“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