“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” drifts into theaters September 21st. Sound supervisor Richard King and additional sound supervisor Hamilton Sterling wrangled up their sound posse and staked their claim on the editorial. King and Sterling completed Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The 11th Hour,” earlier this year and King recently started work on the film I am most excited for, next July’s “The Dark Knight”. Mixing for “Jesse” took place on Warner Bros Stage 9 with re-recording mixers Ron Bartlett and Doug Hemphill. The two, a fixture on the stage, are currently dubbing “Alien vs. Predator 2: Requiem.” Bartlett helped mix effects on one of my favorite films: 1995’s “Heat”. There is a great bit about the craziness of that film’s post sound HERE(03:56 on). The Production sound was mixed by Bruce Carwardine. “Jesse” was shot in mostly Alberta and Carwardine, a recipient of a few Genie Awards already, works on many Canadian films each year. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis composed the score for the film. This marks their second collaborative effort on a western after 2005’s “The Proposition”. The score was recorded and mixed at Studio 1, Air Studios in London.
I am glad to have this Q and A with scoring mixer Jake Jackson. Music is a part of a film’s soundtrack that I don’t touch upon enough here. In all honesty, my only direct experience with the music department is when the music editor appears on a re-recording stage with the mixed MX Stems. I would like each discipline to have equal footing here so I hope this can be the first steps in the right direction. We’ll get a peak into score tracking and mixing here and in the next few months get into music editorial and re-recording mixing.
DS: Admittedly, I am not very knowledgeable about the scoring process. As a scoring mixer, what do your duties entail?
JJ: Firstly, I am approached by the composer, and we discuss elements of the score, i.e., style of score, instrumentation, any special requirements, recording venue, players, etc. Then close to the scoring session, we finalize those details, and organize technical requirements with the recording studio and music editor. Then, during the scoring process it is my job to record the music to the highest quality, get the best performance from the musicians, and to make the process run as smoothly as possible (as it is expensive!). Once we move onto the mix down, it is my job to, obviously, balance all the elements internally, making sure the composer is happy that their music has been realized properly, but also I must reference the temp dx/fx so that the music sits nicely for the re-recording mixer. We then separate some elements of the mix so that the re-recording mixer can re-balance if absolutely necessary. For example, rather than turn the whole music track down if it is getting in the way of dialogue, they can just turn down the offending element.
DS: You stated that recording the score for “Jesse James” was a different experience than on most films. How did it differ?
JJ: It was different because the music editor Gerard McCann and myself, were involved in the composing process. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis write ideas before they get to the stage, but actually put ideas down in the recording process. They play most of the instruments themselves (with a few extras). They go and play, I record it and we listen, then add more passes or replace bits. I do a live mix every time, which goes to the music editor, who then refines it to picture some more, then we go back and complete the recording process to the picture. This is different because often the music is completely written before we get to the scoring stage, and the recording process is realizing the Composer’s samples by real musicians and instruments.
What was nice on “Jesse,” was that we also got Matt Dunkley involved to orchestrate some of Nick and Warren’s music so that we could have a small string section to support their music and also give alternate versions for different sections of the movie.
DS: How much experimental time on the stage do the composers and you get to during recording?
JJ: Following on from your last question, obviously, there was a lot of experimentation on “Jesse,” Another reason for this was the picture cut changed a lot, so we tried different versions of cues. We would also watch the movie down once in a while, and if the music felt wrong, then we would change it. During a more normal scoring session, the experimental side of things is more to do with a musician’s interpretation of the composer’s music. For example, the way a Piano solo is performed, or which is the best ethnic instrument to use for the color or mood of the music/film at that point. It also depends massively on the budget. On a larger movie, there is time to get alternate performances from musicians, perhaps trying different instrumentation or style, but on a smaller budget movie, because recording an orchestra is a vastly expensive thing to do, there is often only enough time to record something twice, so you might have to live with an interpretation that is very good, but not perfect.
DS: How involved are directors normally in the scoring process?
JJ: In the actual scoring process it really depends on the director. On “Jesse,” Andrew left Nick and Warren to it, and we sent over versions that they listened to, and commented on. On other movies, the director works more closely with the composer prior to the recording process. Firstly, they go through the movie without music, and the director will say where he wants music, and what he wants it to achieve. Then the composer will send the director demos, and they will work on the music until they are happy. At the scoring stage, there are little surprises these days. A few years ago before samples became so good, the director would often only hear a piano style mock-up of the music, but now they hear a refined version. So the scoring process is more to do with getting the right feeling from the musicians and making a few tweaks here and there.
DS: How do you prepare tracks for the final stage; do the music editor or you rap with the re-recording mixer during this process?
JJ: This is primarily done by the music editor. Often, I might speak with the re-recording mixer if there are elements of the music that are unusual and need to be treated in a certain way. But since the music editor is going to be at the dub, then what they need is important. Whether it is what to have on separate stems, or what comes out of what outputs, is decided in discussion with myself, composer and the music editor. I have to remember that they are at the dub representing the composer, and the music in the film. What we deliver is generally a full 5.1 mix of the music, but then anything from 2-10 stems of what constitutes the full mix. Sometimes, i.e., when recording an orchestra, there is no separation, because I record them as one, so the mix is the mix, but if the score for example, has solo instruments, and/or vocals, then we will give them separately to the re-recording mixer, so that they can blend them better if they need to. In theory, there should be nothing for them to change, but if the director wasn’t at the mix down, or the scene needs to change, then having separate stems is better than losing the entire cue. On “The Proposition,” I was fortunate enough to be at the Dub for the entire process as Gerard was busy, so I became the music editor. This gave me a very interesting insight into the process, and since then I have been able to put into practice the things I learned about how the music translates from the one environment (scoring stage) to the other (dubbing stage).
DS: What was your first gig like?
JJ: My very first gig was “City of Angels.” I turned up not really knowing about film scoring, and made the tea for two weeks and watched in awe at the process, budget and skill of those involved! I have been very fortunate to be the Recordist on many huge films including, “Gladiator,” “LOTR,” the Bond movies, and “Harry Potter.” Now that I am a Mixer, I am working on films like “Jesse James,” with amazing musicians such as Nick and Warren. Life doesn’t get any better!