Post: Rob Marshall's 'Nine'

Dec 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson



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Co-supervisor Wylie Stateman roughing it on a soundstage

Co-supervisor Wylie Stateman roughing it on a soundstage

Stateman is a four-time Oscar nominee for sound or sound editing (including Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha); Tondelli is a dialog and ADR specialist. “Renee is such an important part of this senior team leading the sound work on this film,” Stateman comments, “because the dialog establishes a tremendous amount of the sonic integrity of the film, meaning acoustically it has to go seamlessly from spoken word into song and back out again, and that requires literally the micro-editing of the soundtrack. Sometimes things are blended syllable by syllable from production to ADR to music pre-record and then back again. She’s done an amazing job on this.” (The production sound mixer on the film was Jim Greenhorn, whose recent credits include such impressive productions as The Reader and Notes on a Scandal.)

Asked whether the early ’60s setting for the film required that the sound team go out and record a lot of period Fiats, Alfa-Romeos, Vespas and the like, Stateman laughs, and says, “That’s irrelevant to this film. It was a film that required a lot of original thought and very little original recording. The challenge for us was to keep the film moving through the songs, and to keep the emotion moving through the songs, and to connect all these these different pieces. There are 12 significant musical numbers, and that means so much of the film hangs on the integrity of those numbers. And the sound pressure of those numbers.” Sound pressure? “Volume—not just rhythm; and making sure that things are relative from a dramatic scene where it’s more classic filmmaking, to a more dramatic, highly choreographed scene that was photographed against playback. Again, you want it to be as seamless as possible.

“Foley was very important in this film,” he adds, “because it’s often Foley that ties the dramatic lensed material with the staged material against playback. We actually built a floor on the ADR stage over at Todd-AO on Seward in Hollywood and 12 dancers—some of whom had who had danced on Nine and some of whom knew Rob from Chicago—came in from around the world, and they danced these numbers wearing headphones and we made 5-channel recordings of their feet and of their movements. It’s a really a lovely contributing element making the playback tracks sound at home in the film and real in the theater.

“It’s not about covering everything; it’s really about finding the dramatic punctuation, finding just the right moment for a bit of movement of something to help with the perception of reality and the perception that these numbers were sung and danced in that shot.”

That particular Foley session was done in Hollywood “because it was more convenient for the dancers at that particular moment in time,” Stateman says. “I did it with Renee and with Harry Cohen, who was also a very significant player—he’s the sound effects designer. We’ve been together for almost 20 years; Renee and I for more than 10 years. We all worked with Rob on Memoirs of a Geisha. So Harry is doing sound effects design and Renee and I covered a lot of the other bases, with Rene doing the ADR and dialog, as well. Then, most of the rest of the [post] crew is British.” The film was mixed in Pinewood’s enormous, refurbished Powell Theatre (the largest re-recording studio in the UK) on the room’s Euphonix System 5. Mike Prestwood-Smith did the dialog; Rob Fernandez, from Sound One in New York, did music; and Pinewood’s own Richard Pryke (an Oscar-winner for Slumdog Millionaire) handled FX.

When I spoke with Stateman and Sullivan in mid-October, work had just begun on the final mix and neither was expecting any major problems to crop up. “It’s shaping up really, really well,” Sullivan says. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the last month getting the 5.1 music stems big and fat and punchy. My engineer that I’ve used for the last couple of years is Frank Woolf, who did Hairspray with me and some of Dreamgirls, and we mixed the stems at Westlake Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard. Then we came here and did some work at SARM Studios [in London], which is Trevor Horn’s place. We also did some fixes at Pinewood; some overdubs, some sweeteners—like, for this one song we really liked tremolo violins, so during scoring we brought in 12 violins and three violas to make that part more interesting.” Since the actors have long-since dispersed since filming, any vocal fixes that are necessary have to come from the multiple takes that were done for each song for the pre-records; again, not a problem, Sullivan says.

While the final was happening, Sullivan also had another task to supervise—the creation of the soundtrack album, which required a separate stereo mix. “We get the film into shape and then we use the 5.1 film mixes as a beginning,” he says. “We do some fold-downs, but that’s just the start—it’s lots of tweaking, tweaking, tweaking. You don’t compress the overall 5.1 stems, but obviously with the 2-track we do.” The soundtrack album was scheduled to be released the week before the film opened.

Meanwhile, back at the mix, the post team was hard at work finishing this film that Stateman calls “a crazy, beautiful canvas.” As a music man himself, and someone who famously works well with actors, Marshall is obviously very attuned to the importance and nuances of sound—it certainly says something about both his ears and his ability to hire a good sound team that both of his previous directorial efforts earned Academy Award nominations for sound (with Chicago earning trophies for Mike Minkler, Domenick Tavella and David Lee).

“Rob Marshall is a passionate, driven, detail-oriented director and he’s always looking to explore the depth of the emotion of every one of these scenes, and to keep it rhythmic and musical and flowing,” Stateman comments. “He’s totally the creative engine behind this film. He’s very willing to mix the soundstage with practical local shoots with different mixed media of color and black and white. He’s looking to create a film that’s unbridled by anything, and his imagination is quite vast. This particular film offered him an opportunity to explore both a ’60s style—which is really a tribute to Fellini—and today’s technology, in terms of digital negative-capture on film, finished with every electronic and digital advantage available. You can tell that Rob is still evolving as a filmmaker, learning every time he makes a film, and it’s been really exciting to make this journey with him.”

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