'Get On Up' Oscar Bid Reveals Unique Sound Editing Process

Supervising music editor Curt Sobel is eligible for a nomination; the work involved archival recordings of Brown supplemented with new recordings.
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
'Get on Up'

Should Universal's James Brown biopic Get On Up earn an Oscar nomination in sound editing Thursday, it would shine a light on a unique sound editing and mixing experience.

As confirmed by AMPAS, nominees for sound editing would include the film's supervising sound editor Gregg Baxter and supervising music editor Curt Sobel. The sound editing ballot is reserved for the person or persons who perform the functions associated with supervising sound editing, and the sound branch determined that for Get On Up, that includes the film's supervising music editor, an atypical decision. While Sobel has worked on musicals before — including Ray, which won an Oscar for sound mixing, and Nine — this would be the first time that he earns an Oscar nomination.

For Tate Taylor's Get On Up — which starred Chadwick Boseman as the legendary Godfather of Soul — the sound team used mostly original tracks of Brown, found through extensive archival research. "We tried to adhere to the story, so if Brown was at the Apollo Theater in the scene, we used a recording from the Apollo," says re-recording mixer Scott Millan. "Many of the original Brown performances were recorded live, so we had to isolate the guitars, the vocals.... It was challenging for what we were trying to do because there was very little separation of the tracks."

Read more 'Get On Up': Film Review

Sobel related that while they isolated Brown’s vocals, they had to go back and record almost everything else. “Almost every instrument [in every song in the film] was overlayed — drums, bass, brass. We also recorded backup vocals and supplemented Brown’s vocals using soundalikes.

"I came to the dubbing stage with 124 separate music tracks that we laid onto the top of the original tracks," he continued. "Scott and I worked for eight days going through every song; that was a long pre-dub [the process during which the tracks begin to get mixed together to match the picture]. On Ray, our pre-mix was two and a half days.

“A lot of decisions that I made in preproduction, production and post were of a sound editorial nature,” Sobel confirmed. “This was unique and unlike anything I had responsibility for on any of the other musical I have worked on."

Capturing the live performances, of course, was critical to the film. Said Millan: "We tried to maximize the sonic presentation, engaging the audience with that style and enthusiasm that was being conveyed pictorially. In the close-ups, it has to feel organic to the audience, that they are there. With a biopic, it’s imperative that the audience believes, in this case, that that’s James Brown."

Bookending the film are sequences during which you hear overlapping dialog from different parts of the film. "Stylistically, it was fun to tease the audience at the beginning with the lines…and then share them again at the end with more clarity," said Millan. “He was a haunted individual. He had a tough life.”

The film's sound mixing was led by Millan, rerecording mixer Gregg Russell and production sound mixer Steve Morrow.

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA

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