'Jersey Boys:' Why Clint Eastwood Decided to Record the Singing Live
"While keeping the stage-show feel, having live vocals and music also raises the emotional performances," says re-recording mixers John Reitz and Gregg Rudloff.
To make the film adaptation of the Tony-winning musical Jersey Boys—which follows musical group The Four Seasons—director Clint Eastwood made the uncommon decision to record the singing live and additionally to have a live band perform on set at the same time.
“We believe Clint’s intent was to create seamless transitions in performance from one moment in the film to the next,” re-recording mixers John Reitz (dialogue/music) and Gregg Rudloff (effects) told The Hollywood Reporter in a joint interview by email. “While keeping the stage-show feel, having live vocals and music also raises the emotional performances in the scenes. … Jersey Boys is a story about four guys, and the songs are a part of their journey. The live performances only added to the realism.”
The mixers explained that, while this isn’t the first film to have made live recordings on set, “common practice in the past has been to pre-record the music and vocals, then have the actors perform to a playback of these recordings on set. The actors would either mime the lyrics, or sing along and have their performances replaced later.”
A sound challenge to Eastwood’s approach was that the music in Jersey Boys—hits such as "Sherry," "Big Girls Don’t Cry" and "Walk Like a Man"—generally involved four vocalists, rather than solos, and the actors were sometimes huddled around a single mic.
“At times, one actor is talking while the other three are singing, with the live band also playing. In order to give us the separation we would need for creative control on the final mix, each actor and instrument was also individually mic’d,” the mixers said. This was handled by production sound mixer Walt Martin, who recorded the dialogue and vocals; and production music mixer Tim Boot, who handled the recording of the band.
In postproduction, scoring mixer Bobby Fernandez mixed the tracks, working with music editors Chris McGeary and Tommy Lockett as well as Reitz. IR (impulse response) recordings were taken from the various locales to help replicate the ambiences of the venues. “This came in handy when adjustments were made for perspective and camera angle changes in the final edit of the film,” Reitz and Rudloff explained.
Meanwhile, supervising sound editors Alan Murray and Bub Asman recorded various effects, such as production vehicles and handclaps at the original set locations, which were used in the final mix. Katie Wood was the supervising dialogue/ADR editor.
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All of this work comes together for the musical numbers and as part of the storytelling, for instance, in a key scene during which John Lloyd Young, who plays Frankie Valli, sings "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." At the point where this song is used in the story, Valli is at low point in his life; he is transitioning to becoming a solo performer, and there’s uncertainty that the song will find an audience. The scene begins with the actor singing in a quiet recording studio, and the energy builds as the setting shifts to a performance before a live audience. “Then enters the band. The energy now jumps dramatically,” the mixers said. “The band is going full tilt, Frankie’s vocals are at full intensity and the audience is fully engaged. Only as the audience erupts at the end of the song is Frankie aware of the impact he has made. It’s the climactic moment for both his career and the film. We had great fun working on this scene.”
Jersey Boys is being released in Dolby Atmos in theaters that support the immersive sound format, and Reitz and Rudoff believe this is an added benefit. “The ability to more accurately separate and place our sound palette adds a layer of clarity and more fully immerses the audience within the spatial environment,” Rudloff said. “One example of this in Jersey Boys is when Frankie sings in the church. As Frankie’s voice reverberates throughout, John not only takes the sound back into the theater, but also raises it to the ceiling, allowing the audience to more fully experience the size of the church.”