RK How many projects have you scored so far?
JVT On my own I've done The Outer Limits and Poltergeist: The Legacy.
This includes both two hour pilots and probably around thirty episodes of
the two series together. I've also had additional music credit on twelve
big movies working with Hans Zimmer and Mark Mancina. This includes Speed
and Speed 2, I did about twenty minutes in that, and Twister. On almost
every film Marks worked, I've helped him out. Also Thelma and Louise,
Renaissance Man, Drop Zone, Dante's Peak, and Metro. John Frizzell did
Dante's Peak and Steve Porcaro did Metro, the Eddie Murphy movie. Those are
under James Newton Howard's umbrella, so James and I have a relationship as
well. It's been a busy few years.
RK Did you start out doing your own scores with The Outer Limits and
JVT These have been my first major projects on my own credit. Mark
introduced me to the situation and we wrote the theme together. Some of the
episodes have Mark's and my name on them, but those are politically
inclined credits. He hasn't really written any episodic music for the show
RK What was your first experience composing for film?
JVT This was for Thelma and Louise with Hans Zimmer.
RK Where did you learn to compose for films?
JVT I learned how to do this by being a sponge with music. I love music
so much and I've been a performer all my life as a keyboardist in various
bands, the whole experience of craving more out of music each day has been
my teacher. I've always been an eclectic musical person with my listening
and performing tastes. You really learn to do this by knowing music so
well, how to arrange it, how to manipulate it, how to write it, and working
on records for years like I did. It's funny, everyone that I used to work
with in the record business has always said to me, "You're scoring now? I
knew you were going to do that. I knew you were going to be a composer." I
always thought that I would be too, but I didn't realize I would be doing
it so soon. I always thought I'd be in the record business until I just
couldn't handle it anymore, but the record business took a turn with rap,
which got a little less musical for my tastes. Then hooking up with Hans
Zimmer happened sooner than I expected.
RK When did you realize you loved film scoring and this is your life?
JVT About four or five years ago I realized that I really want to write
something different than a three minute pop song. All I had done, up to
that point, were a few commercials and some things that lived on their own
outside of just something to be on a record. I thought, I really like
scoring, I like being able to write longer than three minutes or not having
to worry about coming back to the chorus. Ultimately, it was about five
years ago that things started focusing on compositions.
RK How did you get the job to score The Outer Limits?
JVT The Outer Limits is produced by Trilogy entertainment, Richard Lewis,
Pen Densham, and John Watson. Richard Lewis, of the three here, really
spear headed the project. Their company produced Backdraft, so I met
Richard when Hans was doing Backdraft. I didn't really work on this
project, but I was down there scoring a documentary series called
Millennium. He heard some of this stuff and that was our first entree. Mark
Mancina did a series for them, a few years back, called Space Rangers. This
was an ill fated thing on network television. I worked on this a lot as a
ghost writer. As a matter of fact, that's when Mancina was producing
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's Black Moon CD. I ended up taking over this
project anonymously. So I was working for these guys and they didn't even
know it. They came to Mark to ask him to do The Outer Limits and he said he
was just too busy film scoring and said, "John should do it." They called
me and said, "We'd like you to do it, but we want Mark involved."
Mark said " I don't need to be involved." They still wanted him to be
involved, so we ended up doing the theme together. That's how it came out.
RK Did your Outer Limits scores lead you to scoring Poltergeist: The
JVT They didn't give me a choice. It was one of those, "we really want
you to take over the new series and make sure it's going good," because
Outer Limits was going very well. They asked me to spearhead
that and now I'm doing both.
RK Did you exclusively use keyboards to score The Outer Limits and
Poltergeist: The Legacy?
JVT Yes. It's a total one man band operation. This is only because of
the schedule and the budget. I would rather use an orchestra, of course.
It's orchestral music for the most part.
RK Did you start scoring The Outer Limits at Hans Zimmer's studio Media
JVT In my own room that happened to be at Media Ventures. I had my own
place, but I've moved now to get a lot more space and get out on my own.
Hence the Blue Room.
RK How much time are you given to come up with each episode of The
JVT That varies. We kind of have a normal schedule, which is usually the
exception nowadays. The norm is roughly eleven days from getting a tape in
my hand to having it sent to Canada. The post production is in Canada,
which means I have to courier it up a day or two ahead of the mix.
This is a drag for me because of the time. I literally have between nine
and ten days to write thirty plus minutes of music. This is pretty much a
RK Do you always score to the video tape?
JVT This happens in two stages. I do the cues to video, obviously, for
timing. What I tend to do is to watch the show the first time without music
on it. I write music based on inspiration of the first impression of
watching it. I write the music for a day without the picture. The show
leaves this imprint on me and I react to it musically. It allows me to get
a creative flow going without having to sit and get things lined up. That
becomes what I call "The Suite". Some of those end up on the soundtrack.
When I know that I've covered my thematic material for my characters then I
start using the video tape. So it's one to two days doing that. Then I have
a little symphonic suite that I've done previous to doing the work. This
allows me to think, this part might go here or this part might go there,
and it allows the process to stay more creative for me.
RK How do you score for episodes where the special effects haven't been
JVT I have a little screen that says SHOT MISSING. You have to use your
imagination here. Just like I do to write music, I have to literally use my
imagination to get some sort of sense of what I think is going to happen in
that SHOT MISSING sequence. I have a chat with the producers and they give
me the description they gave the special effects guys. It's kind of blind
faith. Through communication, using the imagination, and the experience of
working on these shows for a while, you just go for it. A lot of time this
works out just fine. Sometimes the timings are amazing and you don't even
know how it happens. You just go for it. Sometimes it doesn't work out.
RK Does it ever surprise you after you see the final results?
JVT Constantly. I always ask for the effects, but you know they're never
done. I'm usually very pleasantly surprised with what happens. Plus you
also try and write music that can possibly work with broad timings. I had
one episode where a shot missing just came up constantly, I think it was
"Dark Matter" where they were showing spaceships all the time. They were
moving and I had to figure out how to write something that would seem like
things were still moving out there. It's a pretty bizarre experience.
RK Before you play the score on the keyboards, do you write or
orchestrate it in anyway?
JVT Typically what I like to do is this, I like to watch the episode the
night before, then get up the next morning and go to the piano after
sleeping on it and come up with some thematic material. Next I'll sketch it
out. Sometimes there will be detailed sketches like the classical composers
would do. Then I give it to an orchestrator. Sometimes it's just melodies
and I'll put that in my bag and bring it to the studio. I'll listen to it
in there and put some strings to it or something, just to see if the ideas
work and then I start my suite. I do all the work myself, but I will write
some of it out. It really all depends if I have time to do that. I like to
do things that way. I am a self taught musician, but I can read music and
orchestrate. I don't know how it happens, I just have a knack for it.
RK On the opening track of The Outer Limits CD, The Outer Limits Theme,
explain Mark Mancina's involvement here.
JVT I came up with a thematic idea that I thought worked for the theme.
Since Mark and I had planned collaborating on it, we actually sat in a room
together. I brought in the main theme for the main title and he liked it.
We had this as a base and collaborated on writing some of the other
sections. We just sat around, the two of us in my room, plunking away on
the keyboard and then I went ahead and did most of the orchestration. It
was quite fun actually.
RK Did he play on the theme?
JVT He played a little bit. We both do the same thing, so we could each
sit down and play. It was one of those fun things where we actually worked
RK Who came up with that chilling Gothic hook to the theme?
JVT I came up with that. That's what I brought to Mark and that's how we
began the day, by writing this together. I brought this on board and
thought if he likes it this is a starting point. This started our writing
RK Did the original Outer Limits theme by Dominic Frontiere influence
JVT It didn't come into my mind at all and I did that on purpose. I
really respect the past and I even turn to the past for some of my
inspiration, definitely for soundtracks. The composers today out there are
great and there is so much good music being written, but If I had to sit
down and say "I want to listen to a great score or soundtrack", chances are
I'm going to pull one of the older guys out of my library. Since this was a
total redo of what was going on, I really didn't want to have his thing in
my brain at all. This was supposed to be a new situation, so I choose the
approach to keep it fresh. We weren't even doing a homage to the old title.
The only thing that is the same is the control voice. The only thing I did
was watch a couple episodes just to get back into it, because I did watch
it when I was a mere child and it was out.
RK There were some pretty horrific episodes back then.
JVT The one I'm doing right now actually is a remake. They've got David
McCallum, from The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the blond. He was in one of the
older ones as well, but I don't know if he was in this one. This ones
called "Feasibility Study", which I'm presently doing. This is a remake and
there was another one with Leonard Nimoy that was a remake called "I
RK Will you be working with Mark Mancina again?
JVT I just finished working with Mark on Speed 2. I would think that I'm
Mark's main collaborator when he needs one. I've been his guy for a few
years now, so were very good friends. We have a mutual admiration and he
really respects me. He's the first guy to say the tables could have been
turned and I could have been the one that got the lucky break with the
score, but he really respects me. So we're constantly working together and
we will always work together.
RK Which piece on the new Outer Limits CD do you feel works best with
JVT This is a hard one because I'm very proud of what I've done for the
show and I'm very serious about what I do for these guys. I think each cut
works at the same level to help the show become a unified piece. If I had a
preference, I really thought "Sandkings" was a definitive musical statement
for the show. It really became the bible, so to speak, of how we follow the
series. Other guys write scores for The Outer Limits, obviously, and
usually the "Sandkings" music was sent along as an example of the scope and
depth in the show. Not that they were supposed to copy me, it was the
bible, and I'm very proud of how that works. "Quality Of Mercy", which I
think was a good example of that one room scenario, or teleplay, was
extremely effective considering there were two people in one room for
almost the whole show. A lot was happening and the music was constantly
ticking the time away. I had to find a way to reinvent a clock ticking
musically through the course of a whole show and not be boring. I'm very
proud of how that works musically with the show. However, if somebody asked
me to pick the definitive show to watch , from the musical input, I would
pick "Sandkings" as one of the first.
RK On "Valerie 23", about one minute into it, there is a very beautiful
passage here. How do you come up with pieces like this?
JVT There are two answers to this question. The creative answer to this
question is that I am a romantic at heart. I like extremely beautiful
modern music and extremely dissonant, rugged, intellectual music as well.
What I've set out to do with this style of music for the show, was to be
haunting. I'm trying to be romantic in a very odd off center way. It's like
a twisted romantic approach and that works well. The producers love it. I
love it. I'm still trying to be romantic without it being sappy and syrupy.
Its got a twist, its got a kink, its got some sort of off balance, off
centeredness to it that makes it live in this subject matter. This was a
fairly heart felt theme. So the other answer is that the music was not
written for "Valerie 23". The music for "Valerie 23" is all from
"Sandkings". "Valerie 23's" episode actually finished production in the
middle of doing "Sandkings". They might have even had somebody score it and
they didn't like it. So they came to me and said "Can you score this
episode?" and I said "I don't have time." Then they said " What about some
of the music from "Sandkings"?" I said "Well, you could use some of the
nice pieces from it." So that ended up being, as they call it in the
business, a tracked episode using the music from "Sandkings". They've
tracked six episodes so far and it's pretty amazing how it does work for a
totally different context. That's why I said I think we've created a nice
musical concept for the show.
RK About three minutes into "Sandkings I" there's some very chaotic
orchestration. Where is this coming from? Inside you?
JVT If it's extremely dissonant and aggressive, that's my thing. I can be
real mellow and I can be really intense. I scored the alien attacks, or the
critters as we call them, the Sandkings very violently. This is because
they were little, but they were intelligent and they did some pretty
serious damage to the characters in the show. I scored those bits intensely
and over the top. The theme is haunting with the voices and the almost
waltz like quality in the piece before it, which is kind of the main title
with the trumpet melody. That's really the Sandkings theme. All the stuff
that happens around it is just super intense and super aggressive.
RK There are some great dynamics in "Sandkings II." How can you produce
music like this by just using keyboards?
JVT That's the hardest part of realizing some sort of orchestral sound
with synthesizers. I'm using orchestral samples that are literally
orchestral sounds, but making the dynamics happen are really the hardest
part about what I do. This takes a lot of time. It's a constant shaping of
the sound. I try to perform the parts into my sequencer as though they're
being played by those instruments. I imagine that I'm playing them, sitting
in the orchestra, being as dynamic as they would, hoping that's
translating. I imagine that I am performing the parts. I hand play them in
performing each part dynamically as well with volume and timber shifts.
Believe me, that's a lot of work. It's an art form in itself trying to get
it to sound real.
RK On "Message I, II, and III", how do you approach this to create
traditional orchestral arrangements?
JVT There are not a lot of synthesizer sounds in "Message". There's more
synth stuff in "Sandkings". A lot of the bass things were actually synths.
That was a purely orchestral sounding score to me in my head before I wrote
it. It was a very tender story with Marly Matlin. It had a large message,
but it was a small dramatic episode. I wanted to write heartfelt music for
it because her character really needed that. That took a lot of grooming
using orchestral samples with that technique I talked about. I was trying
to feel like I'm making up an orchestra playing this piece. I wrote a
chorale by using more traditional musical forms, trying to stay more
classical in that vein. It's a nice piece of music. I think half of it has
to do with the sounds, the raw material of sounds, and the other half has
to do with the massaging and the grooming of the sounds and the performing
of the sounds to make it sound realistic. That has to do with knowing what
a real orchestra sounds like. Sitting in a room with an orchestra,
conducting an orchestra, writing for an orchestra, and knowing what it
sounds like. It's extremely frustrating for me to sit in front of my
keyboard and try to get my ideas out with synthesizers. I will never sit
here and go " This is what I want to do". This is a means that I have to
take to give the people I'm working for the sounding score that they want,
but I will never go down saying "This is better that an orchestra". This is
the way I have to do things for the project I'm on. I try to write
orchestrally and this stuff will translate to an orchestra fine, more so on
this piece. The word is that this episode is not a hybrid sounding score. A
lot of my stuff is hybrid. It has a lot of synthesizers as well to get a
hybrid sound between organic orchestral and a more synthetic thing. This is
the blend I'm trying to get here. The producers love organic orchestral
scores and that's part of the motivation of doing this as well.
RK "Quality Of Mercy" leads us into this furious symphonic movement.
What's gotten into you here?
JVT That episode is basically a one room shoot. This whole thing unfolds
in one room with two characters. I thought the music had to make a
statement about how heavy the situation they're in was,
not necessarily the situation between the two of them, but the fact that
the unknown outside of this room was very very large and very big. These
people were rebels fighting against these alien half robotic people. I
wanted the audience to feel like the unknown, outside of this room, was
massive and large and heavy and dark and intense. That's why the score is
so wound up and large. It also allowed me to have an incredible dynamic.
Then I could really get soft against that and get tender when they were
tender. It was the fact of the impending doom here and there was nothing to
look forward to at all. I needed that dynamic shift plus there was a
militaristic thing happening with the guard coming in. There were three
characters. The guard that came in was over the top, big , large, huge.
That was the unknown coming in the room. When the door opens the music has
to reflect that. So I'm really part of that. I was trying to align with
RK Does the mood and emotion from "Conversion" flow from the episode
JVT Definitely. Conversion is an odd show. Rebecca DeMorney directed it
and she had a major role in the beginning and the end. She's seduces the
main character, Frank Whaley. The flute theme is the seduction. It's slinky
and seductive to aid in that. The other main theme, which has got a little
quirkiness to it, is the angel theme. This is John Savage's character who's
literally Clarence from "It's a Wonderful life", the angel. The other
theme, which I'm very proud of as well, is his theme. You've got this
juxtaposition between this somewhat erratic flute kind of sexy thing
against this hauntingly melodic other theme that's got quirky woodwinds
underneath it. He wasn't a very subtle character. He was a little nervous.
Yes, that was extremely motivated by what I was visually seeing in the
characters' performances. I liked that episode.
RK Explain your hypnotic driving orchestral theme in "New Breed I and II".
JVT That was a true hybrid score with a lot of synthesizer and classical
music in it. You have a kind of a tech show about scientists making
manobots. I wanted to do something leaning towards high tech, not in the
classic sense musically, but a modern hybrid synth sounding piece with a
heartfelt melody, that had just a hint of detachment. It's got to be
hauntingly romantic or twisted romantic. The show really was a very human
nature oriented show. It wasn't a tech show. The jest of the show was very
human and very touching. I wanted to write a melody that reflected that
which I could use across the show, but had this interweaving synthesizer
hypnotic type thing going on underneath it because the characters were real
phonetic. Also in the score is that real phonetic sounding, almost microbes
talking kind of thing that I needed to put in there to gain some
phoneticness for the little cell characters. I'm very proud of this score
too. It lives on its own very well. It's very dramatic. The end is so
dramatic and sad that I wanted to make everyone emotional and almost cry
in that haunting way.
RK On "I Hear You Calling", this starts out very soft and beautiful to
build into this wonderful energy. Explain this piece.
JVT That's more of a classic episode for The Outer Limits. In the old
ones you have a human drama with some sort of outside influence that no one
really knows. In this case it was a visitor from another planet trying to
police a plague from happening on our planet. We had a big father and
daughter relationship that had to play very emotionally. That piece of
music is in tact from the show. It's the last cue. In the last cue I had to
go a lot of different places. You have a father daughter reconciliation
happening with bittersweet overtone that launches into this big dramatic
showdown with the alien character and the star of the show. She has to make
the decision whether she's going to leave and go to his planet, where
she'll live, or infect the rest of the population. This question has been
posed to her and that's where the big dramatic moment happens in the middle
of the score. The end is taking off to the new planet. I had to get over
the top and pumped up for that.
RK Does The Outer Limits show itself inspire you to write music?
JVT Definitely. Definitely, without a doubt. I'm very happy that I
continue to be inspired by what they're doing with these shows. This is the
end of the third year and I work my butt off to do this. It's literally one
after another. I have one more show and I'm very, very tired. The only way
I can get through it is to be motivated and they're definitely able to
motivate me, almost all the time. It's great to be involved in a series
like that. They're making little movies. The producers come to me and say
"We want these to be little movies". It's easy for somebody working in
television to say "Well, it's not television". Literally we're not
approaching this as television, it really is more like a little movie each
hour. There's almost enough music to be in a movie, so the job is a little
more difficult in that regard because they want it to sound like a movie. I
can't just give them little bits of music. It has to be thought out and
orchestrated. Not to toot my own horn, but there's a lot of work involved
RK There's a cut on the CD by composer J. Peter Robinson called "A
Stitch In Time". How do you like this piece?
JVT I think it's really nice. I helped pick that piece because somebody
had to pick a piece from the show. You know, he has a different style than
I do. It's great because it brings in a breath of fresh air on the CD.
Because they wanted so many episodes represented, we only had time for a
little snippet of what he did. The score he did on that show was really
good and the episode was great. Amanda Plummer was brilliant in that. I'm
envious I didn't get to do that episode, but J. Peter was on board early
on. He had a relationship as well with the producers. It was clearly a case
with him that he does things a certain way. When I did "Sandkings" he had
already done some episodes of The Outer Limits. They liked my direction so
much, that became the bible for the sound they wanted for the episode,
which is a little different than what J. Peter's doing. I think sometimes
the guys are a little strict there and they should be a little more open to
the sounds. You know Joel Goldsmith's doing episodes and he's got a
different style. Randy Miller's done some work here as well. Also Steven
Stern, who is part of my team, has come up through working with me.
RK You did the end titles for The Outer Limits with Mark Mancina as well?
JVT Yes, it's another performance of the main titles for the back titles.
It's something different. I performed that one by myself, but yes it's
based on our collaborative themes.
RK Explain why you included Outer Limits Re-Mix on the CD?
JVT Well, it was the record company's idea. They asked me if I was
interested in doing a somewhat dance rendition of the theme. I was
intrigued by it and thought "You know what? I could actually do something
like this". I rose to the challenge and put on my record hat again and had
a lot of fun with it. I brought in a singer friend of mine, Tammy Byler, to
do these wonderful siren like things for me. We got a chance to have some
fun with it and be a little light with some very heavy subject matter. It's
definitely to have fun with. We can't take ourselves too seriously all the
time. I think it was a nice way to present the theme, just an alternate
take to give people something different. The producers liked it too.
RK Do you ever work with the other composers like Randy Miller, Steven
Stern or Joel Goldsmith when they compose?
JVT I work with Steven because I brought Steven onto the project. Steven
helped me on a few episodes early on. When I couldn't make deadlines he
would help out on a cue here or there using my thematic material and work
around my schedule. I felt that he was able to go out on his own, so we
collaborated on three or four episodes in the second season . Then he
started doing his own. He came up through the ranks with me. I don't work
with Randy and Joel. They're on their own.
RK What composers influence you?
JVT I think my drama comes from Shostakovich, Sibelius, or those kind of
guys. My colors come from more of the modern guys like Toru Takemitsu,
Frederick Delius. I like so many different things, Carlos Chavez and
Alberto Ginastera. I like a lot of those guys, Alfred Schnittke, John
Corigliano's wonderful. I tend to draw from the modern composers for my
colors or orchestration, but I think for my dramatic sense I tend to lean a
little more towards the Russian composers Shostakovich and Jean Sibelius
and Gabriel Faure, he's a French composer and Debussy. I love the
impressionistic era composers. I draw from them more than I draw from
Mahler, Beethoven, and Mozart. Hans and Mark really like those guys and I
love them too, but I think I draw from more recent composers. And Bernard
Herrmann, what can you say? If he hadn't graced us it would be a whole
different situation, definitely in the film business. I would think Alex
North and Bernard Herrmann would be my two idols in the film composer area.
Alex North is a very eclectic composer, like I feel I am, and Bernard
Herrmann, although very eclectic, tended to be very focused with the
direction that he had for his films. I also feel I've now found that kind
of path for what I'm doing on these shows. So I look to both those guys for
my inspiration too.
RK Would you prefer to score motion pictures instead of television?
JVT After the last four or five years of working in both idioms, I have to
say that I'm very, very pleased to have the opportunity to write the music
for The Outer Limits and Poltergeist. I really feel lucky to be able to
write what I want to write on these shows. I have found in my experience
working with some of the big guys, in that collaborator helper capacity
with Mancina and Hans, you don't get necessarily the same opportunities.
Not for me being a helper, but those guys, being in their shoes, especially
working on these big budget pop movies like the Simpson-Bruckheimer
productions and the Jan De Bonts. The creative freedom is more restricted
there. I would rather work in long form movies. Yes, I think I'd ultimately
rather be there. That's what I'm trying to do and my machinery's geared
towards that. I would like to find a niche that's a long form version of
what I'm doing now. Not necessarily the big Hollywood blockbusters, but
just more artistic movies. I think that's ultimately where I want to go. I
want to continue working on this series. I thinks it's really good and it's
not just perceived as just television music. Unfortunately there's that
stigma in this community, he's a television composer, and I don't think I'm
in there. People don't look at me as being a composer of television music
because these shows don't really have your typical television music. I
can't dismiss what I'm doing in television because I'm very lucky and feel
I'm very fortunate to have this kind of forum to write music. I don't know
if I would be so lucky or so creatively free in a motion picture.
RK What are you currently working on?
JVT I'm working on finishing The Outer Limits and Poltergeist for the
third season. I just finished Speed 2 and I'm arranging and producing a
song for a Disney project called The Lion King Musical. They've asked me to
do the pop single for this recording. I'm actually making a record right
now on one of the songs from this musical, which is a lot of fun. I'm
hoping to finish some serious works that are almost done which I'm hoping
to get performed in the fall. I'm writing a viola quartet, which is a very
odd kind of format, for a friend of mine's quartet. I'm putting together
some suites of some of the music from films that I've worked on. It might
end up being a promotional thing. I've got a lot of things to catch up on.
Also I have to finish my building here (Tongerland) by getting my
furniture. Then I'll take a break.
RK Do you have any future projects lined up?
JVT I'm going to do a mini series based on a Peter Benchley novel called
White Shark. I'm slated to do that for Trilogy on network television. That
will be fun. I'm sure I'll be back on board to do more Outer Limits next
year. The Outer Limits has one more season confirmed in syndication and the
status for Poltergeist is unknown.