Spotlight Articles And Features

Mike Matessino Interview - From Poltergeist to Alien
November 2007

Jerry Goldsmith fans should be familiar with Mike Matessino's name by now as key contributor to a number of ground breaking soundtrack and DVD releases. Here Mike was kind enough to talk to Jerry Goldsmith Online about his work on the various Jerry Goldsmith projects he has produced including the recent two disc restoration of Jerry Goldsmith's classic score to Alien.

How did you become interested in film music? And how did you get into working on film music restorations for CD and DVD? 

My interest in film music came from my parents, who probably purchased more soundtracks than average people even though they weren’t “collectors.” So I think because they paid attention to the music in films, so did I. I was chorister and learned to read music at a very young age and I had an uncannily tuned ear. My pitch was so perfect that in the days before pitch knobs on LP turntables I’d get very frustrated because I could tell that the pitch was often too fast. I became so interested in film that I really didn’t focus on music enough to pursue composing. From the beginning it seemed that my interest was more in how the music related to the film and the techniques involved in editing, mixing, and so on. At university I really wanted to learn about music editing, but they didn’t teach it. So I basically minored in music and then applied film editing instruction to music and found that I really liked the process. Unfortunately, when I was in school they taught everything you needed to know about filmmaking in the late 80s, which turned out to have nothing whatsoever to do with what would be going on in the 90s. But by then there was a growing interest in restoration and in mining studio vaults to get scores from every era onto compact disc. So my unique circumstances seem to have led me in that direction. Although I’ve been involved in documentaries and film restoration, for the past few years I’ve really focused on the music and have really enjoyed it. I have occasionally dabbled in arranging and have also directed children’s choirs and have done some teaching, but I love working with film music on a daily basis.

Which Jerry Goldsmith scores first impressed you?

One of the first “R” rated movies I got to see was The Omen, and the music scared the (insert biological term) out of me. The same year came Logan’s Run, which also made an impression and I can remember seeing Planet of the Apes on the 4:30 movie in New York around the same time. His scores were very direct and prominent. I basically followed Goldsmith’s projects consistently after that.  

What was working on expanding the score to Poltergeist  like? Also getting to work with Nick Redman and of course Jerry Goldsmith!

Nick really facilitated my gradual shift into score restoration. Poltergeist was a great project because it is one of my favorites. I think it’s a perfectly scored movie and the entire work is a good listen. But...Jerry had very strong opinions about expanding scores. He involved himself in his album presentations, including the original Poltergeist, but he, naturally, came at it from a different perspective than the listener or score aficionado. When Star Trek: The Motion Picture was expanded he was approached and insisted that several cues be cut, including all of the alternates. So it’s a fine line to support the composer but also your own desires as well as what the fans want, and sometimes it’s best to not involve the composers. Most are too busy to pay attention to what happens with their catalog albums anyway, but if you deliberately put it onto their radar you run the risk of having them dictate what happens with them even though legally there is no obligation to do so. 

When was your first meeting with Jerry Goldsmith and of course what was it like?

It was in the summer of 2000 when I first met him and he was not the gruff, dismissive guy I was expecting at all. He was very warm, funny, welcoming, and truly appreciative of someone who could discuss his work on a musicological level. I cherished every moment I got to spend with him during a period of about a year and a half.

Fans are often fascinated by the process and difficulties involved in releasing soundtracks, could you talk about the process involved and the problems faced by producers to get a CD released of a score, or DVD produced with an isolated score?

A big question! Sometimes it’s like walking through a mine field. Do the elements exist? If so, are they in decent shape or can they be made so? There are issues of licensing, publishing royalties, reuse payments, etc. And then, what label will release it? How much will the restoration and mastering cost? It’s all quite involved but it’s a much more well-oiled machine now than it was a decade ago. What has proven to be critical is having one or more persons at a given studio who is supportive and committed to the whole endeavor. As with everything at the studios there is an element of bureaucracy involved. It’s hard for fans to comprehend the idea that sometimes even an obscure title is bouncing around in development for several months until it shows up as a stunning limited edition on a label like Varése, Intrada or FSM.

DVD iso-scores are a completely different arena. With those it is a matter of the home entertainment divisions seeing the value of the feature and the legal departments taking the stance that the studio is legitimately able to present scores in synchronization with the film. The actual work on these can sometimes be more challenging because it requires the extra step of matching the score to the picture. The movies are often edited after scoring and the music elements tend to not synchronize precisely. But it’s just one more way of mining the vaults and getting more scores out there. I particularly like what Nick has spearheaded this year with Fox because we’ve been able to keep the slates and stage chit-chat where we’ve had that. What this does is alert the viewer that music is about to begin and it becomes a window into the process of spotting a picture as well as a sense of being on the stage; you can study the film and contemplate why the artists chose a particular spot to come in with music. Working on these is gratifying and a learning experience at the same time. It’s also given us the opportunity to have people like Jon Burlingame and Nick Redman discuss the world of film scoring in detail on commentary tracks such as those we have on The Sand Pebbles and Von Ryan’s Express.

Your work on the Alien DVD was the first time fans could properly listen to the score in its entirety. What was it like getting this score included on the DVD? Was there comment or involvement from Ridley Scott for example?

The Alien 20th anniversary DVD release was done in a huge rush. The green light came in early January 1999 and everything was delivered in early March. So we went for as many added features as we could easily put together, and the music was an obvious choice. Nick Redman supported this because all that existed at the time was a stereo mixdown of the individual cues with not-so-great sound quality, and until something better was found it didn’t look like a proper CD release could ever happen. So he felt it was a way to get the music out there. When I was in England doing interviews for the documentary and recording Ridley Scott’s commentary, I went over the music with him to try to figure some of it out. In many cases it didn’t fit the finished picture but in the end he just said to include as much of it as possible and to place it where it made sense. He really wanted it all on there. He loves the score even though he doesn’t really seem to specifically comprehend just how little of it was actually used in the film. He also wanted us to get Jerry for the documentary, but at the time Jerry refused. Five years later he consented for the "Quadrilogy" release, which they had much more time and money to put together and probably more time to convince him to do it.

The updated "Quadrilogy" set obviously did not have the isolated score, do you know why this was not carried to that set?

DVD is entirely driven by marketing and it was apparently determined that having all-new features was the way to go to maximize sales. I think they knew that whomever wanted the isolated score already had the previous edition and would hold on to it. But the 20th anniversary version has remained in print and has appeared in several other editions, including a recent region 1 release in lenticular packaging. Also, additional audio tracks eat up bit space. I don’t recall offhand if they added a DTS track or other languages in 2004, but in any event every audio track you put on there compromises the picture quality a bit more.

Your next major Jerry Goldsmith project was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. How important is this score to you? Do you have fond memories of perhaps hearing that score in the cinema when the movie first came out?

I would say Star Trek is my favorite Goldsmith score of all-time and naturally I know it intimately, having had the opportunity to work with the original elements for The Director’s Edition. I cut school on 7 December 1979 to see it on opening day and I was hooked as soon as the overture played. That in itself was a treat because the era when overtures were common was over before I was going to movies. I think it’s an absolute masterpiece. It carried the entire film and there was not one moment where the music was inappropriate or where it felt like it was just droning along. To hear that music in a large theatre was an experience I’ll never forget. We had a screening of The Director’s Edition just a few months ago and the impact was just as strong as ever.

Did you work on the expanded CD or just the special edition DVD for Star Trek? I’m assuming Jerry Goldsmith was more heavily involved compared to the previous projects?

I didn’t work on the expanded CD, but Jerry was involved. He was directly involved with The Director’s Edition DVD and I sought his approval on every musical change made to the film, he was very supportive and loved the finished result. He particularly liked the fact that for two of the sequences being shortened I wanted to cut down the cues first, so that they still made sense musically, and then edit the picture to the score. “They should cut all movies like that,” he said. For the CD they did not go back to the original multi-track first generation reels, but we did, and they are in fantastic shape. I hope that another project can happen at some point where we get a definitive and comprehensive release of that score.

Was there any plan to include an isolated score? I was a bit disappointed the DVD did not have a special doc on the music alone. Would you have liked to see more discussed about the music on this DVD?

We did propose not only an isolated score, but a series of clips with the alternate scores mixed into the film, and also having the music isolated on a parallel track. I’m sure score fans are aware that Paramount’s stance on the use of music is a bit different than, say, 20th Century Fox, at least for the moment, so unfortunately we were not able to include that feature. I would have liked much more of a focus on the music, but our involvement was with the film itself. Although Robert Wise Productions did the interviews with the filmmakers, Paramount determined which features would be presented on DVD.

The Fox box set for Varése was a very memorable release for Jerry Goldsmith fans. Could you talk of your involvement on this project?

That was a joy to work on. My responsibility was all of the previously unreleased music and the idea was to have every score Jerry did at Fox represented. The challenge, however, was that we have found that at Fox the elements from the early to mid 1960s are very unpredictable. It may have had something to do with cheaper stock or the reuse of stock in the aftermath of Cleopatra, when the studio’s future was in question. So titles like Fate Is the Hunter and Shock Treatment were not in as good shape as we had hoped. I know Jerry was thrilled with the overall project when he finally received it, which sadly was not long before his untimely death.

It was fantastic to see Damnation Alley included on the box set. That score had been thought lost but turned up in part. Any comments on finding this score and of course whether the missing electronic parts have been found? Also is there any news on the often talked about DVD release of the film?

I did what I could with Damnation Alley to include a selection of cues on the box set. But, as you say, the electronic overdubs are missing. But in light of what recently happened with Alien, anything is possible. I haven’t heard anything about the DVD release, but I like this score very much too and hope something happens with it.

The new two CD presentation of Alien has got fans very excited. I know Nick Redman has commented before he wanted to do Alien but would not do so until he found better tapes, compared to the DVD. Plus there was a confusing license issue involving of all people Universal. Perhaps you can talk generally on how the project went.

It was a project that, after years of nothing, just came out of nowhere and came together lightning fast. As a result of the Amazing Stories albums, Intrada has developed a good relationship with Universal Music Group, which inherited the Polygram catalog, which encompasses the old 20th Century Records label. So the original album master for Alien had to be licensed from UMG and the rest of the music had to be licensed from Fox. Once the deal was put together a routine element check miraculously turned up a new 1” source. It’s possible that it materialized in England when the Director’s Cut was done in 2004. I honestly don’t know. Ron Fuglsby, who investigates and preps all of the music elements for us at Fox, located it and we had it transferred. It did require some restoration work, but the result was the remarkable jump in quality we were always hoping for. I’d guess that Intrada was negotiating the deal long before I came into it, but from my perspective it went very fast. Nick and Doug Fake graciously let me run with it due to my previous history with the title and work with Jerry. I started in July and within two months the work on the music as well as the liner notes were delivered. For the first time I read Jerry’s own score with the music playing and it was an absolute revelation. I approached the entire thing as my tribute to Jerry and I feel it really put a period on my involvement with Alien.

Judging by the fact this is the second Alien project for you perhaps you can talk about how much the score means to you? Your feelings on how it was used in the film and getting to hear it properly for the first time.

It’s really the fourth time I’ve worked on Alien because first came the laserdisc, then the DVD, then the suite for Varése’s box set, and then the Intrada edition, plus other things along the way like the Bowl concert in 2001 and consulting on some television specials about the film. I love the Alien score but I am rather torn when it comes to evaluating what Jerry wrote compared with how the film ended up. The problem is that I’ve seen the movie so many times that I can’t look at it objectively any more. My main thought is that the lack of communication between Ridley and Jerry is what led to such a polarization between the score as written and the final film. Certainly there are many moments in the film that play most effectively without music, and personally I don’t think that Jerry’s romantic approach to the main title and the over-the-top elements of “The Cupboard” really worked. But they are fantastic in terms of a purely musical representation of the story on CD. The use of Freud takes me out of it, but at other times I think the right choices were made. The use of Hanson at the end works in terms of mood, and a sense of cleansing, but I believe with one more go Jerry could have achieved the same thing and still used his own theme. I think I said it best in the CD notes when I said that “whether each is more effective with or without the other is a subject for debate as regenerative as the Alien itself.”

I know the DVD allows you to listen to the score isolated against the scenes it was intended for but I’ve always wanted a DVD release to actually include the score as intended along with the dialogue and effects. Any thoughts on such a release?

I don’t really think this is possible. For one thing it would still require editing because the version Jerry scored was, in key instances, different from the final version. It would be good to see at least some highlights, though.

You have achieved great things to date but is there any dream Jerry Goldsmith related projects you would love to do?

I already mentioned a definitive Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In SA-CD would be great. Overall Jerry’s very well represented on CD and each year seems to bring a pleasant surprise like The Wind and the Lion and The Vanishing, which I also worked on. I don't think 2008 will be an exception. For me personally I’d say that the complete score to Twilight Zone: The Movie currently tops my wish list along with Damnation Alley.

Thanks, Jason, for the great interview.