An Online Interview with Jon Aanenson, 2011
Jon Aanenson: How did you land your first score, My Chauffeur, in 1986? What kind of music did you write?
Paul Hertzog: Before My Chauffeur, I worked with two other composers on a very odd film that ultimately was called Hollywood Zap. One of these guys was Art Podell, one of the original members of The New Christie Minstrels. The other guy was an old friend named Jim Ackley. Initially I was brought in to program synthesizers and drum machines, not to compose, but the film’s director wanted some rock music that he just wasn’t hearing from Art and Jim, so I took over the studio for a day and wrote a couple of rock tunes, hired some rock musician friends, and all of a sudden I was a film composer. The only reason any of this matters in the least is that the film’s editor and post-production supervisor later became the editor of My Chauffeur. At first, My Chauffeur was going to be scored with previously recorded music only, but when the editing process was nearly complete, the music supervisor realized he was some twenty minutes of music short. The editor recommended me, and I got the job, threw together some rather primitive synthesizer cues, and the rest is history.
JA: Tell us about the process of scoring Bloodsport.
PH: I have written extensively about Bloodsport in the liner notes for the Perseverance Records release of the soundtrack, so I recommend reading those notes for the full story. Briefly, I got the job based on having previously worked for the producer Mark DiSalle on a children’s video. The money was negligible, the time was short, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. Yet I managed to score a film that ended up becoming a classic. I still hear music, especially for martial arts films, that sounds influenced by what I composed for Bloodsport.
JA: Your next film was Dangerous Love. How was this experience?
PH: Actually, my next film was Street Justice. But I’ll answer these questions in the order you are asking them. A woman named Carolyn Farris, who was trying to get herself into the music publishing business, actually managed to get both Street Justice and Dangerous Love for me. She initially tried to get Street Justice for Jamii Szmadzinski alone, but Jamii didn’t have the credits to sway the producer. Jamii brought me into that film because of my credit on Bloodsport, and we got the job together. Carolyn also managed to secure the Dangerous Love job, somehow, and again she couldn’t persuade the producers to hire Jamii, but she did persuade them to hire me. It was a difficult project because I had only two and a half weeks to write and record an hour’s worth of music, and I had no budget to speak of. I did all the playing myself except for some woodwinds that Doug Norwine played. I don’t think I made much money on that film by the time I paid for the studio, the tape, and Doug. It was an interesting job in some ways. The director turned out to be someone I had gone to college with, though I hadn’t known him then. The first time I talked to one of the producers, I made a point of saying how closely I was working with the director, and then the producer launched into a tirade about how he didn’t trust the director and that he wanted me to do what I wanted, not what the director wanted. I had to walk a tightrope the rest of the time on the project. I remember that near the end I stayed awake for three days straight to finish. Film scoring at the lower end of the business is not particularly glamorous.
JA: Imdb credits Jamii Szmadzinski with the 1989 Street Justice score, in addition to yourself. Did you collaborate, and if so, how?
PH: Jamii was violinist in a band called Shadowfax, and I first met him when he played violin on a tune I co-wrote. He later turned up in a band that a couple friends were in, at about the time I was writing Bloodsport. So I asked him to play the Chinese harp stuff on Bloodsport. As I’ve already said, he couldn’t get Street Justice on his own (no film scoring credits), so he brought me in as his partner. We did collaborate to a certain extent. We wrote most of the thematic material together, and we also wrote several of the most important cues together. As the project went on, however, he showed up less and less, and I ended up writing a lot of the cues on my own. However, he did much of the business. We were able to get a budget to hire some real orchestral musicians, and he did the contracting and some of the copying. It was a real shoestring operation, but somehow we got the job done. It was the first and only time I got to conduct an orchestra.
Paul Hertzog, New York City, early 1970s.
JA: Two directors worked on the Kickboxer movie. Why? Was it a troubled film? Are you pleased with how your score ended up?
PH: Kickboxer is my favorite score. I think I did my best work on that film. So, yes, I was pleased with how my music turned out. The two directors issue was not really an issue at all. The producer, Mark DiSalle, did both the producing and directing. The other director, David Worth, had been the director of photography on Bloodsport, and I think Mark used him to help with technical issues. In post-production, Mark called all the shots. David was a nice guy, and I had a good relationship with him, but Mark was clearly in charge. I wrote a good deal about Kickboxer in the liner notes of the Perseverance Records release of the score, so you can find much more info there.
JA: Breathing Fire (1991) was your last score. Tell us about the process of writing the music.
PH: Breathing Fire was a rather strange film. I had an agent of sorts at that point, and one of her partners got me the job. It was a movie that had been put together somewhat by committee, I think. I had lunch with a martial arts master and the Hong Kong film director somewhere in the San Gabriel Valley. They ordered me some sort of soup that was bright red with chilies, hottest thing I ever ate, and I guess that because I ate it all I was deemed worthy. I won’t talk too much about the story. If you’ve seen it, you know. I will merely say that it’s the only film I know of where you can see Bolo Yeung wearing a dress or where you can watch kickboxing midgets. At any rate, the money was, once again, negligible. There wasn’t enough money to hire other musicians, so everything in the soundtrack is performed by me. I hired a friend with a small studio to engineer, and I think he got about half the money (not much). I was able to keep ownership of the publishing, or I probably wouldn’t have done it. However, I still listen to the music, and I’m proud of it.
JA: Your career stopped completely in 1991. Did you decide that you wanted out of the business or were there other reasons behind it? Did you receive offers during those early 90s years?
PH: This is a tough question to explain. I think fans of film music seem to think that it’s easy for composers to get work or that composers even get to choose which films they want to do. Well, maybe John Williams gets to choose. My career stopped because no one would hire me. I did a demo for a film not long after Breathing Fire, a film that the director wanted to choose a composer for before filming. He got demos from all sorts of composers around town, and he chose me. (You can hear the demo on my album Freeing the Waters: it’s called “A Wicked Plot.”) Then the financing for the film fell through, and the film never got made. Then the phone stopped ringing altogether. At one point I was about a month away from seriously having to consider bankruptcy. Fortunately some large royalty payments from Bloodsport and Kickboxer came through in the nick of time, but I had had enough. I went back to school, qualified as a high school teacher, and got a job. Teaching is not easy, but the pay is steady, and I’ve been good at it. I’m in my 18th year now, and I teach English and Music Theory. And no, the phone didn’t start ringing again. It rang once, about two years into teaching. One of the producers from Street Justice called me and asked if I wanted to score a low budget film he was working on. Well, I couldn’t. I was now married with a daughter. I needed the health insurance and the steady paycheck. One low budget film was simply not enough to make me consider stepping out onto the wild blue edge again.
JA: Have any of your scores ever been rejected?
JA: Did you have contact with other film composers during your 5 years as a film composer?
PH: In the mid-80’s I took some film scoring classes at UCLA and got to know Don Ray, the TV composer (Hawaii Five-O) who started this film scoring program. I ended up studying composition with Don in a small group situation for a year outside of UCLA. I later took a class at UCLA in the history of film music just after I did Bloodsport. The instructor is now a famous film composers agent (who wasn’t at all interested in me – so no name). He was able to get a number of legendary composers to come to the class and talk to us, most notably David Raksin, Leonard Rosenman, Henry Mancini, and Ernest Gold. That was pretty cool.
JA: Would you consider a comeback in the film music biz?
PH: Make me an offer. We’ll see.
JA: Have you written any music the last 20 years?
PH: Very little until recently. I am currently writing a film score without a film, a series of cues in the style of Bloodsport and Kickboxer. It goes slowly, but I hope to have a release ready before too many months go by.