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Member of the shortlisted sound team behind Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the classic West Side Story are featured in a new episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s Behind the Screen.
Guests include supervising sound editor/rerecording mixer Gary Rydstrom of Skywalker Sound — a seven-time Oscar winner for films like Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan — and rerecording mixer Andy Nelson, a 21-time Oscar nominee who won statuettes for Saving Private Ryan and Les Misérables.
Also featured is four-time Oscar-nominated production sound mixer Tod Maitland, who brought a background in musicals but still describes working on West Side Story as “the most complicated, difficult but rewarding” film he’d ever done. “About 80 percent of it was [shot] on location, and it was a brutally hot summer,” said Maitland of making the movie in New York in 2019. “An average day on this film would be wiring 22 people, handing out between 20 and 50 earwigs, planting ambient microphones and having three booms trying to capture everything.”
The team describes their work on numerous scenes from the 20th Century Studios’ musical, including the energetic dance at the gym, where Maria (Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) meet. “We wired everybody because everybody makes sound in this film. They were making sounds to each other as they were dancing,” Maitland relates.
“For the dialogue moments,” he continues, “everyone’s wired and we’re booming everything at the same time. For the rest of the dance, we’d play loud playback so that all the actors and dancers were energized by it. Whenever we would go to dialogue, we’d have a thumper track, which is a 40-cycle click track [that] keeps the dancers in sync, but it’s something you can cut out. This way we can record the dialogue without the music,” he explains.
To capture the sounds of dancing, the team went back after filming ended and, Maitland says, “gave all the dancers headphones and earwigs and had them redo the entire dance so that we got all of their footsteps and all their little hoots and howls.”
Adds Rydstrom, “There’s a lot [in the on-set recordings] of the actual sound of the dancers and the movement, and then we’d add our own Foley [sound effects recorded during postproduction],” which including recording the actual dance moves. “It’s crazy what they had to try to match.”
Nelson notes that the sequence leading into the gym was critical. “They devised a gentle wind-up for [actors] walking down the hallway. The doors open. We jump into full-tilt music at that moment. … It was fun to make it as energetic and as lively as possible. There were some dialogue moments in that scene that we had to duck and dive a little bit around but never wanted to lose the energy of the music. It just needed to really blast through.”
Contrast among the three songs also was vital, Nelson says. “I tried to make the music for that scene be much more attached to the screen itself until the mambo and then opened up the speakers much wider, so it suddenly had this extra layer of fidelity and energy. Behind the bleachers, when Tony and Maria meet, becomes very tiny and intimate. It was lovely contrast throughout that scene.”
The full conversation is below.
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