Kendall Schmidt: The Subtle Art of ReScoring

The World of Scoring Movie Trailers and Home Video Replacement Music
An Interview with Kendall Schmidt by Randall D. Larson © 1991/2010
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.10/No.39/1991
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Randall D. Larson

kendall_schmidtEver hear some catchy music on a TV or theatrical advertisement for a new movie and then wonder why you never heard that same music in the actual movie? Ever buy a favorite old movie on video-cassette to find out, to your utter consternation, that somebody’s changed the music and there’s a completely different score by someone else than you remember?

You’ve just discovered the Subtle Art of ReScoring, while the former case is a lot more prevalent, thankfully, than the latter example, the manipulation and alteration of movie music is alive and well in the commercial markets of Hollywood. In a movie ad, whether a TV spot or a theatrical trailer, re-arranging or writing new music to convey a certain feeling is as necessary to the effectiveness of a 20-second spot as it is in a 2-hour movie. And, while dumping a completed film score and replacing it with another one is a common practice during Hollywood post-production, doing it decades after a film’s theatrical release for a low-budget home-video cassette remains an inexplicable yet occasional practice. (Even the 1988 Paramount Home Video release of THE RED TENT, containing one of Ennio Morricone’s loveliest scores, comes with a disclaimer: “Some music has been changed for this home video version” [thankfully I’ve been unable to detect what these changes are or any harmful affect the alternation may have had]).

Perhaps the most notorious example of home video re-scoring is the recent release of American International’s 1967 horror film, WITCHFINDER GENERAL (also known as THE CONQUEROR WORM). When Orion Pictures (who inherited most of the A.I.P. titles) released this and several other films on home video cassette, they weren’t able to release their music tracks along with them, for some obscure licensing reason, and had to have them rescored.

Affected films include WITCHFINDER GENERAL, SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, Mario Bava’s PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, SLAUGHTER’S BIG RIP-OFF, CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR, WAR ITALIAN STYLE, WINTERHAWK, CRIME & PASSION, MADHOUSE and JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET {the latter two received only new End Titles, the rest of their original scores remained intact). The awkward task of re-scoring them fell on Kendall Schmidt, a Los Angeles musician fresh our of U.C.L.A.’s Film Scoring Program.

Working with only a synthesizer, Schmidt attempted to provide for these films the same kind of score they originally had and which, for one reason or another, wasn’t included on the video cassette’s soundtrack. The results are varied and controversial. Fans of Michael Reeves’ WITCHFINDER GENERAL, in particular, mourn the loss of Paul Ferris’ lush orchestral score and scorn its synthetic replacement.

Ferris, a British composer noted for his highly melodic approach counter pointed by suspenseful ambiences, provided a gorgeous, lyrical theme which was used throughout the score. The melody, scored for rhythmic, lilting strings over piping woodwind and acoustic guitar, captures a somewhat old English/Renaissance flavor, and really gives the film a lot of feeling.

Comparing the two scores may be a mute point – there’s simply no way a synthetic electronic score can match the feeling and depth of Ferris’ lush symphonic music, as composer Kendall Schmidt himself was well aware. Given the restrictions of the assignment, Schmidt provided an adequate score which is quite pretty in its own way, even if the profound beauty and grace of the original Ferris score leaves little room for comparison.

30-year old Kendall Schmidt had grown up loving movies and loving music, and began paying attention to the effect good music had on a good film in his early teens. “When I first saw Burt Bacharach win two Oscars in the same night for BUTCH CASSIDY I was really hooked,” Schmidt said. Among his favorite film composers he names Bernard Herrmann, John Williams and Georges Delerue, and considers his own music influenced by each of them.

Since the early 1980s, Schmidt has applied his musical efforts to scoring more than thirty motion picture trailers, radio spots, children’s record and audio-cassette adventures, video-cassette re-scores and documentary movies. In 1986 he composed an original score for an obscure, low-budget teenage horror feature called NEON MANIACS, and in 1990 Schmidt scored a series of Dick Tracy adventures released on audio-cassette by Disney. Schmidt has won several industry awards for his advertising music, including two from the International Film & Television Festival of New York for his music for theatrical and TV ads for THE EMERALD FOREST.

Interviewed in 1988 and updated in 1990 Schmidt spoke candidly on his unusual and somewhat fascinating role in the film music world.

A lot of people see movie trailers and must wonder where a lot of that music comes from because it’s obviously not always the music that’s used in the actual film.
No. Actually, a lot of times it is the music from the film, because of contractual things, but a lot of the best ones are not music from the film. Some of my favorite trailers are CRUISIN’ with Al Pacino – that was a great trailer and a lousy movie! And it was a really killer score and it just made you want to go to the movie. Another one was SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, and I don’t think that music was from the movie either.

How do you approach creating music for a trailer?
Well, it depends on the particular assignment. There are about twenty trailer companies here in L.A. They’re like ad agencies who specialize in cutting exciting little two-minute things. The ideal situation is they’ll just send us a cut with visual time code on the screen, and then I analyze it and try to figure out the mood and the high point. Usually a well-cut trailer has a climax to it, and you aim for that, psychologically.
Unfortunately, that only happens about five percent of the time, and the other 95% they’ve temp scored it with something that they don’t own, and then, because there are so many people that they’re dealing with who don’t understand music – there’s a whole chain-of-command all the way from the ad agency all the way up to the main producer and director. People get really insecure and they want to go with what they see in the temp dub, and so they insist that the final music be just like that.
So what I end up doing, even though it usually doesn’t even work, to my satisfaction, is basically stealing something legally. I think the most blatant case – I’ve done some real blatant cases but the one that comes to mind was having to steal David Foster’s ‘Love Theme from ST. ELMO’S FIRE’ for the LUCAS trailer, and that was ridiculous because ST. ELMO’S FIRE had just come out six months before and it was a big hit, and was really identifiable, but they used it.

That’s interesting because a lot of film composers have talked about that in relation to scoring films, where they’ll temp track a whole movie with something and insist on something like that, but you’d never think of having that problem in trailers, Most of the time I guess the standard movie goer just assumes a trailer is all taken from edits from the actual film.
Right, but it’s not. Not always even the action is taken from the film. A lot of times they’ll actually shoot something new just for the trailer. In THE GOLDEN CHILD, for example, they shot all new footage for the trailer, scenes of Eddie Murphy crawling across somewhere either with snow or heat or something, saying “You guys are all safe in your theatre…” I did another one called REAL MEN with John Ritter that was shot with all new footage, so it really depends. The whole idea is that it’s just a commercial, so it really doesn’t necessarily have anything whatsoever to do with the movie! It’s aiming just towards a certain market and that’s it.
Trailers are a whole little art form in themselves. I would prefer that more trailers were actually scored, like little mini-movies, with more emphasis put on the music, because I believe in an ad the music is as powerful as any other single element, and since they’re so short…

Especially when you’ve only got a couple minutes to grab a viewer and get them in there, music is really important.
Exactly, and most of the time it’s the very last thought, and there’s no money left. I mean, sometimes they spend $100,000 making a trailer but they only have $3500 left for the music, which is absurd, and then it’s done on mono! When there’s all this state of the art, amazing CD quality everything now, and there’s THX Sound in all the theatres and they’re putting these trailers in mono! It’s not going to grab the attention of the people who are out there eating popcorn and talking.

Do you primarily work with synthesizers or do you use orchestras?
I would prefer to use orchestras for the rest of my life, and just throw all my synths away. That’s exaggerating – there are certain aspects of control that you get with a synth that you can’t have with an orchestra, but you just can’t compare when you have a 70-year old guy playing a violin who’s been studying for sixty years, I mean you can’t compare that kind of artistry with turning on a digital sampler and playing a fake violin. But it’s rare these days.

I guess the budget comes into play with that too.
Budget, and it’s also people who have a certain hipness in mind for their film, so they want to do something “new”, quote-unquote.

How long do you normally have to score a trailer like that?
There isn’t really any usual time, the most I’ve had is a week, which is actually a lot of time for a two-minute thing. Compared to an actual movie, where you usually have to do two or three minutes a day for three or four weeks straight, that’s a massive amount of time. On a trailer where you have a whole week to do two minutes, it’s a real luxury. But the opposite extreme is, again, REAL MEN, I had about five or six hours. I actually wrote in the studio, started around 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening and it had to be done 1:00 and turned in the next morning.

When you’re scoring a trailer for a movie, do you ever have a chance to hear the music that is used in that movie?
No. I never have. That’s usually because it’s not done yet. The music is usually the very last thing before mixing the final film, and that’s sometimes part of the reason why they don’t use music from the movie, because it’s not finished yet. There was one case, for a movie called ELENI with John Malkovitch where, contractually, they had to use the music from the movie, but they didn’t have to use the recording from the movie. So what I had to do was take a kind of traditional odd-time, like in 13/8, melody and hide the melody as best I could and make it into a real electronic kind of thing, and it came out pretty nice, I think. That was a fun little assignment.

You’ve also re-scored some films for home video release.
I did about ten of those for Orion, whole movies. And there was a horror movie that came out last year called NEON MANIACS that I did also, but that only came out, I think, east of the Mississippi.

Do you know why it was Orion’s policy to change the music tracks?
Not really. It’s legal reasons. I’m really not supposed to talk about that. It can be touchy, I guess, when you’re throwing out one person’s score and doing a new score.

Okay. How would you approach scoring something like, say, THE CONQUEROR WORM?
Very nervously. It was always a hard decision about which way to go, because I knew I was dealing with films which, in a certain genre, some people think are classics, and it opens me up for a lot of criticism because a lot of people would feel – I mean, you know how people are shocked at colorization and all, people don’t want you to mess with 20-year old films, and because of the budgets, I had no choice but to do them electronically, so I had two choices. I could either try and imitate the score that was originally there, or if there was no way to do that I would just have to find an appropriate way to do it in a different style.
In the case of, say SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, I basically did the same kind of approach as the original score, that kind of 1960s spy-jazz music ala Henry Mancini that everybody was doing in those European films. But in the case of, say, CRIME AND PASSION (not to be confused with CRIMES OF PASSION), I personally, I mean, Vangelis did the music and I think he’s a really good composer but I didn’t, really like that score, and so I just didn’t do anything the same at all, I did my own approach, and I tried to approach it from a more passionate kind of level for the romance.
But, technically it was interesting, because the budgets were so low, if the movie needed forty-five minutes of music, I could only actually afford to do about twenty five, and so with many of the cues I would have two or three different scenes in mind, and I would time the cues according to where they would fit for three scenes, rather than just one. It was a real education in film scoring, because it’s hard enough for a lot of people to just figure out one timing, let alone make the same piece of music fit three completely different scenes. I pretty much had to do everything myself, make my own timing notes and figure our where music was necessary and where I could get away without music.

Did you have anyone at Orion giving you input on that?
No.

Do you perform these on your own or do you have other performers?
It depends. The first couple of ones I did, SLAUGHTER’S BIG RIP-OFF and THE UNHOLY ROLLERS I hired small groups to do it, seven or eight people, and then after that I started to get more and more electronic stuff and started to do it all myself in multi-track situations.

How much time do you usually get to do a whole movie, like CONQUEROR WORM?
I generally did each one in three weeks, so it was rushed but it wasn’t insane.

Do you recall any particular challenges that re-scoring a film like CONQUEROR WORM gave you?
Mainly the challenge on that was that it was a period piece and I was stuck using synthesizers, which are extremely modern. Again, to bring up Vangelis, he did it really well in THE BOUNTY where he didn’t even try to have period music, he just went for a completely modern score, and I thought it worked great. But I didn’t do that, I tried to make it sound somewhat acoustic and go for an old English style. That was just hard. Each film had its own little bit of challenge.

What about some of the others. Did YOU do PLANET Of THE VAMPIRES?
Yeah, that was a fun one; it was pretty easy, too.

What kind of thing did you do there?
That one I took a spaceman approach, a 60s space science fiction approach, real effecty, synthy. That was a fun one because I didn’t have to worry about it sounding synthy because it should sound like synths. I had some fun with that. One of the main sounds I used was putting a synthesizer through a guitar distortion peddle and making a real screaming kind of scary sound.

How did you get involved with NEON MANIACS?
NEON MANIACS was started by a company back East who ran out of money. I never did totally understand what was going on. They ran out of money and closed down production, and then another company took it over in partnership with a company out here called Cimarron Productions, who do a lot of trailers. I knew these people from the trailers, so they hired me to do the score.

Obviously I’m not familiar with that movie. How would you describe it?
Bad! That’s the first thing that comes to mind!

The title sounds like almost a punk horror thing.
It’s not really. It’s a kind of teen movie to begin with, all kinds of pretty girls and cute guys and all that. It was directed by Joe Mangine, who was a pretty successful cameraman, he did THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER as a cameraman and he was pretty successful I think with commercials, and he decided to direct a movie. Anyway, there were some real snafus. For instance, the main theory of these maniacs who lived under the Golden Gate Bridge was that they’d come out and attack but they couldn’t stand water. Water to them was like Kryptonite to Superman, and they would disintegrate with water, and the way you’re supposed to find this out is in a park scene when the maniacs are attacking the kids and it starts to rain, and the maniacs disappear. Only, that day, someone, the prop master or whoever’s in charge of that, forgot to bring the rain machine, and they didn’t have the budget to re-shoot it so in the final version there’s no rain! So how can you even understand what’s going on? They tried to make in comedic, these maniacs would attack, and all the kids were armed with squirt guns, but basically it was kind of crazy. They had about eight terrible, terrible songs, and they were all really long, and I don’t know, the songs kind of dominated it and made you go crazy.

What kind of music did you write? I guess you wrote the instrumental music in between the songs?
Yeah. There was quite a bit of music, there was a lot of chase music and horror kind of action music. There was about 45-minutes of music, I believe, very low budget.

Are you interested in moving on and doing more actual film scores?
Oh sure. It’s a very tough racket to break. I mean, when I was doing all these Orion pictures I figured that my career was just set, because I was working every day and everything was fine, but it seemed like for each movie you try and get, it’s just like breaking in all over again. And it’s a matter of luck and timing and all kinds of things. But I’m trying to do everything; I like to do all kinds of things. I did an industrial last year for Lockheed Corporation, it was real fun. They had real big budgets and really good special effects, and I’m hopefully going to do some more with them and some other companies.

That’s interesting; some of those industrial films have some really interesting little scores that nobody’s ever heard of.
Yeah, because a good thing about them is that a lot of times they’ll give you more creative freedom. They’re not aimed at a commercial market so they’re not worried about a lot of things a commercial movie is.

You recently did the music for a series of audio cassette Dick Tracy stories. What are these all about?
Disney put out two “Audio Action Adventure” cassettes accompanied by comic books. They contain, in two parts, the same Dick Tracy story from the Warren Beatty/Madonna movie, but with different actors. They are produced to sound like an old radio play.
I’m very pleased with the way the music came out. The orchestra consisted of 10 violins, 3 violas, 3 celli, 1 bass, 3 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 percussion, 3 woodwinds and piano. It was all recorded live with no overdubs. I was going for a kind of “Gangster/Noir” sound, if that makes any sense. All of the music for the record is my original music; none of the themes from the movie were used.

It’s now a couple of years since our first discussion about scoring movie trailers, and I wonder if you have any comments on some of the more recent trailers you’ve scored?
One of the more interesting trailer projects I’ve worked was TAP, with Gregory Hines, for that, the editors had cut together dancing sequences from several different musical numbers. Behind that they used just one of the tunes from the movie. My job was to make it appear that he was actually dancing to that tune throughout. I digitally sampled various tapping sounds from the ‘Sophisticated Ladies’ soundtrack and used them for TAP. The tricky part was making it look like the sounds were in time with his feet but also in time with this (unrelated) music track. The different cuts were in many different visual locations, so I had to apply to the tapping effects as many different “ambiences” as there were cuts.
Another fascinating trailer project was doing the sound effects for Michael Jackson’s MOONWALKER. In this country it ended up being sold as a video and not released as a feature, which it apparently was in Europe. Using various electronic tools including a Synclavier, I had to create about sixty sound effects to enhance a 30-second trailer.
For the GLORY promotion, the ad agency called me several months before the release of the movie. They had cut a beautiful spot to a recording of ‘Carmina Burana’ by Carl Orff. All the higher ups had agreed upon and approved the trailer (a minor miracle under any circumstances). At the last minute they were told that the Orff Estate wouldn’t license the music. Apparently, due to some kind of Nazi association in his younger days, Orff carried around a lot of guilt. In his will he requested that none of his music should ever be used in a war movie. GLORY was a war movie. At that point, my job was to hire a 50-piece orchestra and a huge choir and write something that sounded a lot like ‘Carmina Burana’ that would fit their picture. I was all ready to go, but then I got word that they had somehow managed to acquire the rights to the Orff recording. Maybe “Civil War” movies didn’t count. I guess it worked out for the others involved but I was very disappointed. My total contribution ended up being the addition of some “resolution” chords to the end of a James Horner cue that they’d taken from the movie to use for the pre-release trailers.

Elliot Kaplan and the re-scoring of TENTACLES

elliot_kaplan_1990Another example of recent re-scoring comes from American International Pictures in their 1980 release of the Italian horror film, TENTACLES. Stelvio Cipriani had scored the original Italian version of the film, but when the movie was released in American theatres, it featured a new score by composer Elliot Kaplan.

This, of course, is nothing new for American International. In the 1960s and 70s, A.I.P. commissioned new scores from staff composers like Les Baxter and Ronald Stein (or re-used earlier ones) to replace the original music from the European films the studio imported. In the case of TENTACLES, a lurid drama about a giant octopus, the powers-that-be at A.I.P. decided the existing score was inappropriate for American audiences and commissioned a new one from Kaplan.

“American International acquired TENTACLES for American theatrical distribution,” said Kaplan. “Largely, I think, for the name value of its cast – Henry Fonda, John Huston, Shelley Winters and Claude Akins. Upon screening it, the A.I.P. people thought that the very scam, thin score, which featured a small string group, a Hammond-like electronic instrument, and a few short interjections by harpsichord, needed replacement.”

Kaplan was hired to re-score the film because the studio had been pleased with his score for their 1976 film version of H.G. Wells’ THE FOOD OF THE GODS directed by Bert I. Gordon. However, because of the contractual arrangements they had with the Italian producers, Kaplan could not receive credit or ASCAP royalties for the project.

“My score is not used in the version which, can be seen from time to time on TV; only the American theatrical prints have it. My version is heavily symphonic, utilizing a full complement of brass and percussion, plus some woodwind doublers, 4 celli, bass, harp and two keyboardists, who played synthesizers of that era in addition to piano.”

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