18 June 2024

[continued from Part I]

TT: Letís talk about your score for Curtains. The music for this one really typifies the "Zaza sound." Tell us what instruments you used during this period of your career to achieve that unique sound.

PZ: You always started with a string section. The string section would be violins, violas, cellos and basses. Those are the basic four levels of strings in the string family.

Depending on your budget, you would either have ten violins, six violas, four cellos and two basses. And if you didnít have much money, you went down to say four violins, a viola, a cello and a bass. You could have any variation of those numbers. But you always started with a string section.

And then you would bring in your percussion, which are timpani, snare drums, bass drums, etc.

Then you have your brass family, which are trombones, French horns, trumpets, tuba. The brass were very powerful for any stings you wanted to do, like the one in Curtains [during the prophouse scene]. The brass is the third very important family in the orchestra.

TT: The chase music during the prophouse scene, for example: low strings, quick & foreboding - that was a cello?

PZ: Yes. Those are low cellos and basses.

The fourth family is woodwinds. Flutes, oboes, clarinet, bassoons, piccolo. Anything that you blow into. Youíll notice that in Prom Night, I discovered an animal called the bass flute. Itís a flute, but itís bass - so itís very very low. And the damn thing is so big.

A normal flute is about three feet long and you hold it, and you blow into it. Now if you picture a bass flute, itís three times longer. In fact, itís so longÖbecause a human canít get his arms around it, they have to bend the pipe so it curls up around. Like a drain on a drainpipe. Itís a real creepy instrument. You can hear it all throughout Prom Night.

TT: And the crotales in Curtains, the cymbals that make those distinctive, chime-like sounds?

PZ: Yes, the brass discs. They look like CDs. Only theyíre about 1/2 inch thick. They make very teardrop, glass crystalline sounds. I sort of discovered that for the teardrops coming out of the little doll in Curtains. Thatís a percussion instrument because you hit it with a mallet.

TT: It's no secret Curtains was a mess of a production. Can you elaborate on what a troubled and labored project that one was?

PZ: A disaster. There was a script that didnít make sense, and a director who went out and tried to get creative and deviate from the script that already didnít make sense. And all it did was make the film even more incoherent. So you ended up with this real mish mash of basically ďscenesĒ - that if you looked at them individually, youíd say ďHmmmÖthatís pretty creepy.Ē

But you put them all together and thereís no plot. Thereís no reason for anything to happen. Thereís no motivation for anything and it all had this sort of randomness about it.

TT: Did you know Richard Ciupka, the original director on Curtains?

PZ: No. Because to be very honest, Ciupka wasnít around much. He was let go very early on when Peter realized he had a big problem on his hands. His knee-jerk reaction was to get rid of the director. "He doesnít know what heís doing."

TT: The whole thing must have been frustrating for the cast and everyone involved.

PZ: Samantha Eggar was pissed off. But she wasnít the only one. This thing was around for a LONG time, and any actor or actress on a film knows they have to come back to do things like ADR and looping, stuff like that to finish it off.

But Curtains seemed to never get to that stage.


PZ: Automatic Dialogue Replacement. When they go in to a studio, put the headphones on and they put the words back in their own mouths.

TT: Because for whatever reason, it wasnít miked properly?

PZ: There could be a million reasons. There was an airplane that flew over, the mike didnít work, a dog barked right over a quiet moment. Thereís always some reason why the sound gets screwed up. So you artificially record it in a studio and itís called looping.

But we never got to the looping stage, because they kept re-shooting, and re-cutting, and changing, and re-writing it. And it wasnít getting any better. The more they changed it, the more they needed to change it even more.

We were all committed contractually to finish Curtains, but everybody was just hoping it would die. That thereíd be a fire in the building that would burn the negative or something.

TT: Did you interact with the cast at all?

PZ: Not on that one, no. I was brought onto it pretty much after they were done. They came back and did some re-shoots. But youíve got to remember, over the two year period or whatever it was, I was doing other movies. I had my hands full with other films. Curtains was just kind of there on my desk. I knew I had to eventually deal with it, but I was hoping it would be later rather than sooner.

There was no release date for it. There was no studio clamoring, waiting for the picture. It was just a tax shelter deal.

TT: Do you remember seeing the ice skating scene with Lesleh Donaldson and the hag for the first time - and thinking "maybe here's a momentĒ?

PZ: Yes. And there were some other things about the movie that I thought were kind of cool. Like the doll. I donít know where they found that doll. It was just the creepiest looking doll Iíd ever seen. It creeps me out just looking at it.

TT: The killerís ďcalling card.Ē

PZ: Yeah. So I thought, I could have some fun with that. And I did. The skating scene was cool, the way they slo-moed it down.

TT: The music is great in that sequence, kind of Bernard Herrmann. Spirited and feisty.

PZ: Well, he was one of my idols and you know what they say about imitation. As I said earlier, individually, if you look at the scenes - they kind of work by themselves. But when you put them all together, you donít have a cohesive film that has a plot that makes sense.

TT: Well, in a way, you ARE able to get by with it because itís just a low-budget horror film.

In our interview with producer Peter Simpson, he said something very complimentary about you. He said one of the big draws of working with you was that you already had your own studio and were ready to go. So you could get working on something immediately, and didnít have to book the studio time and were ready to record.

PZ: Yeah. The other thing that Peter liked - and I love him, God bless him, I sure miss him - but he was first and foremost a businessman. He was a true film ďproducerĒ - much more so than a filmmaker or director. He loved the comfort of a package deal. Knowing that the studio, the musicians, the copyist, the composerís feesÖall of that could be bundled into one fee that he knew was not gonna go over budget.

TT: He told us you had the talent and artistry to do a job, but just as importantly, had a commitment to deliver the product on time.

PZ: Many composers would say, ďOkayÖthis is what I THINK itís gonna cost. BUT if anything goes wrong, or you donít like it - itís going to be more.Ē Itís a gamble. By the time the producer gets to the music in his film, heís already spent like 90% of his budget. Music is almost the very last thing to go on before the film gets released.

TT: Isn't there a certain amount of irony in that thinking? That is, music often plays a more important role in a horror film than in say, a drama or comedy. It's really one of the primary tools a filmmaker can use to evoke fear..

PZ: Thatís the way normal people might see it. But producersÖwhen theyíre in the trenches and shooting a movie, they almost always go over budget because thereís something they hadnít budgeted for. They tried to blow up a bridge but it didnít blow up properly so theyíve gotta do it again and need another $30,000. Where do they get it? They take it out of the backendÖwhich is the post-production, where I come in. The music.

And their attitude is always that theyíll figure it out when they get there. So they get there and they realize they have no money left. Thereís no contingency. If the composer says, ďNo, we need another $30,000Ē - they donít have it. Theyíve used up their contingencies.

So what people like Peter Simpson and a handful of others liked...was that I would package the studio and the composing and the musicians. The whole thing. I took care of all of it. I even had a staff that did all the paperwork and the payroll and everything.

I gave them a contract for such and such a fee. They would get this thing delivered to their satisfaction. Of course, after we delivered Prom Night to Peter, which was the first film I did for him - and a few others - he came to rely on me, and what I could promise him. He knew he would always get the score he wanted. And he knew it would never cost any more than I agreed to.

TT: No fuss, no muss.

PZ: Yes. And Peter was more a businessman than anything else.

The other thing is, in Canada, when you made these low-budget horror films in the late '70s and early '80s, it wasn't like Los Angeles. In L.A., they make just as many mistakes as we do here. But the difference is - they just get more money when they need to fix it. We canít do that. When we have a problem and weíve got to fix it, thereís no money. Thereís no MGM or 20th Century Fox or Universal to bail us out.

Because these things were tax shelter deals.

TT: Youíre talking about the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC) and Canadaís ďtax shelter yearsĒ? That period when Canadian tax law allowed producers and investors to write off large sums of money - either in part or in whole - as long as the funds were ostensibly used to make a ďCanadianĒ film?

PZ: Thatís right. Thatís the only reason these films were made.

TT: Yet it proved to be an unheard of boon to the Canadian film industry.

PZ: Exactly. Itís what gave the filmmaker the money to make the film. Before that, the only people who were making films in this country were the National Film Board in Ottawa. And thatís the government. You had to make a documentary about Canadian ducks or something. There were no real films made by the National Film Board.

The States didnít need such a thing because they were self-sustaining. If Hollywood wants to make a movie, they get investment money. They know that the movie will make money back if itís good. But in Canada, thatís not necessarily true because you could get a movie thatís good, that's commercial, but there arenít enough Canadians to see it.

So we have to sell it to Americans or to Europeans. And then that takes it out of the whole indigenous production category.

TT: Like filming a movie in Toronto but pretending itís Chicago?

PZ: Yes. In fact, it was kind of an unwritten rule that if you wanted your movie to be successful, NEVER say that it was shot in Canada. Try to say that it was shot in New York, or Dallas, or New Orleans. Somewhere exotic.

Because as soon as the audience thinks itís Toronto or Montreal, it would cast a shadow over the thing. People might think, ďOh - itís a Canadian filmÖit canít be any good.Ē

TT: Yes, although Cronenberg might be an exception. His early films have a decidedly Canadian feel. And audiences seemed to accept them. They Came From Within (1975) and Rabid (1977) have a bonafide Canadian stamp on them.

PZ: You may be right about that. But Cronenberg was a bit of a rebel that way. I know that the ones we did, they always changed the license plate so it didnít say Ontario. And anytime there was money in the scene, it was always American money. Never Canadian money.

TT: Youíve talked about your use of 'concrete' sounds - meaning an analog sound that you'd get from any number of sources, even something as unlikely as say, banging a phone down on the table, for example. And then you'd manipulate that sound through a harmonizer or tape loop?

PZ: Thatís right.

TT: That process created some unique sounds. Obviously, thatís what Carl did for Black Christmas.

PZ: Right.

TT: Often these kinds of sounds were used in conjunction with orchestral music and the result was very effective. Was that kind of technical processing of interest to you?

PZ: Absolutely. Because I owned the studio, and I had tape machines, equipment. It was no big deal to get access to this stuff.

TT: Was it also a creativity that was borne out of necessity, in terms of budget constraints and deadlines?

PZ: Sure. You had to be creative. You had to think of different ways to use a tape recorder. I mean, I used to run them backwards, at half speed.

Sometimes, I would have tape all over the floor and Iíd be feeding it in with my hand. If you could think of it, you'd do it. And I would always get a different result. Sometimes it would be wonderful and sometimes it was just terrible.

Itís different than the way people work today. Today, they sit at a computer with a keyboard in front of them and a screen. And they do nothing but key in things. Thereís no actual organic sound coming from anything. Itís all going on inside of an Intel chip.

TT: Let's talk about American Nightmare (1983) starring Michael Ironside and Lenore Zann. Pretty sleazy stuff.

PZ: The whole budget for that film was like 100 grand, if even. And it was just really slapped together - with spit and polish and glue. I think it was shot on 16mm, and there was no production value there at all.

Here again, American Nightmare was a film that was thrown together to satisfy a CCA [Capital Cost Allowance] deal. It was produced by Tony Kramreither, and thatís what he was good at doing. He could make a movie out of nothing.

TT: There's literally almost no music for the first forty minutes.

PZ: Thereís a reason for that. They basically didnít have any money. I practically did that one for almost nothing. I just threw a bunch of cues at them and said, ďHere...if you can use this, go ahead. But donít bother me, Iím busy.Ē (Laughs.)

TT: The film has one or two interesting moments. But as a whole, itís uninspired and dour.

PZ: Well, itís a nothing film. None of the Kramreither films ever did anything. I did a whole bunch of those horrible things. Like The Brain (1988). Theyíre just so bad.

TT: Well, Kramreither produced Humongous (1982). That's probably the most memorable thing on his resume.

Tell us about Porky's. What was that experience like?

PZ: It was shot in Florida. All of it. And it was just a circus. It was Bob Clark and all his nuttiness. Strippers and hookers. They built this huge place. Everything that you see on the screen when youíre in the club, pretty much was going on in the set.

It was nuts. They got some great sequences and had a lot of fun with it. It looks like fun on the screen because it WAS fun.

Trying to read Bobís mind was never easy to do. But I finally got out of him what he was looking for.

He envisioned this very raunchy, grass roots, 1950s country/blues vibe. Because that's what Porkyís was to him when he was growing up. And Bob actually did grow up in the area where they shot the movie.

I didnít quite know what that was, because I always thought country/western, and blues, were two different things. As I started to research it, I found all kinds of things. Guys who were not musicians but they would strum the guitar and sing. Real grass roots and real primal. I learned how this stuff actually played.

TT: People loved that movie.

PZ: Yeah, the scenes are funny and theyíre sexual. But from a music standpoint, we had to put the audience back in the '50s - in an area that was very racist. Thatís what Florida was.

TT: Your name comes up in the opening credits when a guy has a big boner.

PZ: Yeah - thatís subtle!

TT: Your thoughts on your music for A Christmas Story, such a beloved movie and fan favorite? Here was another collaboration with Carl Zittrer...

PZ: Yes. And another Bob Clark film. A wonderful experience. I first read the script and I thought he was crazy. I thought it had no plot. It's about a kid who wants a BB gun...how is this gonna play?, I thought.

And when it was finished, and I saw the way Bob had shot it, the whole thing from the POV of the kid, I realized it had such an honesty and simplicity to it. A real humanity to it. He was living out his own fantasies.

Even if you donít remember what it was like to listen to the radio instead of watching television - and you wanted this BB gun so you could shoot bad guys. If you didnít come from that era, you still have to appreciate how human and how honest it is. Itís sincere.

Itís not trying to do anything else than what itís doing. Not manipulating you, itís not leading you on. Itís not insulting you. Itís just a story about a little kid whoís obsessed with his mission in life to get this gun for Christmas.

Bob did it in such a beautiful way, though. You can watch it over and over again and never get tired of it. It never slows down. Every single scene works. They donít make movies that endure like that too much anymore.

TT: You worked steadily through the remainder of the Ď80s and throughout the Ď90s, including some horror films like Popcorn (1991), The Club (1994) and The Dark (1994)Ö

PZ: Yes. There were so many variations that started to pop up. Some of them were okay. A lot of them were crap. I think by the time we got into the mid Ď90s, horror had taken a different path. It seems like everyone was trying to be more graphic and more violent.

And the more they tried to get graphic and violent, the less graphic and violent they got. Itís sort of like burlesque and nudity. The more graphic you get and the more nudity, the less affect it has.

Sometimes, the subtlest way to do it was the most effective. Horror to me just got to the point where it started to saturate itself.

TT: One thing that happened in the 1990s - in addition to the deconstruction and snarkiness - is that the horror genre felt it had to become comedy too. There was always a nudge/nudge, wink/wink kind of thing. Thatís not scary.

PZ: Yes. Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990) is a classic example of that. That was an attempt to make a comedy/horror. And Iíll tell you something. It wasnít funny and it wasnít scary.

On the other hand, Popcorn wasn't a horror-comedy. It was a good attempt at trying to make a horror movie about a horror movie. It really was several movies within the movie. And killings that happened in the theatre while theyíre watching the movie. But it didnít work.

TT: Did you somehow feel less inspired working on movies such as The Club and The Dark?

PZ: No, you still have to do the job. You have to be inspired because thatís what your job is. A lot of kids get in touch with me for advice...but really, a lot of it is random. A lot of it is a fluke.

Like the whole way Porky's became a hit was a fluke. Itís not like anything was brilliant. There was nothing about it that was done brilliantly. Prom Night, too. It was a mess. It was all put together wrong, and it was a random fluke that this thing happened to come out and hit a vibe with kids who were graduating from high school. It hit the disco wave and it just caught on. You canít say that Paul Zaza, or Paul Lynch, or Peter Simpson were geniuses because we just did our jobs.

TT: That said, wouldn't you say a filmmaker couldnít go wrong during the real heyday of the slasher pic in the late '70s, early '80s?

PZ: No, not necessarily. Believe me, there were lots of films that were so bad that they didnít even get finished. They never got out of the can.

You tend to look back in retrospect and think of only the good things. You donít realize there was a lot of garbage and a lot of idiots trying to get in on this cash cow. And they missed it.

Prom Night just caught a vibe. There was something about the title. It was released around the time when kids were graduating and going to proms. It had Jamie Lee and Leslie Nielson.

There was something about it that just happened to catch on. But it was through no artistic brilliance that any of this happened. And Porky's was the same thing. Porky's was a mess. It just happened to catch.

TT: What comes to mind when you think of something like Baby Geniuses (1999)?

PZ: A good idea. Bob Clark, God rest his soul, always referred to it as a hit but it really wasnít. It just wasnít done right. Why there was a sequel, I have no idea. The first one didnít make any money. It could have caught a wave but it didnít. Bob was at the point there where he was trying everything and anything. He couldnít get the critics to forgive him for Porky's because they all hated it.

Every time they reviewed a Bob Clark film, they wouldnít stop sticking the knife in him. Because they hated that movie. So Bob was trying different things and nothing really worked.

TT: Let's talk about some later projects you worked on with Peter Simpson.

PZ: He made a couple of good things. Grizzly Falls (1999) and also The Fourth Angel (2001) with Jeremy Irons and Forest Whitaker. We did those two. Again, I canít underline and be emphatic enough about timing and luck.

Fourth Angel is a beautiful film. It had a great cast and was probably one of my best scores that Iíve ever done. But guess what? It was a movie about a terrorist on an airplane. And guess when the release date was?

TT: 9/11?

PZ: Bingo. They were gonna come out with the movie around the middle of September. 9/11 happens and the British company that was releasing this thing, said they couldnít put the movie out. The world is not going to want to see this movie. And it was a great cast and a very good movie. The story was just so ridiculously close to what happened on 9/11. The whole idea, then, of terrorists sneaking on a plane.

The timing dictated that they put the movie on hold and of course, once it was on hold, it took years for people to get over 9/11. By that time, it was too late. The movie just went to video and got buried. They lost their money on it because they were betting on a huge hit with this thing. Thatís a perfect example of bad luck and timing.

TT: Can you think of any significant projects that, for whatever reason, you turned down at the time?

PZ: I actually was supposed to do one of the Darkman films for Sam Raimi. But it never happened because of a conflicting schedule with a Bob Clark film. I felt my priorities should have been with Bob because I had done a lot more pictures with Bob than I had with Sam.

In retrospect, I probably should have done the Raimi film. Would Bob have forgiven me? Probably.

TT: What was your reaction to Bob's untimely and tragic passing?

PZ: It was exactly what you might think. Not only was Bob a business employer, he was a longtime friend. He and I spent a lot of time together. I loaned him money when he was down, helped him through a divorce. I helped his kid out when he was in trouble.

We got to be really close over the years. This just shocked me so much. When Stan Cole called me and told me that fateful day - I just said, ďNo, itís impossible. It canít be.Ē

TT: If that doesnít make you want to take out a gun and shoot that drunken driver, we donít know what does.

PZ: Itís worse than that. Not only was the guy drunk, he was illegally in the country. He didnít have a driverís license. He stole the car.

TT: What happened with the case?

PZ: Oh, they locked him up and put him in jail for ten years. So what. Heíll be in there with a million other guys that snuck over the border, and does anybody care?

TT: Variety.com recently published an article titled ďFilm Composers Lose Luster.Ē It was an interesting - but depressing - piece that talked about how composers are more devalued now than they ever have been before.

PZ: Thatís right.

TT: So basically youíve got all this great technology that you talked about earlier. Progressive stuff. But people donít recognize the composer like they used to.

PZ: Well, oneís the reason for the other. The reason people donít value it and donít recognize it, is because the technology has made it possible for everybody to do it. Itís supply and demand. If youíve got a supply that is a million times bigger than the demand, what does that do? That devalues what youíre supplying, and the supplier himself.

Hans Zimmer is the hottest thing in film music today. He does everything. Thatís Hollywood for you. They all want to have him because they think if they have him, theyíll have a hit. And some of them do. He would be the modern day Morricone.

TT: There's been a real loss of innocence, culturally speaking, over the past two decades. We think that's reflected even in something as unlikely as horror films. They're faster, snarkier, louder, and more technologically advanced than they've ever been before. Yet, they've never been less interesting. Ironically, they've never been more in need of heart than they are right now.

PZ: Youíre right. And at this point, the audiences have seen and heard everything. And they're cynical. In order to scare people, you have to go so over the top, thatís itís not scary anymore. It LOOKS like it was created on a computer.

TT: Doesn't creating a good score - an effective, successful score - mean understanding not only the sounds, the music itself, but also how it interplays with silence, the spaces between the notes? Enjoying the silence as well as the music?

PZ: Thatís exactly right. Silence is sometimes the best music because what it does is - it creates a hole for the music to have some impact. If you never stop playing the music, then it canít have any impact because it has no punch. It has no bite to it because itís killed itself.

TT: Do you have a favorite horror film? Not necessarily one you worked on?

PZ: I have a lot of favorites. The Omen is one of my favorites. The Exorcist. They were both very well done.

TT: A favorite score?

PZ: Mixing bags hereÖI just love Morriconeís scores. A film that is one of his best is the Sean Connery/Eliot Ness thing - The Untouchables. Really good.

TT: What are you up to these days work-wise?

PZ: Iíve been doing bits and pieces. I did some work for a remake of Cabin Fever. And Iíve got a couple of projects with an English company.

It seems to me that weíre at a stage where if youíre not doing the next big Marvel comic hero movie like Spiderman, thereís nothing left. That is to say, once you go under that, youíre down to the low, low budget films that are just being made for TV. Thereís nothing in between. Youíre either at that level or youíre doing the 200 million blockbuster for Disney.

TT: Paul, itís been an honor to speak with you. Several of the films you scored (My Bloody Valentine, Curtains, Prom Night) were among the reasons we started the site in 1998. At that point, genuine retro horror websites were scarce.

Here's hoping you score some more great horror films soon!

PZ: Thank you. My pleasure.

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