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Oh, Behave!: Shagadelic Sound for the Austin Powers Sequel

Comedy, to quote Woody Allen, is timing and delivery-a pregnant pause that lends anticipation, an infectious giggle to lighten the double entendre or

Comedy, to quote Woody Allen, is timing and delivery-a pregnant pause that lends anticipation, an infectious giggle to lighten the double entendre or a change in inflection that is loaded with satire. These are the types of moments that make us laugh out loud in a darkened room full of strangers. And few actors working today excel at comic timing and delivery as much as Mike Myers. Think back to his goofy, delayed head flips as Wayne, or listen to Austin Powers’ signature “Yeeaaahhh…” Vintage timing.

Granted, most of these moments derive from the performance, but the issues of timing are critical in the audio post-production process, as well, and working on a comedy can be every bit as challenging as working on a special effects blockbuster. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, released in June by New Line, has its big effects moments (most notably the final battle sequence), but it’s the intricacies and feel of the track, along with the subtle timing issues, that add yet another comedic flavor to the film.

Much of the fine detail work-some of it more traditional editorial-took place during the final mix. The post schedule was relatively tight, with only six weeks between the wrap of principal photography in late December and the first temp mix, then less than three months till the print master. So it helped that the sound crew at Digital Sound & Picture in Los Angeles was largely intact from the first Austin Powers film, and that the working method at that facility allows for the ultimate in flexibility.

“The dub is where all our layers come together,” says director Jay Roach. “The systematized approach at DS&P-the way editorial feeds the stage, the way the whole process works-is so fast and efficient. We were under a tight schedule, and John [Ross, co-owner and lead mixer] has it all in place.”

All versions, including the Avid tracks, are hung in Pro Tools for playback through the final and can be unraveled, modified or completely replaced at any time. Twenty-one Pro Tools-based edit bays can upload to a central server, which feeds the three-position Euphonix on Stage A directly, and stems are updated as the mix progresses. In essence, sound is conformed as changes are made.

TEMPSDS&P tries to construct full-blown 5.1 temp mixes of all the films it works on, and, with Austin II, it seemed especially important because of the pressure to deliver a sequel that topped the original and the desire to put the best foot forward for test audiences.

As the film editing team began roughing out a first edit, supervising sound editor/sound designer Frederick Howard was shipping them signature effects, backgrounds and such from the first film, along with newly designed material in as complete a form as was possible early on. At the same time, film editor Greg Hayden was cutting in bits and pieces of George S. Clinton’s score from the original so everyone would have an idea of music placement.

“As we were completing scenes and assembling chunks of scenes, we would send them to Fred Howard, and he would send us back sound effects on DAT or Jaz drives,” explains Jon Poll, who shares an “Edited By” credit with Debbie Neil-Fisher, editor of the original film. “He was constantly giving us effects, and then, of course, we would turn over reels. It gave us something of a template so that even by the time we got to the temp dub, we had worked some areas out in rough form. The back-and-forth worked very well, and the temps went smoothly. In fact, a lot of the stuff we’re hearing in the final has been in from the beginning.”

“We had given them several gigabytes of sounds on Jaz cartridges, all categorized and organized,” recalls Howard. “We also gave them quite elaborate sound design material, where we literally built whole scenes. Some scenes were a bit complex, so we cut them and somehow managed to squeeze them onto eight tracks so they could pull them up on their Avids or pull out certain elements.”

After each temp screening, the picture department received the music, effects and dialog stems, input them and cut a new version, with updated scenes and/or visual effects. When the picture was turned over again, the sound crew had the original Avid tracks plus the updated stems delivered again on DA-88 and loaded onto the DS&P server. (Note: On this film, the OMF utilities for Avid/Pro Tools were not used.) For the next temp mix, then, the Avid tracks are carried to the stage because that is the director’s reference.

“It’s good to be able to slide in the [Avid effects] if new material we’re presenting doesn’t quite hit it on the nose,” explains Ross. “I like to put the Avid tracks into Pro Tools so I can see them. Often, the picture editors don’t know where they put a particular sound effect, which may have been mixed with something else. I can see the waveform of the discrete eight tracks, and I can go in and grab a particular sound effect. I can see it without having to hunt through Track 1 or Track 2 or somebody forgetting to write it down.”

SIMULTANEOUS SOUND DESIGNHoward came onboard in late December and immediately began feeding the picture department. At the same time, he viewed a rough cut and began thinking about sound design-particularly the time-portal transitions, comedic nuances and various ambiences.

“I really had the same kind of thoughts and ideas in mind that I had on the first film, as far as having it be low-tech and fairly organic, sound-wise,” Howard says. “We wanted to shy away from anything that didn’t really fit in, and that’s a fine aesthetic line, because obviously we have modern scenes, like with the NORAD control room. And there’s modern beepage in there, but there’s also a layer of classic short-wave tuning and that type of sound-something you might imagine in a ’60s spy film at spy headquarters.

“I wanted to pay homage to the world that spawned Austin Powers, the ’60s intrigue-espionage movies,” he continues. “There’s a look and feel and sound to those films. For example, when they’re traveling through time, I felt that wouldn’t be served by being real high-tech. So we gathered wind sounds and other elements to suggest the movement of air, a movement into the seventh dimension. Sort of like a vacuum. The laser was conceived correspondingly. A lot of real high-tech sounds could have worked there, but we pulled together a lot of elements and went for the quintessential laser beam sounds of ’50s sci-fi. Then we add a lot of movement from the surrounds forward, and it gives a good sense of motion.”

The visuals and sight gags are funny enough, so the sound crew made a conscious decision not to go cartoon-y, unless the film demanded it. One example is the fight scene between Austin and Mini-Me in Dr. Evil’s lunar station, where the “ding” of Mini-Me hitting the pole was intentionally modeled after the classic “anvil on the head” we all recognize from childhood. And the punches lacked variety intentionally, paying equal homage to the Three Stooges and World Championship Wrestling. “There are some sounds you just hear and say, ‘That’s funny,'” Howard says.

“A good example for me of funny, but not cartoon-y, was the scene where they unveil the time machine,” Howard says. “Dr. Evil goes running up to it, says, ‘I’m going through time!’ and bounces off it. It’s not turned on. The visual is very funny when he hits it. I combined a few elements to get a metal flux kind of a ‘bonk.’ It plays very funny. Then the body falls, and I made it kind of hard and pratfallish-‘calump, calump, calump.’ That’s also about timing. I’ve learned, working on these shows and comedies in general, how important timing is, both to the sound effect and the joke. Quite often, the payoff to a joke is in the sound of it, a sound cue that is the other foot dropping. If it drops too soon or too late, it isn’t as funny.”

Often that would mean slipping a reaction or an effect by a frame or two at the mix, once Roach and Myers had seen it. “A lot of Austin’s delivery has little nuances, little giggles, that are spaced out in his performance to make him goofy,” Ross adds. “He’ll say a statement that is quite clumsy, then he’ll giggle about it a few frames later, and that timing is critical. Those things all need to be heard and acknowledged by the audience. Otherwise, that punctuation, that orchestration of his line, doesn’t work.”

Some of the signature backgrounds were pulled from the first Austin Powers and again were cut by Benjamin Cook. But Austin moves around a lot, and, in this second installment, he enters Dr. Evil’s new lairs inside a volcano and in a moon station. “The lava lair wanted something with low end,” Howard explains, “something that spoke of a real viscous, thick environment-a little bit of hissing, some gaseous elements in the midrange and a little bit of steam for the upper reaches. Then you could pick out some gloops and glops occasionally.

“Then in space,” he continues, “we were trying to add a little bit of tension, a little bit of mid-low nebulous hum, if you will. But we didn’t want to get too scary. In fact we toned it down after one of our temps because we had some tones that were just a little too dark and ominous for this film. For the most part, it’s a pretty light film.”

The Spy Who Shagged Me was the second film (after Star Wars: Episode I) to come out in the Dolby Digital EX format, with a matrixed center-rear channel. (Kind of Loud Technologies modified its software-based panning system specifically for DS&P.) Nearly all BGs were cut with “6.1” in mind, but the scene in the NORAD control room, intercut through a TV monitor with footage from The Jerry Springer Show, perhaps illustrates the new format’s use best.

“We had a lot of mini-vignettes that we built to go on these various monitors,” Howard says. “Then we had the general ‘spy’ type of interior for the room. At the same time we have to push into The Jerry Springer Show. The discrete surround allowed us to push in and move the NORAD room around us, and you can still get into The Jerry Springer Show without forgetting you’re in the room.”

“We used [EX] in cases where the picture dictated it, where you can create a nice panorama of sound,” Ross adds. “In the Jerry Springer sequence, we were able to create an atmosphere back there with beeps and police radios and scanners and other things that didn’t intrude upon the screen, but had its own left-center-right behind you. You could split the theater in half.”

Ross also made use of the EX format in firing the laser, which would typically rip forward (or to the rear) in the classic 4 o’clock-8 o’clock position, during the climactic battle scene: “You can stretch this illusion of traveling sound by delaying what goes in the surrounds, and now you have a second arrival point, which can make the theater feel longer.”

THE MIXThe predubs and final mix took place in Stage A at DS&P, at a three-position Euphonix 2000 with eight Pro Tools screens at the meter bridge, monitored in a THX-approved JBL environment. (Two more full Pro Tools rigs were on the stage for flying in music changes.) Playback was from Pro Tools; premixes and stems were recorded to DA-88, then loaded back into Pro Tools for playback.

Ross and Joe Barnett handled the premixes in two long shifts each day. First they did a dialog and Foley pass through the whole film. Those were played back while the next pass was made on backgrounds and sound effects. “By monitoring the predubs from Pro Tools sessions, you can make changes to the previous discipline as well,” Ross says. “If one particular sound effect was too loud because you didn’t know there was going to be a piece of dialog, you can go in and modify that one item-raise it or lower it-by updating the automation. Then when you get to the final, you’ve already done some work on your old predub stems. You don’t get into a situation where you’ll fix it in the final. We can get in and adjust all the units all the time.”

Consequently, the final mix was relatively relaxed-regular hours, two days ahead of schedule. Ross mixed dialog, Bill Smith mixed music and Mathew Waters handled effects. All of the original source material was hung and metered in Pro Tools, below the stems. If a modification was needed (such as when the inflection of the word “now” by actress Heather Graham was inverted in PurePitch to make it more serious), the tracks could be unraveled in seconds on the stage. The lines were blurred between the edit and the mix.

“Often when editors are making decisions, they are working in small little stops and starts,” Ross explains. “They make decisions based upon what’s good for the moment and not necessarily what’s good for the sense of the whole movie. When it comes together as a film and we’ve run the reel down, and something doesn’t feel in the same spirit as the rest of the film, then we need to make changes. Yes, these are things that were classically editorial-grabbing alternate production takes and laying them up-but at the end of the day, Jay [Roach, director] is sitting three feet away from me, and it’s like he’s sitting in an editing room. But now he can evaluate the whole painting and go back in and re-choose the type of red used on the cheeks.”

Except for the final battle sequence on the moon, this is not a “loud,” special effects movie, and the tracks are wonderfully spare and detailed at times. Likewise, the use of the subwoofer channel is judicious and constantly varied. A lot of time was spent on creating rich low-end information, then holding back on it in the mix. “We tend to be picky about what we put in the subs,” Ross says. “When it does happen, it’s an event that wasn’t there for the last 20 minutes. When it comes up, it re-surprises the audience.”

With his writer’s ear and comic vision, Jay Roach had no trouble elucidating what he wanted during the final. By the time Mike Myers returned from Cannes in late May, the tracks were in order and changes were minimal. “He basically took a grand master approach to why a scene is funny,” Ross says. “There’s a scene in the volcano lair where Mini-Me is driving Dr. Evil around on a bicycle and honking the horn. Mike wanted the horn so loud that it nearly obliterated the dialog, which was against my instincts. But on a grander scale, the comedy is not what he’s saying but the fact that he looked like an idiot, talking about how he’s upholding the dignity of the organization while he’s being driven around by a midget going ballistic on this horn. Coming from someone as well-versed in comedy as Mike is, these are the types of things we focus on.”

Because of the desire to have full temp mixes, film editor Greg Hayden cut in music from the original Austin Powers early on. Because music editor Mike Flicker was busy with the score at the time, Hayden also cut in the source music, hand in hand with music supervisor John Houlihan (who wrangled new songs, supervised the scoring and is really a story unto himself). That gave the advantage of fleshed-out temps, but it also carried the danger of being restrictive, the inevitable “temp love.”

“It can be restrictive, but it can also be instructive,” admits composer George S. Clinton, who also scored the original and whose credits include Mortal Kombat I and II and the summer release The Astronaut’s Wife. “The challenge is to retain the sense of comic timing that they’ve worked so hard to get, and yet not have it be the temp score, but have it be something new.”

New themes, new textures. Clinton begins by writing pieces of music with a beginning, middle and end; he doesn’t think in terms of cues. At his home studio, he writes at the piano or at his Kurzweil K2000 controller. He also uses two K2000 modules, two Roland JV1080 modules, an Akai S5000 sampler and an Apple G3 running Digital Timepiece. Monitoring is through Tannoy Series 10s.

Clinton says he tries to write from inside the character’s head. “There are light moments,” he says, “where I use sort of a Pink Panther, Henry Mancini-esque approach to the rhythm section and sort of an In Like Flint approach with the organ and twangy guitar. And I’ve also enjoyed the flavor of the ’60s-style James Bond-the big ‘wall of steel’ sound that John Barry patented.”

One of the first tasks was updating Quincy Jones’ classic “Soul Bossa Nova” for the synchronized-swimming opener. The piece was recorded on the “retro-sounding” API console at O’Henry’s Studio B, with Fairchild 670 limiters across the left-right channels. “We didn’t ignore the vintage technical aspects of it,” says scoring/mix engineer John Whynot, who has worked with Clinton on a number of films. “But it’s all in the attitude of the playing, and the sound of the brass and rhythm sections. The musicians were into it; it’s one of their favorite records.”

Bagpipes and percussion/rhythm beds for the 70-piece orchestra were also recorded to Studer 24-track analog machines at O’Henry, and all the music was mixed there, directly to 24-bit Pro Tools from the SSL 9000J (which has a “tricked-out” film monitor module, allowing for the creation of up to five or six independent 3-, 4- and 5-track mixes). The orchestra was recorded over two days to analog 24-track on the SSL 9000J at the newly refurbished Fox Newman Scoring Stage.

“It’s not a terribly radical setup,” Whynot says of both the seating arrangements and the miking. “I have a typical three TLM150s setup on the tree, and I spot-mike every section pretty extensively. On violins and celli, we used MKH-40s. For basses, I used 414s and EV RE20s. Ribbon mics on the brass, with a couple of TLM170s for the big brass. For woodwinds, the M149. Then I basically have MKH-40s for all the percussion, with a single TLM150 omni over the tympani and a 414 on the bass drum. Then I make two separate mixes-one with the room mics to get them sounding right; then I turn them off and get all the direct mics to work as a single mix. The way we have it set up, it sounds really good with just the close mics. The room mics become a giant enhancement.”

Clinton has said that his score is an homage to ’60s spy thrillers and spoofs, and perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in the brass section. “John Barry called it his ‘wall of steel,'” Clinton says. “It’s just brass and percussion, big gongs and cymbals, anything steel that you can either blow on or hit-it makes you pay attention. The five trombones, with a bass trombone and tuba, four trumpets, four French horns. It’s not any bigger than a lot of other brass sections, but used in the right way, it makes an impression.”

“I think George underplays what he really does, because he has good comedic sense,” says music editor Mike Flicker, who works with Clinton at every step of the process, from feeding him bars and beats to cataloging the takes. “We [on the music team] take Austin seriously. He takes himself seriously. And the music plays that. The two hardest movies to score are heavy walking-talking drama and comedies. You have to play the music in a way that nails the emotion but doesn’t get in the way of the dialog. As soon as the music tries to be comedic, you’re cartoons.”

Flicker and his assistants literally finished editing at 2 a.m. the night before the final began. Each night during the process, he returned to his Burbank office, where he had duplicate sets of the entire score, and backed up all the updates on Zip drive cartridges. If he made changes, they were updated and flown into his rig at console-left in the morning. Most timing changes, however, took place on the stage.

“In the first movie, it would be: action cue, drama cue, romantic cue, ‘Austin on the move’ cue,” Flicker says. “But in this one, within one cue it might start up action, then all of a sudden it would be romantic, then pull back and be dramatic. It’s down to all these complex stages.”

“The thing I wanted to do, and I feel like everybody associated with the movie wanted to do, was to build on the first movie,” Clinton concludes. “I wanted to be able to reuse thematic material but add new themes as necessary. A guy asked me yesterday what my dream project would be. I thought a few minutes, then said, ‘Well, doing a sequel to a hit, where I’ve been identified with a genre or music that I love.’ I’m living the dream!”

It was a tight post schedule, with all the pressure of a sequel that was expected to do better box office than the original. Still, the film came in two days ahead of schedule, with a relatively relaxed final. All editorial and mixing was handled by Digital Sound & Picture, Los Angeles.

Sound Designer/Supervising Sound Editor: Frederick Howard

Re-Recording Mixers: John Ross, C.A.S., Mathew Waters, William Smith, Joe Barnett (premixes)

ADR Supervisor: Susan Shin

ADR Mixer: Alan Freedman, C.A.S.

Dialog Editors: David Grant, Jason George, Jed M. Dodge, Yuri Reese

Sound Effects Editors: Javier Bennassar, Benjamin Cook, Dorian Cheah, Kelly Vanderver, Lisle Engle, Roland Thai, M.P.S.E.

Foley Mixers: Mary Erstad, C.W. Jones

Foley Editors: Craig Jurkewicz, Sarah Smith, Lucy Sustar

Foley Artists: S. Diane Marshall, David Lee Fine, Ossama Khuluki

Assistant Sound Editors: Robert Getty, Chato Hill

Digital Transfer Engineers: Anne Black, Matt Dubin

Loop Group: Steve & Edie’s Gourmet Looping

And outside Digital Sound & Picture Sound Mixer: Kenneth McLaughlin

Boom Operator: Patrick Orsbun

Cableperson: Lanessa Phearson

Music Recorded at the Fox Newman Scoring Stage, O’Henry Studios

Music By: George S. Clinton

Scoring Engineer: John Whynot

Music Editor: Mike Flicker

Assistant Music Editors: Thomas Bartke, Jeff Lingle

Music Supervision: John Houlihan

Edited By: Jon Poll, Debra Neil-Fisher

Film Editor: Greg Hayden