Netflix’s Maestro was released in theaters on November 22nd and began streaming on the platform on December 20th. The film is a fearless love story that chronicles the lifelong relationship between Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein.
Bradley Cooper stars as the conductor, in addition to serving as the film’s director, writer and producer. Carey Mulligan portrays Felicia Montealegre. The film was shot by director of photography Matthew Libatique and edited by Michelle Tesoro.
The film is nominated for seven Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards, including those for Leading Actor, Leading Actress, Makeup & Hairstyling, Cinematography, Motion Picture, Original Screenplay and Sound.
Members of the soundtrack team include Steven A. Morrow, Richard King, Jason Ruder, Tom Ozanich and Dean Zupancic, and recently shared insight into their respective contributions.
Supervising sound editor/sound designer Richard King
“I was invited to join the post sound team on Maestro as the supervising sound editor and sound designer, joining Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Jason Ruder, who’d worked with Bradley on A Star is Born. My job was to curate the sounds that we added to the film exclusive of music and dialogue, like birds or wind or footsteps. The soundtrack is totally driven by Leonard Bernstein’s music. Sound design’s job was to add splashes of color that made a point in some way, reflecting a mood, or to create a sense of place.”
Supervising music editor Jason Ruder
Supervising music editor Jason Ruder says the team started planning their recording process back in 2019.
“Bradley always had the vision to conduct and record live for an authentic and immersive experience. The goal was to feel you were in the eye of the sun with Lenny. Everything, from the look and style of Lenny’s conducting, had to match the quality of music and sound.”
Ruder adds that Bernstein’s interpretation of Mahler needed to be completely authentic.
“Enlisting the correct orchestra and conducting consultant was essential. We quickly settled on Yannick and Ely after examining other locations. Somehow Bradley and I just knew the LSO needed to be a precise piece of the puzzle as well. We studied the 1973 Burton archives in great detail for both look and sound. Upon much planning, we took a trip to Ely for a tech scout. There were many cavernous features, I knew would be a challenge for the live record, and the cable cam shot would limit our mic placements for the orchestra.”
Ruder says there were many mics slung from the tower above the octagon, out of frame, as well as spot mics placed within the orchestra, out of frame.
“I knew recording a live performance of this size had not been done on-set for a film in history, so we had to assemble the best sound and music team possible, and really put our heads together. We knew a post record would always work in theory as a back up plan, but everyone on the team was determined to pull this off. I will never forget what it sounded like to stand near the center of the octagon with the LSO, chorus and soloists during a fast rehearsal in that space. Now when you watch the film in the center of an Atmos theatre, the experience brings just as many chills as the day we filmed it, and I believe whole heartedly that it is dangerously close to standing there with Lenny in 1973.”
Re-recording mixer Tom Ozanich
Re-recording mixer Tom Ozanich says he is feeling “blessed” for the team’s Oscar nomination.
“Being nominated for our work on Maestro is a great honor. It is such a beautifully detailed and nuanced film from all angles that it was a joy to be a part of. As the dialogue and music re-recording mixer, I got to immerse myself into the wonderful music of Leonard Bernstein and reimagine what we could do with it using today’s technology and the power of cinema. I also had the opportunity to work with these impeccable performances and help bring out their many nuances through our mix.”
Ozanich says the sound for Maestro was conceived and designed to play like one of Bernstein’s symphonies.
“His music played a central character roll in the film, which meant it had to be handled differently than music typically is. It has a bold presence that typically plays as a forefront character. All of the performances you see big and small were recorded live and mixed to feel as real as possible. Much care and effort went into the flow of transitions, the rhythm of dialogue and effects, and the dynamic shifts from intimate conversations to powerful, epic performances. With fast paced, overlapping dialogue and most production shot on location with loud film cameras whirring, there were a myriad of issues to contend with, especially in those quiet, intimate moments. We knew the final result needed to feel effortless and natural with everything serving the emotional connection to the story and characters.”
Sound effects re-recording mixer Dean Zupancic
“Mixing Maestro has been an extraordinary experience. As the sound effects re-recording mixer, this film presented many interesting sound effect components, as well as challenges into the life of Leonard and Felicia Bernstein.
“Leonard Bernstein was dynamic. He had elegance, he made bold choices and he lived his life outside of the ordinary. The sound mix reflects all of his traits in perfect harmony. The job of the sound mix is to complement the storytelling, and the soundtrack of Maestro does that with elegance, boldness and sonic dynamics.”
Zupancic says the film’s music plays like Bernstein’s personality.
“When the music comes in, it’s as if Lenny has entered the room — bold, confident, dynamic, saying, ‘Here I am, I’m Leonard Bernstein.’ Courageous choices were made during the mix, like when not to play music and let the sound effects play the scene for the emotion. Some of the most beautiful, dramatic, dialogue-driven scenes were played without a score. Traditionally, those types of eloquent scenes are scored in order to play the emotion of the scene. Bradley and supervising music editor Jason Ruder handed that honor over to sound effects. Knowing the task at hand, sound effects needed to step up and have a certain musical rhythm, to be the score, if you will. I think this decision was brilliant because when that glorious Bernstein music comes in, it was much more impactful. For example, there’s a wind motif throughout that mirror’s the highs and lows of their love story. Birds, crickets, cicadas, crowds were all carefully picked and orchestrated to complement their love story. My job was to support those wonderful performances and evoke the emotion of the scene.”
Zupancic says the mixing stage was a very large room, close to the size of a movie theater.
“But even in its size, the mixing stage and the mix became intimate and emotional because of the creative, collaborative experience that was magically happening with the ongoing flow of ideas. Every aspect of the final mix was scrutinized for its rhythms, nuances and dynamics, always making certain each sound was in harmony with the storytelling. “
Every great work of art has a great visionary at the helm, says Zupancic, and Maestro was no exception.
“I feel very fortunate to have worked on and been a part of this extraordinary film.”