Andrew Hagen’s career involves multiple mentions of another musician: Morton Wilson. The two met as teenagers in Wellington, launched a band called Schtung, and created soundtracks together. Later they appropriated Schtung as the name of a multi-national sound company that has spanned three decades.
The duo first became friends after Wilson hailed Hagen as he was driving by, a guitar strapped to his motorbike. They formed a musical duo, then later expanded the entourage into band Schtung. The name was inspired by a Yiddish expression misheard from a Monty Python sketch, and the band’s signing to Polygram saw further comedy. Hagen, by now a print and radio journalist, scored a photo opportunity by having the record deal signed underwater, in scuba gear. Another successful publicity ruse was a request to record in the new Terrace motorway tunnel, the day before its official opening.
Writer Gary Steel later labelled Schtung’s self-titled 1977 album “off-the-wall brilliant”. Hagen, the group's main composer, played keyboards and guitar, and shared vocal duties. Schtung played at legendary festival Nambassa, and can be glimpsed in documentary Nambassa Festival — they also provided music for a scene featuring dance troupe Limbs.
By now Hagen, who had made 16mm comedy films back at school, was working on music shows like Grunt Machine. He borrowed leftover film stock to produce some Schtung music videos, but plans for a Schtung TV special stalled. Lineup changes left the band in disarray, and they broke up in 1979.
It wasn't over for Hagen and Wilson. The pair were already creating music for film, advertising and documentaries, enabling them to pursue fulltime music careers. In 1979 they worked on groundbreaking gay feature Squeeze, their instrumental work sandwiched between tracks by various bands including Toy Love.
Two years later they composed the music for the Sam Pillsbury-directed The Scarecrow, the first Kiwi feature officially invited to Cannes. The pair worked with jazz pianist Phil Broadhurst; horns, keyboards and strings helped colour the film’s winning mixture of menace, mirth and nostalgia.
With tax breaks for locally shot features ending, and a steep tax on imported recording equipment, it felt like a good time for Hagen and Wilson to explore new pastures.
After making a rare venture into directing (on Crocodiles video Hello Girl) the pair departed for Hong Kong in 1981. A month later they were composing the soundtrack for action movie Aces Go Places 2, which became the year’s biggest local hit. Making a living in Hong Kong as film composers was a challenge. The pair were literally days from flying home before being saved by an advance payment from longtime Ogilvy and Mather ad man Dick Pruitt.
Better days followed, with Schtung Music opening recording studios in Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. They also found time in the 80s to provide scores for three more features from down under: Sam Pillsbury road movie Starlight Hotel, synth-heavy borstal drama Kingpin, and odd couple story Daisy and Simon, whose soundtrack was nominated for an Australian Film Institute award.
In 1991 Hagen decided it was time to see if he could make it with “the big boys in Los Angeles”. Leaving Wilson to oversee Asian operations, Hagen established Schtung America in the seaside city of Santa Monica. He lucked into an empty THX sound studio and was soon scoring documentaries, channel identification music for broadcasters (including the launch of Al Jazeera) and international film trailers, House of Flying Daggers among them. His list of advertising and film awards is long, including multiple Clios and BDA gongs, two awards after composing for German network ProSieben, and a coveted Houston Festival award for trailer music used to promote Chinese blockbuster Hero.
In 1999 Hagen designed and constructed a new multi-studio facility, including a Dolby approved 5:1 mixing suite. By 2004, as scoring work began declining thanks partly to the growth of music libraries, Hagen was developing his skill set further as a sound designer and audio postproduction supervisor on varied projects, including restoring a collection of unheard Sammy Davis Jr. recordings, later archived at the US Library of Congress.
DVD releases provided another new source of income, as Schtung America recorded commentaries and interviews for everything from The Simpsons to La Dolce Vita. As a result, Hagen worked alongside Robert Altman, Zooey Deschanel, Jerry Zucker, and Paris Hilton.
In 2010 Hagen's score for award-winning horror movie Killer God (from Daisy and Simon director Stasch Radwanski) was nominated for best score at LA's Maverick Movie Awards. Hagen’s other feature work includes helping shepherding period romance The Painting through to completion as co-producer, and supervising the sound mix for “intelligent, gorgeously made” (Variety) award-winner Obselidia, which was screened in competition at Sundance in 2010.
Hagen is also proud of his soundtrack for View from a Grain of Sand, which chronicles women’s rights in Afghanistan. The documentary was invited to 20 plus festivals, winning two best documentary awards.
Though he describes his time in the US as “heady and exhilarating”, there was also a nagging desire to create his own programmes, harking back to earlier days making videos on Grunt Machine and with the band. Hagen began pitching film and television ideas to companies including CAA and the Bravo Network, winning interest for a music based game show, and coming within inches of getting the green light on Art Attack, which mixed music and contemporary art.
Keen to give something back to the NZ film community, Hagen and his wife Susanna returned to set up Schtung NZ in Wellington in 2011. Alongside his sound and production services, Hagen is currently developing Pearl - the Ballet, a movie based on his ballet set around the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and The NZ Story, a collection of short films showcasing the country.
Chris Caddick, ‘Schtung’ AudioCulture website. Loaded 6 April 2014. Accessed 20 April 2015
Todd McCarthy, 'Review: Obsilidia' - Variety, 31 January 2010
Frank Nelson, ‘Where the Heart is’ (interview) Unlimited, 10 July 2012
Gary Steel, ‘Schtung’ - The Strip, October 1996
‘Schtung returns to Wellington’ AdMedia, 24 November 2011
View from a Grain of Sand Press Kit (Broken link)