having me write a score which used some new production ideas I had. I explained to him my idea of composing themes then recording an orchestra and manipulating it in various ways before I started working to picture. Then I used these manipulated orchestral chunks while I was composing. The idea was to blur the line between acoustic and electronic sounds. He loved the idea so I wrote the score."

Were there any speed bumps encountered in the process of scoring this film ...? "Speed Bumps? Hmmm, no it was pretty much much an expressway this time. I didn't have a great deal of time and I had a lot of music to write. I wrote most of it during the holidays. I work on the scary films in the middle of the night usually.'

... and how long does it take to score such a movie? "However much time I have plus one hour... I usually write two to three minutes a day and I wrote about 70 minutes of score for this film. Then recording and mixing took about a week. It is a lot of hours and pretty intense. The mood of the film really gets deep into me when I'm writing and staring at it for 16 hours a day. I have learned not to let the tension of the film get into my neck and shoulders from past experience. That can be rather uncomfortable."

Do you have a favorite genre of film to compose to at this point in your career? "I like to say that my favorite genre is a different one from the previous film I worked on. I have been very fortunate to work on a big range of films, from 'Office Space,' to 'Gods and Generals,' to 'Alien Resurrection.' I am glad I get to do different things. If I have to pick one, I do really enjoy writing melodies and dealing with the subtlety of human emotion. I think 'Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio' has been my most rewarding experience to date."

Please tell us more about your work with Nickel Creek on the soundtrack to 'The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio.' "I have known Sean and Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek for a long time and when I was discussing the score to 'Prize Winner' with Jane Anderson, the director, I realized that there playing would be the perfect compliment to the tone and era we were creating. I wrote the guitar and fiddle parts with the two of them in mind and we had a great experience recording the score. Sean and I wrote a song together recently which will be on his soon to be released solo album. The song is called "They Sail Away"."

You've been known to incorporate a colorful array of instruments within your scores, but has there been one that has since become your go-to instrument? "I have fallen in love with the sound of a single cello playing pizzicato and have used it in several scores. It is very gentle and innocent sounding and provides an interesting accompaniment for a melody. Of course, this means there is none of this sound in Stay Alive which is very aggresive and dark. I think I have a lot of "go to" chords and progressions that end up sounding like me. Because I work on such a broad range of projects, the palette I'm using is different all the time."

Please tell us more about your upcoming score preparation for 'The Woods.' "'The Woods' start off sounding like I creepy mystery from the 1960's or even '50's. Lucky, the director, wanted a very classic sound as the story unfolds in the girls boarding school in the woods. As the film progresses, the score unravels becoming increasingly dissonant and chaotic. By the end, it is pretty much musical anarchy. I really enjoy that."

What '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop song would you love to re-compose/re-create today if asked ... and why?! "I went and saw a show the other night called "Rock of Ages" which was all about cheesy '80s songs. Very enjoyable. I guess they are very early 80's, but I never hear about the band UFO anymore...seems like it's time for a UFO come back. Or not. I guess I could recreate "Light's Out"...and grow my hair again!"

Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "No. Nasty little things. Likely to explode on top of your tele as well...!"

Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk

If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED 'STAY ALIVE' CD from John Frizzell himself (based on us being lucky enough to obtain them!), just answer this easy question: John also comosed the musical score to the dark comedy 'Teaching Mrs. Tingle,' but what ws the films original title before its words got changed to "Mrs. Tingle"?!

Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win a brand new and AUTOGRAPHED 'STAY ALIVE' CD from John Frzzell! Just send us an e:mail here before May 15th with your answer and the subject title 'STAY ALIVE SIGNED CDs' to:

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