Netflix’s Shawn Mendes — In Wonder is a new documentary about the musician in which he opens up about his stardom, relationships and musical future, all while on a world tour. The feature runs one hour and 23 minutes and is comprised of both interviews and in-concert performances.
Shie Rozow (photographed by Shani Barel) served as music editor on the project, as well as composer. Here, he shares with Post, insight into his work on the project, which came together in just a few short weeks during the pandemic.
How did you get involved in the Netflix’s Shawn Mendes: In Wonder project?
“My friend, producer Katherine LeBlond, whom I met when working on Amy Berg’s musical doc Janis: Little Girl Blue, called me asking if I was available for a couple of weeks. She’s co-producing this film, and it just so happened that another documentary I was scoring at the time had a three-week delay, so a hole in my schedule opened up. Perfect timing.”
What were the needs for the soundtrack?
“Being a musical documentary, there were a variety of needs that often aren’t typical on a narrative or non-musical documentary film. First the sheer amount of music involved was a challenge. There are more than 120 music starts. That is over 120 individual pieces of music, all of which had to be addressed in one way or another, and all in the space of just two weeks! That’s a lot of music to wrangle, especially in such a short amount of time.”
What kind of sound elements were you working with?
“Some of the music came from production rolls — it’s the audio captured live when the footage was shot. Some of it was remixes of audio from concert footage that was captured live. Some of it was score that had to be tracked using existing works by composer Ólafur Arnalds. Some of it was songs that had to be cut in at spots, and then there was original music that had to be written where we didn’t have anything fitting from the Ólafur works that were available to us.
“The production rolls were all edited to tell the best story possible. However the editor’s ability to cut the music cleanly in the Avid is limited. First, they’re not music editors, and second there’s the technical reality that they cut in one frame increments, and often, that’s not a fine enough resolution to cut music smoothly. So I had to match what they did, but clean up any edits that were less than perfect and find creative ways to recreate them so they are imperceptible while maintaining sync whenever we see Shawn or anyone else performing on-camera.
“As I mentioned, there were some concert pieces that the editors were cutting using the production audio, but I was then provided with a handful of stereo stems as well as an ATMOS mix for these songs, and I had to match the edits that were made, while smoothing out any imperfections and maintaining perfect sync. Cleaning up the production tracks and replacing them with new mixes in the various spots was probably the biggest technical challenge.
“Next there was handling the score. Again, the picture editors had roughly laid in some of Ólafur’s tracks as score. I was then tasked with cutting in all those tracks by making fine, clean edits and using stems he provided, improving how they worked to picture. We also experimented with trying different tracks at different spots, so for at least half of the spots I had cut at least two or three different versions for the filmmakers to watch and decide which they liked best. Unlike cutting temp music, these edits had to be flawless because this would become our final score.
“Finally, we didn’t have any music for about a quarter of the score and I was then asked to write original music for those spots. Writing all of those original cues under an immense time-crunch while also wrangling everything else concurrently was another challenge, but thanks to everyone’s support and working together we got through it.”
Did you collaborate?
“I worked with different people on different aspects. I had to coordinate with our sound supervisor, the extraordinary Lon Bender and his team regarding how we handled the production rolls since parts were dialogue and production sound, and other parts were music. I worked closely with Katherine because I got thrown in with very little time and had to get up to speed very fast, so she was a lifesaver in terms of helping me figure out what’s what, who’s who and what needs to happen for each spot. I couldn’t have gotten it done without her help.
“I was in contact with Ólafur to get materials we needed; we only exchanged a few emails. I worked with director Grant Singer and producer Saul Germaine, in particular on the score parts, cutting in Ólafur’s tracks as well as writing the original music. The three of us spent quite a bit of time doing live Zoom sessions, where we would try out different ideas, whether it was cutting in Ólafur’s music, or as I was writing original music. And Katherine was always there to provide any support needed. After Grant and Saul were happy with the shape of the score, there was a Zoom meeting that included Shawn and his manager, Andrew Gertler, as I presented our work for their feedback, and then as I addressed changes, they would get sent for Andrew and Shawn to review. There was a lot of quick back and forth until it was perfect.”
Do you have a favorite scene that ties to the soundtrack?
“There were a few, all score related. There’s a scene when Shawn goes home and visits Pickering Field. We tried a few different ideas there, and that’s always fun for me, to see how different music changes how the scene feels. Same for the very next scene when he visits his parents’ home. We tried a few ideas, including a cue I wrote, and ultimately we used one of Ólafur’s tracks.
“Editorially there’s a sequence where Shawn sings Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ in concert. This was a very tricky area because we actually stitched together several performances. We start with an edit of ‘Fix You’, which segues into ‘In My Blood’ and then into transitional music they use in the live show. The editors did a really great job putting this sequence together, but unfortunately the Avid is limited to editing in one frame increments, but that’s not a fine enough resolution for music. So the task was stitching those together into a continuous segment flawlessly, while also nailing the sync when Shawn is on camera, which was quite challenging, and we were working with ATMOS mixes for some parts, and stereo mixes for others, and I had to make sure everything flowed from one to the other seamlessly.”
It sounds like there were a number of challenges in bringing this all together?
“I think in this case the biggest challenge wasn’t any one thing, it was the combination of so many challenges, so much music, in so little time, and all being done remotely.”
Tell us about your studio set up and what you were using on this project?
“All the music editorial is done in ProTools. The original composition was done in Cubase. I have a Google Sheets document I use to keep track of everything, and that was shared with all the parties who needed access to it. Sending files to the dub stage was done using Aspera. All of this is pretty standard. On occasion, I’d have to make QuickTime movies for Andrew and Shawn to review materials, and Katherine would text the QuickTimes to them. I still have QuickTime Pro 7 to convert QuickTimes to whichever format I need.
“For this project I needed to have realtime sessions with others and unlike normal times, when we could simply be in a room together, due to the pandemic, this was impossible. So, I used a combination of Zoom and screen sharing, along with a plug-in called Listen To by Audio Movers (https://audiomovers.com/wp/). This allowed me to stream high-quality audio directly from ProTools to them. They would get a URL link that opened up a web browser and they could then hear the audio well, since Zoom quality leaves a lot to be desired. Though apparently there’s a new version coming, or maybe it’s already out that improves audio.
“Funny story, after the meeting with Shawn, everyone got off Zoom and I started working on changes. A couple of hours later, I was ready to reconnect with Grant, Saul and Katherine to review the changes before sending them to Shawn and Andrew. Saul was the first to join, and while waiting for the others, I played one of the cues for him. Suddenly Shawn jumped on the Zoom and told us he loves the changes. We were confused? How could he possibly have heard the new version, he wasn’t on the Zoom call? Turned out he never shutdown the browser window connected to the Listen To plug-in, so as soon as I started to transmit music again, he heard it and jumped on the Zoom to approve it.”