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With the 2006 release of Columbia's remake of the underrated 1979 cult film, When a Stranger Calls, composer James Michael Dooley has taken another step in furthering a solo career, amid his continuing involvement in high profile projects with Hans Zimmer, such as the recent film adaptation of The DaVinci Code.

Dooley's fruitful and collaborative association with Zimmer might give the impression of another action specialist in the making, but for anyone whose heard the music for the American remake of The Ring, it's clear the cues written for that film were composed with an unusual affinity for strings; beautifully mining the vibrato of the instruments to create bass-friendly tension, and enhance the film's algae-coated photography and slow progressions, as static and normal images become contorted and well-timed shocks for theatre-trapped audiences.

The producers of When a Stranger Calls originally sent out an open call to agencies for young and aspiring composers, or as Dooley regards, "People who didn't have as much experience, which is kind of odd, when you think about it. Why would you want to take your shiny new $15 million dollar movie, and give it to someone who didn't have a hundred movies under their belt?

"They told me later on that they were having lots of problems getting it just right, and they knew they were going to go through a lot of revision processes in trying to get [the film] exactly the way that they wanted; because it needed to be scary enough, and there wasn't much action in the beginning. They knew it was going to be a great challenge, and they wanted somebody who would be really eager, and really dig to prove something."

Having worked on The Amityville Horror (2005) with chief composer Steve Jablonsky, and The Ring, with Zimmer, Dooley knew his experience within the horror genre would be a major asset to an already glossy production - even though the target audience was the youth market.

"I was really happy that they wanted a classical score for this elegant movie. Thank God they kept it consistent… Sometimes when it's done well, songs tell story," he explains, but often the proliferation of songs means a movie 'strokes a particular demographic,' thereby limiting a film's exposure to specific theatrical and home video audiences.

In the original film, the first twenty minutes follow the babysitter's arrival, the increasingly threatening phone calls, the realization of the caller's whereabouts, and the arrival of the police, before the film jumps almost a decade later to the child-killer's recent escape. The entire narrative is tied together by a superb, close-miked score by Dana Kaproff, who used a chamber orchestra, and cool metallic percussion.

For the 2006 remake, the filmmakers chose to focus only on the babysitter's terror in the luxurious, spacious, and isolated house, and open up the film by showing the friends who later become her distant support network when the calls, and trauma, begin.

The decision to elongate the babysitter's crescendo of fear and isolation from 10 minutes to almost 40 in the remake later became a bit sticky for preview audiences. "In the beginning," Dooley explains, "the movie is very beautiful. It has this really great sheen to it… and there were temp cues that they used off [my demo CD] - these long melodic cues which were profound in Ring, and had this haunting quality to them- [but] when they got the preview numbers back, people were saying that the movie wasn't dark enough in the beginning; so we went in and revised that."

The film's closing music, Aftermath, alongside the mordant version in Fateful Drive, are perhaps hints at the more melodic and overtly tragic thematic material that existed in the original score conception; but a decision was made to acknowledge the film's innate, if not obvious qualities: be less subversive, and "go dark right at the beginning," as the composer recaps.

Dooley acknowledges that the mood, tempo, and shocks in a horror film are always in need of surgical tweaking, and if a film fails to affect audiences during test screenings, one of the first casualties is the film score. "It's easily by far the cheapest thing to fix. You don't want to go and open that scene up and get all those people back… [so the approach is] ‘Just re-write it. Make it better.' It's a lot easier, especially when you're in post, [to fix] all those scares that might have any kind of flaws in them." As he pointedly admits, it's often the music that's the first thing to be adjusted.

The final score for When a Stranger Calls, represented by an hour of music on Lakeshore's soundtrack CD, is regarded by Dooley as "pretty much a melting pot score. Before I started writing, I watched the movie, and I was saying, ‘Oh my God, I'm in trouble. I have no idea how to mock this up to do any kind of demonstration of a cue. Because there isn't a sample library on the planet that could handle it, I went to Prague and recorded string effects for eight hours.

"In addition to all the things that we did in Prague, [we went to Seattle and recorded] all the big hits and all the big tunes and all the scratchy stuff" - essentially the refined, chilling orchestral effects horror fans love in a good score. In cues like Exploring, elements from both recording sessions, sweetened with synth effects like "bells, booms, glassy effects," meld into the kind of atmospheric underscore Christopher Young employed in his classic early work, and in more recent gems, like The Haunting of Emily Rose.

At NYU, Dooley studied the specifics of orchestra, earned two degrees in classical composition, and had the good fortune of studying under Young, whose own work bubbled with ideas from modern composers, including Krzysztof Penderecki, and György Ligeti.

Dooley also developed a keen interest in minimalism, a movement that sought to explore diversity through restriction, as within specific rhythmic patterns, notes, textures, and tempi. "I'm a big minimalist fan, especially in things that you'll hear in Mars Underground, where obviously you'll see that I'm a big fan of Philip Glass and John Adams. The genius of making that work [goes all the way back] to Erik Satie, the French minimalist who's also very appealing to me, and is part of the things that I've been most actively studying lately."

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