Working in New Orleans is both business and pleasure for veteran Hollywood composer George S. Clinton

Working in New Orleans is both business and pleasure for veteran Hollywood composer George S. Clinton
June 27, 2009
by Mike Scott

When "Extract," the newest comedy from writer-director Mike Judge ("Office Space," "Beavis and Butthead Do America"), hits theaters in September, there won't be a single frame that was shot in New Orleans, not a single major local actor in the cast, not a beignet or Sazerac anywhere to be seen.

But that doesn't mean the Crescent City didn't have a hand in the film's production.

This week, veteran Hollywood composer George S. Clinton -- no relation to his P-Funkness -- was in town conducting a band of local musicians through his playful score for the film.

"Extract" stars Jason Bateman as the down-on-his-luck owner of an extract factory, along with Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, J.K. Simmons and a grungier-than-usual Ben Affleck. It will be released Sept. 4 by Miramax Films, although curious movie-goers can catch the trailer starting Friday, when it will run before all showings of the period romance "Cheri."

"I have lived and recorded in almost every great music city in this country and even abroad," Clinton said Tuesday, "and New Orleans is one of the ones that I hadn't. To me, it was a real honor and pleasure to be down here and have the musicians who grew up in this culture bringing that kind of energy and identity to the music."

That doesn't mean the movie will boast a New Orleans sound, however.

The first day of the two-day session at the Music Shed recording studio on Euterpe Street saw Clinton assemble a quirky selection of instruments, which he said was intended to produce a playful tone to match that of Judge's ensemble comedy.

"For the rhythm section, I used a bouzouki, which is like a Greek mandolin even though there's nothing Greek about this music -- I just love the way it sounds," Clinton said. "I used an acoustic guitar and a bass and this strange little instrument called a Strumstick."

The centerpiece, however, was a collection of extract bottles of varying sizes, on which a percussionist tapped out melodies with a metal rod.

On the session's second day, Clinton directed a 15-piece chamber orchestra. As the musicians -- many of whom are members of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra -- played, Clinton conducted while watching the film on a video screen.

"I didn't want it to be a big orchestra," he said. "I wanted it to sound more intimate and quirky, and less slick and Hollywood."

But the question remains: What drew Clinton to New Orleans? An Emmy-nominated composer (for HBO's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"), who boasts dozens of composing credits ranging from the 1983 Cheech and Chong movie "Still Smokin'¤" ("That was my first break.") to 1997's "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" to next year's Dwayne Johnson comedy "Tooth Fairy," he's got no connections to the city.

A big part of the equation was the state's filmmaking incentives, which extend tax credits to movie soundtracks recorded in Louisiana. "That was a certain part of the lure," he said. "But that alone wouldn't have done it."

Clinton also credits what he described as a compelling presentation made by the state's office of film and video on a trip to California to trumpet the state's film production base. Similarly, he said, a number of composer friends of his -- Jay Weigel, Terence Blanchard, Chris Leonard -- assured him local musicians and facilities were up to the task.

While local film industry officials saw Clinton's recent scoring sessions as another example of the maturation of the local film scene -- which lately has seen a growth in post-production pursuits -- Clinton saw it as a great opportunity for a family vacation.

"I think the only time I was here before now was when I was 8 years old," he said. "I grew up in Chattanooga (Tenn.), and I came down here with my mother and my grandparents. The only thing I remember is powdered sugar."

This time, he brought his wife and 19-year-old daughter, Jessica, who also is his assistant on "Extract."

"We got here Friday, and we've been here at the Royal Orleans hotel here in the French Quarter. We've had a wonderful time," he said. "It's beautiful. We had brunch on Father's Day at Commander's Palace -- that was just amazing."

He added: "I really loved coming down here, because I feel like I got a little hot sauce in the music that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else."

And would he entertain the idea of recording in town again? "Oh, I'll do it," he said, pausing before adding, "There's a lot of restaurants I haven't been to yet."
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