Editor's Note: Mixing and Matching in L.A.

Jul 9, 2010 2:13 PM, By Tom Kenny, Editorial Director


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Things really do come together in Los Angeles. New York has broadcast and Broadway and music and energy. Nashville has the players, the studios, the tradition and the soul. But Los Angeles has everything in entertainment like no other place on Earth. I was reminded of this on a recent trip to our cover facility, Universal Mastering Studios West, the same day I stopped by Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City for a visit with re-recording mixer Greg P. Russell. That’s when it hit me.

Greg is an extraordinary talent, with 13 Oscar nominations and a credit list that, while skewed toward big-budget action pictures in the past few years, reads like a snapshot of Hollywood over the past two decades. He did all the Spiderman films and is Michael Bay’s go-to guy. He’s also done Memoirs of a Geisha and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, so the guy has range. I was there to talk about Salt, the Angelina Jolie–starring, Phillip Noyce–directed thriller, which you will read about next month. He and his mix partner, Jeff Haboush, were doing a first pass at backgrounds, with the final still a few weeks off. But it turns out that he had just finished a three-week mix on the Kenny Chesney concert film and he was jazzed. “It brought me back to my music roots,” he told me, referring to his years at Evergreen and around Los Angeles in the 1980s. “I loved it!”

Chesney, apparently, had decided to take the summer off after 10 straight seasons on the road. He still wanted to have something for his fans in 2010, so during the summer 2009 tour, he shot multiple stadium shows in 3-D and brought multichannel sessions (60 tracks of 5.1 crowds) to the Cary Grant Theater this past spring for a full-blown theatrical mix. He had never been in a dub stage of that level; Russell had not mixed a concert film of that scope. It turned out marvelously.

“This was completely foreign to him,” recalls Russell. “But he has an incredible ear and it was very clear that he wanted the audience to feel like they were at a concert—that energy. We used the surrounds a lot to push that crowd presence while maintaining clarity. We panned instruments left and right quite a bit. There are 22 songs, strong songs, intercut with voice-over and slideshows and backstage footage. Smoothing those transitions, with the crowd washing into the ’verbs, was probably the biggest challenge. Then you have those classic moments where the camera cuts to the B3 or the dueling guitars, and you pull that out. Classic film and music touches. And I have to say, the remote engineer, Frank Pappalardo, gave us some stellar tracks.”

Live recording, big-time country music, full-blown 3-D film mixing (now on DVD)—it truly does combine the best of all worlds. Music mix engineers can mix concert films, no question, but when Sony paired one of its top artists with one of its top film mixers, they truly got the best of all worlds. And it all came together in Los Angeles.

P.S. From the small-world category: Hanson Hsu, who designed this month’s cover facility, was once Russell’s chief engineer at the Cary Grant Theater at Sony. You gotta love L.A.

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