Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave won the Oscar for Best Picture Sunday night – and it was a particularly sweet win for us as my husband, Daniel, recorded and mixed Hans Zimmer’s beautiful score for the film. Today over morning coffee I thought I’d type as I talk with Dan about those sessions.
Fiona: As I recall, you were in the middle recording and mixing the score for The Lone Ranger when 12 Years A Slave came up on the radar at work last year.
Daniel: Yeah, I believe its dub session got pushed up and it had to be done sooner rather than later. Luckily I was ahead of the dub on Lone Ranger so I took a break from it to work on 12 Years.
Fiona: How did your part of the post work begin? How do you start a mix of a score like that?
Daniel: I received audio files from Hans along with a few more from solo musicians I’d recorded. First I watch the movie a few times to understand the story. Then I focus on the biggest cue first, the one with the most instruments. I listen to those sounds, how they work together and what needs to be done to improve on that synthesis.
Fiona: How did Hans’s score and Steve’s musical choices strike you?
Daniel: I thought it was very delicate and haunting so it needed a delicate touch.
Fiona: What’s a delicate touch, mix wise?
Daniel: Not too much compression, making sure everything has it’s own sonic space so all the instruments are very clear.
Fiona: How was working with Mr McQueen?
Daniel: The last two days of the mix Steve and Hans came in and sat on the couch in the studio and we watched the film together and we made changes based on what Steve wanted to reinforce emotionally or get across to the viewer. Steve was very intense and knew what he wanted. I think that’s great as it makes my job easy.
Fiona: What makes him intense?
Daniel: He’s a commanding presence and unafraid to express himself. He was obviously very passionate about the project and that passion was contagious.
Fiona: I remember you coming home and telling me about the film and how moving it was. Is it tough to work for hours on end with such heavy subject matter?
Daniel: It wasn’t easy. I try to stay very focused on the music and technical aspects and that allows me to detach somewhat from the emotions involved.
Fiona: Did you think it would become as successful as it has?
Daniel: You did!
Fiona: Yeah, I remember when you described it to me, although it sounded like a harrowing story I thought, man that’s got Oscar written all over it.
Daniel: You’re psychic! Or is it psycho?
Fiona: Very funny. What happens when a score leaves your hands and console?
Daniel: It goes to the dub stage where it gets mixed in with the dialog and sound effects. Where the director contributes directions about making the music louder here, softer there – “I wanna make that explosion louder” and so on. That process can take another four to eight weeks and two to three mixers.
Fiona: What are you working on next?
Daniel: We are wrapping up work on The Amazing Spiderman 2. I’m looking forward to having a little bit of time to work on tracks and songs with you!
Fiona: So you can’t tell the world about projects in the pipeline yet?
Daniel: No, not until agreements and dates are all locked in. I need to protect the innocent. lol.