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Posted by on Dec 21, 2007 | 0 comments

“Walk Hard” – Exclusive Interview with Re-recording Music Mixer Bill Benton

Walk Hard” December 21st. Sound editorial was performed by sound supervisor Joel Shryack with sound designer Robert Grieve on drums, er sound design. Both worked on director Jake Kasdan‘s last, “The TV Set” and have another Apatow property coming out in February with “Drillbit Taylor”. Mixing took place at Sony on the Burt Landcaster Theater, with Tateum Kohut,Gregg Landaker, and Bill Benton making up the set list. Kohut just finished work on “The Great Debaters”, Landaker mixed on last month’s “August Rush” and Benton just finished work on Ice Cube’s next, “First Sunday”. Production sound was tuned by John Pritchett. Pritchett has a sweet week with “Walk Hard” and “There Will Be Blood” releasing days apart. Composing and songwriting for the film was staged by Michael Andrew

Dewey Cox unwrapped a holiday treat this weekend stuffing our stockings with his own brand of top 40 hits. Making all those songs fill out the theaters for “Walk Hard” is re-recording music mixer Bill Benton. I wanted to thank him for taking the time for this Q and A, he wanted to…

“First and foremost, tell you this show was one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had mixing. Everyone on the crew from the director on down was really passionate about the project, plus we all had a lot of fun together.”- Bill Benton.

DS: How was the music delivered to you on the dub stage? How does this process differ when mixing non-musicals?

BB: “Walk Hard”, being a musical was pretty involved. In addition to the songs there was quite a bit of score. We had the luxury of having two music editors. Fernand Bos handled the songs, and Tom Kramer took care of the score. The songs ranged from an acoustic guitar and vocal to up to 56 tracks of band, vocals, background vocals, and orchestra. The score was usually 24 to 32 tracks. I used 3 recorders, band, vocal, and score. Fernand and I spent 5 nights before the final automating the songs for balance and reverb. We knew there were picture changes coming down the pike, so laying anything down to hard copy was useless. Updating the automation worked OK, depending on the picture changes. It definitely got us ahead of the game, but I still had my hands full on the final.

DS: Do composers or in the case of “Walk Hard”, songwriters visit the dub stage during the mix? How much does “their mix” from the studio differ to the final mix on the dub stage generally?

BB: It’s different on every show. Some are there quite a bit, some come for a final playback and some never show at all. I intentionally didn’t listen to any of the record mixes for the songs. I wanted the “live” show to be it’s own animal. Live music in a movie has to be played for the song but also attached to the visual on the screen. Left and Right, Center and Surrounds get a different due when the screens’ involved. Mike Andrews was the composer and also produced most(if not all) of the songs for the film. Mike came by a few times during the final and heard the final playback. He said he was very happy, though I didn’t see any extra cash come my way at the end. Mike Viola and Dan Burns came by to see Jake and saw a reel, no cash either…

DS: You guys had a lot of temps; did the music production change at all through the outcome of the screenings?

BB: The songs were all recorded before the shoot, but I didn’t get my hands on all the tracks until the final. With each temp, we got a little more stuff. Funny story, after preview 3, I think, I heard word back that the screening had gone really well, but someone piped up that it sounded like I’d used the same reverb on everything. I did! Changing verb wasn’t in the budget. We mixed the whole show in a day and a half. Luckily, sound supervisor Joel Shryack was there and threw a bucket of water on that fire.

DS: I watched Walter Murch described his love-affair with echo and atmosphere on Youtube recently. Since mixers are delivered dry vocal tracks to the stage, you are given the task to match the song’s vocal track to the production dialog from the set. How is this accomplished? What was you favorite example of this in the film?

BB: As the arc of Dewey’s career progresses, so do the venues he performs in. Each has it’s own space, from country store to huge halls. I came up with the treatments for the band tracks, and I got some separate reverb tracks for the vocals and background vox. I supplemented these with my own stuff for each different venue. I used 2 Lexicon 480’s. Not automated, kept a lot of notes. We had a 3 man crew on the board. Tateum Kohut mixed the dialogue and Gregg Landaker mixed the sound effects. We all 3 worked together to match treatments for dialogue, crowds etc. The last song, “Beautiful Ride” has Dewey talking to the crowd before they start. 1st line, production, recorded on the shoot. 2nd line, ADR recorded 4 months later. Then lead vocal, almost a capella, recorded 9 months earlier. Make ‘em match, suckah!

DS: You guys were blessed with a lead actor who could sing in John C. Riley, were you as fortunate with the rest of the cast? Does re-voicing complicate matching the actor’s production dialog?

BB: Blessed is right….He handles virtually all of the heavy lifting vocally on this show. The band members’ bg vox were pretty embedded in the songs, so that wasn’t a problem. Jenna Fischer was revoiced for “Let’s Duet” and I think the match was pretty great. The aforementioned production to pre-recorded vocal was the only challenge.

DS: When talking to another music re-recording mixer, Michael Semanick (Sweeny Todd) last week, he exclaimed “that one of the biggest surprises audiences have about musicals, is when an actor start singing, that’s playback [on set]. All of the other sounds have to be replaced for the duration of the song. What else would surprise laymen about mixing music for film?

BB: That ALL the sound isn’t recorded on the set. Gunshots, car chases, full blown orchestras, the public assumes it’s all there when the cat says ACTION! And that means we’re doing our job right, because when Joe Blow says, “That was SO FAKE!”, then we lost ‘em in the sound world. Hopefully, it’s “That was SO COOL!”

DS: What was your first gig like?

BB: I worked for a recording studio, “The Record Plant” for 8 years, doing studio, live, and film scoring. When I moved to Sony,(then MGM) they asked me if I’d like to try “re-recording mixing”. I said sure, having no idea what it was. The first thing I did was this short film about a ballerina. The climax of the film was a dance set to the wailing singing from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. I was being a little tentative, and my 60 year old lead guy, Bill MacCaughey leaned over and said, “Bill, it’s rock and roll, go ahead and play it.” Needless to say, the next pass, I LET IT ROCK! He let me play it out, stopped and said, “That was a little too much rock…” I made another pass….and pulled it a half a db

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Posted by on Dec 14, 2007 | 0 comments

Exclusive Interview with Skip Lievsay, Supervising Sound Editor/Re-recording Mixer on “I am Legend”

“I Am Legend” spreads to theaters today. Sound editorial for Will Smith’s search for survivors in NYC was administered by Skip Lievsay. Hot off the great “No Country for Old Men”, (and considering his track record) we can expect Skip to start soon on the Coen Bro’s next, “Burn After Reading”. OnLegend,” In addition to his editorial work, he also mixed the film’s dialogue. Music mixer Rick Kline and effects mixer Jeremy Peirson rounded out the crew. Kline just finished work on “The Great Debaters” while Peirson designed sound for this year’s “Noise”, which boasts a synopsis ripe with opportunity for it’s sound crew. Production sound for “Legend” was provided by Tod A. Maitland. Member of a literal sound family, Maitland’s father and two brothers have all worked in the field. He is currently working on Peter Jackson’s next, “The Lovely Bones”. I feel like a broken record reporting another film James Newton Howard is composing but here we go: In addition to JNH’s six films this year, he already has four slated for release in 2008. One final tidbit I unearthed while researching “Legend” is Mike Patton of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle fame provided his unique vocal prowess to some of the specific creature voice design that haunts the barren NYC landscape.

I want to thank sound supervisor and re-recording mixer Skip Lievsay for taking time for this Q and A!

DS: It’s hard to imagine NYC without the specific sound staples like endless car honks and city drone that we’ve come to expect as the local sound. How was the landscape’s sound perceived after the plague hits?

SL: During the research, Franics created a specific soundscape for the film. As you say, removing the city from the city – cars and people, changes the sound of the city completely. Aside from the physical structures, the research shows that when the electricity goes off the city rapidly looses much of what we think of as city and reverts back to nature.

In New York City there are several underground springs and streams that would flood the underground infrastructure and the metal supporting structure. Buildings would begin to crumble. Above ground, animals and creatures would take back the parks and there would be a new city soundscape very similar to what we think of as a New England forest.

Gathering these sounds was not as difficult as removing the actual city sounds and traffic sounds from the production recordings. As you might imagine, some scenes had to be replaced with ADR because of traffic sounds.

DS: Was there time to establish a contrast sonically for before and after the pandemic?

SL: The film begins after the epidemic has already killed almost everyone. There are several flashbacks, mostly dealing with the evacuation of New York City at the beginning of the disaster. These scenes are about emergency vehicles and helicopters and hysterical crowds trying to escape the city.

DS: The literal money shot in the film (costing 5 million dollars alone to shoot) is the evacuation of NYC over the Brooklyn Bridge. With a set piece that massive and recognizable, what did your team do to sell the size and weight of the bridge’s collapse?

SL: Sound Designer Jeremy Peirson used all of the giant metal recordings that we had in our library and could scrounge from our colleagues. Recording at high bit rates of 96k or 192k allowed us to pitch down our recordings with little distortion. This was one of the ways to give more heft to the sounds.

DS: With over 1,000 extras on location for the bridge scene, did you guys get to record any of the crowd reactions during the shoot?

SL: There were good recordings from location mixer Todd Maitland. These were mixed with sound fx and group ADR tracks. Emergency vehicle sounds and production yelling completed the track.

DS: I’ve read that the infected are described as “in a state of perpetual hyperventilation”. How were their vocals approached and did the conceptual design of their bodies give you and your team any advantages in making them scary?

SL: Jeremy and I spent much of our time recording actors and animals to mix together for the creature sounds. We had hours of recordings and then hours of editing in the process of chasing down each type of vocalization. Jeremy would prepare mixes of each type of sound for review by Francis. These temp mixes informed Francis about how the creatures would operate and this helped Francis and the CG team with their creature design. These vocals were in flux to the very last day of the dub.

FSD: You have worked with the Coen brothers for the length of their entire career. With so many great film collaborations, which was your favorite?

SL: I have many favorites. “I Am Legend” was very challenging work and I enjoyed working with Francis again. I believe that the tracks for “The Who Wasn’t There” and for “No Country for Old Men” were the closest I have come to meeting the original goals with the fewest missed opportunities.

DS: You are part of a literal hand full of sound folk I’ve seen with an opening title credit. The Coens make an effort to recognize the role sound plays in their films with the title card. I’ve heard requesting for a sound title is an uphill battle and most directors can’t do it without a fight. What did it take for Joel and Ethan to be able to do it?

SL: It is my understanding that the main titles and the order that they appear are regulated by several guilds and their agreements with the producers and the studios. Joel and Ethan had always given me head credit and because they didn’t belong to any of the guilds, there wasn’t an issue. When they joined the directors guild they made an arrangement and were able to continue to make the head titles as they saw fit.

DS: Recently, a colleague of mine made the observation that sound is one of the only crafts with Oscar eligibility that does not get a regular opening title card. Can anything be done to change the status quo?

SL: There are many others that don’t get main title credit. The agreements between the guilds and producers refer to the main titles with the separation of them being only for “Artistic Contribution” In most cases they consider all other workers to be contributing as “Craft Workers”. Filmmakers may wish to adjust this and in future they may adjust these rules to embrace others’ contributions. I don’t think the guilds would be happy about any changes. As my esteemed colleague Dan Sable used the infamous quote, “They don’t leave the theater whistling the foley”

DS: What was your first gig like?

SL: I worked very hard for $75 a week on a terrible movie that was sold to the Navy to show to sailors on their aircraft carriers.

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