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Getting Lost In Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Jungle" With Composer Karl Preusser

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Jean-Claude Van Damme in a comedy? That's kind of hard to figure! It's a rather strange and insane idea that if not taken so seriously would easily work. Unless you count the brilliant "JCVD" which was a great satire of himself in a great bad way with surprise and entertaining ending that was totally out of left field in a great way. That film featured a fun score by Gast Waltzing that was intoxicating and now for his latest film that isn't "Universal Soldier" or "The Expandables 2", it's the Universal comedy spoof "Welcome To The Jungle" featuring the muscle from Brussels leading a group of company workers the include "The OC'S" Adam Brody ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith") on a remote island to teach this motley crew of slackers and misfits to work together as a team to survive in a tough company environment...if only they could work together to get off the island and survive each other!

When it came to getting the plumb assignment to score this film, Karl Preusser was more than up to the task to give some class and excitement to the film. Preusser is a very intriguing composer who has been a very successful composer for short films and a few documentaries along the way. A very talented and musically gifted composer who's really honed his skills and they're on full display here with a very engaging score that soundtrack fans will no doubt enjoy.

For this very special interview with Karl, he candidly shares his thoughts on "Welcome To The Jungle", how the score came to be and its' subsequent soundtrack album, his thoughts on working on short films and his future projects which are intriguing enough to keep an eye on. So sit back and enjoy the thoughts of this very talented and rising composer Karl Preusser.

Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music and composing.

KP: You know, it’s interesting because no one in my family was ever really musically inclined at all, but for some reason I was naturally drawn to it, the ‘odd ball’ in the family so to speak. But then, much later in life with many years of composing under my belt, I discovered that my Great-Great Uncle was the founder and musical director of the Pasadena Symphony, so maybe there is something to be said after all for ‘having it in your blood’.

Let’s talk about your recent work on the film “Welcome To The Jungle” starring action superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme, which is a comedy and a first for JCVD. What got you interested in this project?

KP: Director Rob Meltzer and I have worked together for years and I always really look forward to collaborating with him, he is immensely talented. Also, this film gives a comedic nod to ‘Lord of the Flies’ and that story has always resonated with me since I read the book at a young age. As if that wasn’t enough incentive, once JCVD and the rest of the amazing cast were on-board, for me it went from excitement to a dream come true!

After spotting the film with your director Rob Meltzer, did he immediately tell you what he wanted musically from you for the film?

KP: He involved me quite early on and we were having story and music discussions even while still in pre-production. Finding the musical voice of the film was a bit of a discovery process, but Rob had fantastic instincts as to the tone required in each scene and that was a huge help to me in guiding my work. This film has very funny moments alongside darker, much more dramatic moments and riding that balance musically was a challenge that kept us on our toes throughout.

Did the theme to the score come to you immediately after watching the film or did it take you a while to figure out what kind of a theme the film needed to make the music work?

KP: My first instinct was to score the island as the omnipresent ‘straight man’ to the insanity happening with the characters, but the film does not start out on the island, so the discovery of how to approach the character’s themes initially, before they get to the island, was an interesting process. In the first part of the film, the themes and score do lean a little bit more towards a traditional comedic approach, but then a shift occurs when we get to the island.

Was it difficult for you to write a score for a comedy spoof in which you pretty much had to
be the straight man as opposed to being the one accentuating the jokes in the film with
your music?

KP: Actually, with comedies I prefer it. Very often with my comedy scores, I’ll take the
approach and thinking that if it’s already on the screen, then it doesn’t need to be repeated
in the music. I’ll ask myself, “What else can the music say or do here?” and more often
than not I’ll end up finding something that really brings a scene to life. Sometimes though,
you have to dial up the ‘whacky’ factor simply because it works… if it makes me laugh and
is true to the story and the tone of the film, I’ll usually go for it.

Is it easier for you when a director immediately comes to you and says that “I want the
music to sound this way or this scene needs some more strings”?

KP: Well, I usually do develop my own thoughts and ideas as to how to approach a score on the
first viewing or two, but I’m actually at my very best in a collaborative situation, which is
one of my favorite things about working with Rob. As the director, he obviously has a very
clear vision of what he is trying to accomplish, but when it comes to how best to get there,
he is great about involving the whole team and opening the floor to new ideas. I’m a big
proponent of getting good notes from smart people and I’ve been lucky to work with some
very talented folks.

How much music did you end up recording for the film in total?

KP: It ended up being around fifty minutes, which is certainly not the longest score I’ve ever
composed. However, this score was sonically quite dense and that added to the challenge
of it.

What were the recording sessions like?

KP: When it comes to a score that leans heavily on ethnic instruments and styles, you really
need to rely on the talent of your players. Most traditional ethnic styles are fairly loose and
improvisational and in those situations, really trusting the players to ‘play cooler than you
can write’ is a big aspect of being true to most ethnic styles. We had fantastic soloists and
it was a thrill to hear the ideas and nuances that they brought to the table. All of that said,
given the fact that a film score has to work with picture and timings need to be precise,
creating the right musical structure for the players to work within is key.

Let’s talk about the soundtrack released by MovieScore Media/Kronos Records. How did
the release come about?

KP: I’ve been in touch with Mikael Carlsson at MovieScore Media for some time now and we’d
wanted to work together for a while. When this score was complete and my thoughts
turned to the soundtrack, he was the first and only person I called and I couldn’t be happier
with the results. Gergely Hubai (MovieScore) and Godwin Borg (Kronos) have both been a
huge help as well in getting this soundtrack out there.

How did you assemble the album?

KP: We took a little bit different approach to this soundtrack than I normally would. Usually, I mostly concern myself with creating a stand-alone album, rather than offering up the cues in the same order that they appear in the film, but given the fact that this film’s story arc is basically a ‘descent into darkness’ and then a ‘re-birth’ back to light, I thought it was important on the soundtrack to stay fairly true to the show order of the cues. We combined a few cues here and there, but overall the album experience sits pretty much the same as the film itself.

What does it mean to you as a composer to have a soundtrack released of your music?

KP: It means everything, it’s a dream come true. As composers, we tend to spend a lot of time in a room by ourselves, toiling away, but the moments when your music comes out to all that would like to hear it, or the moments when you get to stand in front of an orchestra… it makes it all worth it.

You also scored many short films in your career. Can you please tell us about that?

KP: I love working on short films. It’s a chance on a smaller scale to explore a new musical world, learn from it and create within it, while often working with new people. Each one brings something new and unexpected and I usually grow as a composer from each one I work on. Shorts also tend to be much more experimental and that always intrigues me.

Is it different scoring a short film or subject as opposed to a film such as "Welcome To The Jungle"?

KP: Working on films (whether shorts or features), as opposed to other forms of media, really resonates with me in general, because I like to completely immerse myself in a project, research it, ‘feel it in my gut’, let it resonate in my thoughts… basically ‘go there’. Then, once finished, I look forward to moving on to a completely new musical adventure. I follow the same basic overall process for both shorts and features, but with shorts I get more sleep!

Is there a type of film that really intrigues you as both a musician and a composer?

KP: I look for films that bring something new and unexpected artistically, that take me out of my musical comfort zone, that tell a great story and involve talented people.

What is your favorite film score that you’ve written?

KP: ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ of course! I truly am very proud of this score. It was a real challenge and to have seen it through was very rewarding for me personally.

What is your favorite film score that you wish had written?

KP: Too many to mention, but pretty much anything by Elliot Goldenthal, Michael Kamen, Bernard Herrman or Phillip Glass.

Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects.

KP: I’m composing songs (both lyrics and music) for an animated feature film and I’m scoring a beautiful, heartwarming and visually stunning short film by director John Alan Thompson. There are a few other projects that I’m really excited about as well, so it should be an interesting year!
I really want to thank you once again Karl for granting me this interview and I really honored to meet you and everything.

Very special thanks to Karl for granting me this interview and being so gracious with his time in talking about his fantastic score. Let's do it again. I'd also like to extend special thanks to the MovieScore Media/Kronos Team for giving me the opportunity to meet Karl and hearing his fantastic music!

The soundtrack to "Welcome To The Jungle" is available to order @http://www.kronosrecords.com/K37.html as well as http://www.intrada.com and http://www.screenarchives.com on CD. It is already available digitally via Kronos Records' website.

Universal Studios will release "Welcome To The Jungle" on Blu-Ray, DVD and Ultraviolet on March 25th. Pre-orders are now available @http://www.amazon.com/Welcome-Jungle-Blu-ray-Adam-Brody/dp/B00HVFA2TQ/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1393030462&sr=1-2&keywords=welcome+to+the+jungle

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