Neon’s Moonage Daydream is a documentary feature about David Bowie, who passed away in 2016. The film gets its title from Bowie’s 1972 song of the same name, and features unreleased footage from the performer’s personal archive.
Brett Morgen wrote, directed and produced the feature, which received Emmy nominations for Directing (documentary/nonfiction), Picture Editing (nonfiction), Writing (nonfiction), Sound Mixing (nonfiction), and Sound Editing (nonfiction/reality).
David Giammarco served as the documentary’s sound effects re-recording mixer, working alongside dialogue and music mixer, Paul Massey.
“As the sound effects mixer, my tasks were to take all sound effects, background ambiance and crowd tracks, and build a spatial acoustic space for the project,” Giammarco explains. “Our director, Brett Morgen, wanted this soundtrack to be completely immersive - a soundtrack that would support the vivid imagery and David Bowie’s philosophic and introspective narrative. Something that would make Moonage Daydream a truly-powerful experience.”
According to Giammarco, the director reached out to Massey after he heard a concert sequence of the IMAX mix of Bohemian Rhapsody, which he had mixed a couple years prior. That concert mix was the sound that Margen was after.
Massey assembled a team that included supervising sound editors John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone (from Bohemian Rhapsody), then brought Giammarco on board to mix the sound effects.
“We mixed the film natively in Dolby Atmos, and then mixed 7.1, 5.1, stereo and IMAX versions,” Giammarco recalls. “Paul mixed the dialogue using a combination of a Harrison MPC5 Console and a Neve DFC console, with the music mixed through the Neve DFC. I mixed the sound effects and backgrounds with an Avid S6 console. Pro Tools was used for our playback machines and our recorders.”
One of the documentary’s biggest challenges came early on. The team was used to mixing narrative features, so their approach to tackling this film seemed simple enough — start working through the tracks like any other project, collaborate with the director, and follow their instincts.
“Then, Brett pushed us beyond all those safer places, and we celebrated the excitement of taking the soundtrack to places beyond where we might normally go,” notes Giammarco. “That meant exploring the freedom of taking sounds that might normally be played on-screen and moving them all around the studio. The acoustic space was to be completely utilized. Embracing that ideology gave the feeling that there were no rules, no mistakes, only opportunities. Paul did that with the music and dialogue, and I did it with the sound effects. It opened the film sonically and gave it space and dimension.”
Giammarco says the whole film is special to him, in that each moment is creative, exciting and thrilling.
“Throughout Moonage Daydream, Bowie’s iconic music is proudly presented, with sound effects and sound design weaved into the fabric of the film to create a perfect union, to the point where I can’t imagine the songs without the sound design accompanying it.”