OSCARS 2019 EXCLUSIVE: Oscar Nominee John Ottman Talks BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

With so many "intriguing" stories - lack of a host, format changes, etc. - centered around Hollywood's biggest night, many folks are unfortunately losing sight of the event's core mission: to highlight the work of its artists.  Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with award-winning composer/editor, John Ottman, who is nominated, this year, for Achievement in Editing with the biopic, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY.  In our conversation together, we chatted about: the daunting prospect of working on a biopic, his process working on the production, the exclusion of editing in the televised broadcast of the awards show (at the time of the interview), and much more.... 


BT: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. 

JO: Sure!

BT: I'll start first by asking, "Was it daunting to learn that you would be working on this project - especially considering the iconic, revered status this band holds for fans?

JO: Absolutely. I'd say there was "a weight on my shoulders" for many reasons working on this film. (Smiling)

BT: (Smirking)

JO: When you walk into a film like this - particularly, one about such an iconic person of such an iconic band, who is held in such high regard - you feel obligated to do justice to him (Mercury). Aside from that, with original band members, Brian May and Roger Taylor, still being around, you had to make to sure not piss them off - with how they're portrayed in the concerts or how Freddie is portrayed (since they're very protective of him). So there were a lot of things to worry about....Besides, I'm a natural worrier (Smiling)

BT: (Laughing)

JO: [In addition to all of that] the film had to do so many different things in the span of 2+ hours. It had to service: Freddie's life, the band's life, Queen's music...All the while, still being interpreted as a celebration of Freddie Mercury. So it was a lot of things to juggle - as most biopics are - in the span of time that the studio was willing...(Laughing)  

...to allow us to have.  I, for example, would have loved to have added another two or three minutes [to do some other things], but "if you walk away with most of what you wanted, then you're successful."  I'd say, we (those of us working on the film) got about 90 % of what we wanted.

BT: Okay.

JO: As always, any film is a give and take with different creatives.

BT: Okay, alright. Now, considering what you just said, you are in a more unique position than most editors, because you're also a composer; in fact, you worked on the music for this film.  Therefore is safe to assume that you were involved a lot earlier in this film's process than what is perhaps the norm with other editors? If so, did the choice of songs featured in the film ever change or was it always decided from the get go?

JO: I came on two weeks before the film started shooting.  So, a lot of the major set pieces were already decided upon...Obviously, in the end [of the production process], timelines got juggled and the story [of the film] was retold in the editing room. For instance, the two concerts [featured] had their order flipped. Also, to underscore certain sequences, I decided to use some Queen music in places where it wasn't planned, such as "Who Wants To Live Forever" when Freddie's gets his diagnosis.  

More specifically, I used this track of Queen to score that scene, and got really effective vocal tracks, so that I didn't have to do much [music] scoring.  It was a sacrifice [not doing much music], but I feel it was the better choice to use Queen's music than to do a score, because it would have dated the film as a "biography of the week." 

My goal was to use music in a way to make the film timeless; therefore even in the scenes where the music would have been underscored, I used opera [music] because Freddie Mercury listened to it.  

BT: Gotcha. Now, in discussing your further your role as both composer and editor, is early involvement with a film always the norm for you - in terms of of your process?

JO: Yeah [it's typical].  With the X-MEN films, for instance, I needed to come on early, to work with the pre-vis (visual effects) artists and the animated storyboards of the sequences that were being shot. When doing those films (X-MEN and other like it), it's kind of fly by your pants situations when they're greenlit, because you're usually not ready - the film get greenlit, then its shooting (even though the script may be finished).  Therefore it can be a hardship on the pre-visualization team and every other part of the movie, because they (understandably) want to know what the hell it is that they're doing or preparing for (i.e. what sets need to be built, what costumes are required, etc.). [So again, in the case of those movies] I come on and design those sequences with the pre-vis artists.  

This film (BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY) , of course, wasn't that kind of movie. For example, the only pre-vis moment involved going through the bus at the concert...(Laughing) Other than that, it was basically old school - the movie is shot and the editor figures it out in the editing room. Now, as you mentioned before, normally I edit and score a film; however, after carrying both hats on X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, I told Bryan [Singer] (the film's director) that I would never do that again! (Laughing) The reason being that it was just becoming too much for me [to do both].  For example, I think lost 25 pounds - in a bad way - [working] on APOCALYPSE - writing 120 minutes of music to entire film....It's just something that I can't do anymore.  

Then, of course, he (Singer) presents BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY [to me to work on], and how do you F*#KING say no to that?! (Smiling)