One of this summer’s most anticipated productions is the latest directorial contribution from Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood, in the film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Jersey Boys. Like the play, the film is a musical biography that traces the success of the 50’s-70’s singing group, the Four Seasons, lead by front man Frankie Valli. It follows the friends from their early days in New Jersey and how the bonds they formed early in their career helped them through a number of challenges, as they continued their rise to fame. At the center of the film, and key to telling the Four Seasons’ story on-screen are the performances of the group’s signature songs by the film’s stars.
Alan Murray, supervising sound editor; John Reitz, re-recording mixer (dialogue and music) and Gregg Rudloff, re-recording mixer (effects) discuss how essential the music was to the film’s plotline and how they managed to capture the accurate sounds of the group’s era.
How much did the fact that this film was a musical, and that it takes place from the 1950s through the 1970s, factor into the audio editing/mixing process?
Rudloff: “Actually it factored in a lot. Being a musical, there were a lot of different ways to approach it. So, they recorded all the music live on the set — all the vocals were live; even the band was live. And all of this material was mic’d individually. So, it’s a delicate balance between keeping it period proper, as to how they were recorded originally, and you also need to factor in the various locations, because this movie took place obviously in a lot of different locations. You’ve got a cappella singing on the street, small night clubs, recording studios, larger night clubs, an outdoor county fair. So, each of those locations have a different sound to them.
"But the one thing you want to make sure that you don’t do, because Clint [Eastwood] is really into accuracy and the period of when it was all happening, you don’t want to over produce the music.
"We’ve been listening to this music for a long time, so everybody has a feeling about what the sound is for this group. We were trying to remain true to that. At the same time, we were trying to make sure that the sound was accurate for each of the locations that we were in. So, the music was a huge consideration for this film for us.”
How important is the music to the overall storytelling and to the plot?
Rudloff: “Well, it is the story. It’s different from a traditional musical that most of us are used to where the songs are there to help tell the story. In this particular film, the songs are the story. So, where this differs from the stage play, is that the film delves much more deeply into their backstory and what was going on in their lives at the time.”
I would imagine that the recording process was important and affected what you had to work with once the material got into post — how important was how it was recorded?
Rudloff: “We’re not heavily involved at that stage, but it all ends up filtering down through us, and so we were involved in discussions from the beginning to see how they were going to do it and how we were going to work with it.
"But I do believe that once they were out on the set, Walt Martin, the production sound mixer, was responsible for recording the dialogue and the vocals when they were singing. Tim Boot was in charge of recording the band. So this main thing is all about separation and control once it gets to us. That’s what’s kind of our concern. And they did everything they could to have microphones on each of the actors and to mic all of the instruments separately [DPA’s d:vote 4099 instrument microphones and d:screet 4061 omnidirectional miniature microphones] so that we would have the ultimate control of it once we got it.
"Along with the accuracy and reality of the music in the location, in the venues, there’s also the dramatic use of the music for telling the story. So, in reality, you might be hearing all of the vocals equally or all of the music equally, but there were times in the movie where we might want to feature one vocalists over another, or one instrument over another, so that was a concern and they did a great job keeping separation for us so we would have that option.”
Are you aware of any special techniques that Tim Boot used during the recording process?
Rudloff: “Again, we’re talking about accuracy. I mean the prop department was great about bringing the actual microphones from that period to the set. The only problem with it is, that in all reality, recording studios used decent microphones back then, but with live venues, the mics were pretty poor. So [Tim] needed to have the appearance of these period accurate mics being there on the set but he needed to be able to record it in better quality. So he had his tricks up his sleave in order to accomplish that.”
Once the footage got into post, I’m curious if you used the kinds of tools often used today for sound editing/mixing, especially after your earlier comments about trying to be ‘period proper?’
Rudloff: “We absolutely used them — that is what our work tools are in this day and age. But our goal was to not over produce or use something that would then make the sound totally different from what the expectations were of that period. And it’s not an impossibility. We were careful with how the tools were used. Without the tools we have, the digital aspects and such, I don’t think honestly we could have accomplished what we did.
"Also, we were more focused on matching the venue they were singing in.”