A sound job of biblical proportions, Evan Almighty floods into theaters June 22nd. Sound supervision was done by Michael Hilkene while Sound Design credit goes to Odin Benitez. Longtime collaborators, Hilkene and Benitez have been working together since 1992’s My Cousin Vinny. Re-recording mixers, much like the animals on Evan’s arc came in a pair of two: Dialog/Music mixer Steve Maslow and FX mixer Gregg Landlaker. Both seasoned veterans of the craft first worked together on 1979’s Star Trek (though I happier to mention that a year later they mixed The Empire Strikes Back, sorry trekkers). The film was dubbed at Stage 6 on the Universal lot. Production sound recording was entrusted to Jose Antonio Garcia, who is currently making sure his shoe phone is on vibrate during the shoot for 2008’s Get Smart. Composer John Debney, another of Bruce Almighty’s pilgrims (all above mentioned worked on the 2003 comedy), tracked the score at Todd-AO’s scoring stage. Debney is listed to score next year’s Iron Man – his second comic book movie after 2005’s Sin City.
Thanks go to Re-recording mixer Steve Maslow for taking time out of his busy dub schedule to answer some questions!
Designing Sound: Comedy, being so reliant on timing requires a great dialog mix for jokes to be heard. What challenges exposed themselves during the dub and do you as mixers get to go to any of the test screenings to see what jokes get buried by laughter?
Steve Maslow: The biggest challenge for the dialog mix for this film was the quality of the production sound in many of the outside scenes and that of the sound quality of the dialog. I had three different mics at times for a character: boom, lav, and a plant (one that was hidden in a prop). The boom on some shots had a lot of noise associated with it (wind and traffic), the lav was very chest heavy and didn’t have the air around the dialog I usually like, and the plant at times was off mic for the character. Any loops associated with these conditions were a very difficult match.
Now when the picture editor edits a scene he’s cutting, he may use a combination [or comp] of the mics and then that sound quality is what they become used to during picture editorial. I may also get this combo for the temp dub, and now I’m stuck with what they have been listening to for weeks. When I start to pre-mix the dialog, I now have the three different mic channels on separate tracks and choose one of the these tracks that I think sounds the best, which will sound different to the director because of what he’s been listening for months in the cutting room. This forces me to go back to the combo of mics used in the temp, which may have a noisier track than I’d like.
I like to go to the test screenings to see what has worked, and if the jokes get buried from laughter, so be it. I won’t go back on the stage and raise the lines because this has the effect of stopping the laughter because the dialog is so loud that the audience stops to listen to the next line.
DS: I know external factors motivate usage on set, but what are your thoughts on boom vs. lav?
SM: I will always try and use the boom mics over the lav. The boom mic has a much more natural sound quality. I have rarely liked the way the lav mic sounds because of the close proximity effect it has, giving it a chest heavy sound and making it difficult to get the right perspective in the scene.
DS: You’ve worked on a lot of great films Steve. I actually just watched “The Thing” again last night(admittedly one of my favs). What film(s) has been one of your favorites to mix?
SM: Films that stand out would be “The Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, “The Last Waltz”, “Blue Crush”, “U571”, and “Speed”.
DS: How the hell did you guys mix without automation? What was the longest time you had to rehearse a reel before printing back in the day?
SM: Typically we would rehearse all morning until lunch. This was when you had to have three guys on the desk (dialog, music and effects). We would take copious notes and or make cue sheets to know where dialog started and ended in a scene so that we could make our moves to push and pull music or effects. This type of mixing was truly a performance. Usually after rehearsing, we would find that something would be missing, so we would have to pick up additional units, making for a longer rehearsal. Sometimes it would take a couple of days of rehearsing to get it right. After lunch we would load up the recorder, which depending on the year, was usually a four track. This meant that all three of us would record to one recorder, because that’s all we had. One big stereo mix (left, center, right, surround). If one of us made a mistake during the record pass, we would stop and roll back to find a place where we could all three match the output of our console with the record level of the recorder. Once we were satisfied that the three of us were at the right levels, which was done by an A/B switch between the console and the recorder, we would punch in and hope the level was spot on. If it wasn’t, we would have to roll even further back and try again.
DS: Ben Burtt implied recently that having a traditional adventure film score in “Star Wars” really brought legitimacy to the film. I read that the score in “Evan Almighty” is very grand in scope too; How does it help the story and emotion? What are your favorite cues?
SM: I thought it fit the film very well for its emotional impact. Also a lot of tunes were used to compliment the various themes throughout the film. “Are You Ready For A Miracle”, “Revolution”, “Sharp Dressed Man”, “Have You Seen The Rain?”, and “Everybody Dance Now” were some of the tunes used to further compliment the comedy throughout the film. Rascal Flatts recording of “Revolution” stands out for me as one of my favorites.