A Production Mixer’s Dream Job… or
Be Careful What You Wish for, It Might Come True
by Lee Orloff, CAS
I remember the first day the filmmakers invited me and a few other department heads over to their office to discuss the project and toss around some ideas. Gore Verbinski, the director with whom I had collaborated on six previous films, among them the first three in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, had been working on an animated feature for quite some time and was now ready to go into production. He wanted me to mix it. I immediately thought of cracking out a vintage big-diaphragm Neumann, as in the past for Nic Cage’s inner monolog on The Weather Man or other voiceovers. My instincts told me to double track the actors on a trusty U87 (or the like) along with my favorite choice of boom mike. However, as the meeting progressed, the project was gradually brought into sharper focus. Wait a second … they said this was an animated feature. What exactly did going into production mean?
Imagine going to work on Day One and finding that customary walkie chatter was not about getting the cast off the stage after rehearsal and through the works, final touches and so on, but rather when they’d arrive at stage. Period. When they arrived they might don a hat, slip on an article of clothing, or prop themselves up to further get into character, but that was about it before we’d hit the lights and bell and off we’d go. Then doing far more 20-minute takes than not. Five weeks with the cross hairs aimed precisely at the same point. There were no little breaks like leisurely trips to graze at crafty or walking off stage for better cell reception during re-sets. One day I’m across in the men’s room and the PA comes running in, “They’re all waiting for you to roll.” I was mixing a show where, once the director had the take he was looking for, his only technical consideration was, “Was everything good for Sound?” One of the great things about working with Gore Verbinski, who happens to be a gifted musician among his other strengths, is that he happens to have an excellent “ear.” He is tuned in to the slightest details. Conversations about enunciation, separation, head turns and chin downs, a level that might have gotten “spicy” in his words, have been commonplace over the years. This time, that focus was probably multiplied five or tenfold which was a good thing for all of us in the department. It brought out the best in all of us, and it was a nice boost to the department’s pride, knowing that the attention to detail we all strive to provide on any show was truly understood and appreciated on Rango.