If Paul Massey is a contender for a sound award this year—and with Fantastic Four, Robots, and the case-closing Walk the Line under his belt, he probably is—he doesn’t contend alone.“Doug (Hemphill) and I work as a team,” Massey notes. “I deal with dialog and music, (and) Doug deals with effects.” So, while that may have given Hemphill the lion’s share of mixing chores on a superhero-themed summer matinee item like Four, for the already buzz-heavy Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line—a film where the aural dance of music and dialog are as critical as the visuals—one can imagine that Massey may have had even less time to step out for a cup of coffee than his partner.Even so, the coffee would have to be handy to the John Ford Theater on the Fox lot, where Massey did most of the sonic heavy lifting on a Neve DFC console.“A lot of the challenge was to make the soundtrack flow and not cut to a music video feel,” Massey notes. And by the time the audio tracks came to him at the Ford, that “soundtrack” had already taken on quite a life of its own—with the Cash-replicating sides recorded by the film’s music producer T-Bone Burnett in Nashville’s storied Sound Emporium Studios, with actor Joaquin Phoenix giving voice to such legendary tunes as “Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire,” and many others.Phoenix’s backing band included some original Cash sidemen, and those tracks arrived as polished as any C&W anthology coming off the Nashville production line. But aside from the film’s “album,” Massey also had a considerable store of live tracks—recorded during filmed recreations of Cash’s early Sun Records tour with Elvis, along with myriad other replicated performances—to blend into the mix.“A big part was being able to manipulate production dialog into the music dialog” and performances, Massey says, not wanting to “pull the audience out. ‘Oh, we’ve cut to a musical number.’”Making, per director James Mangold’s original vision, what is essentially a musical, that plays like a “real” film.And as with the production folk on said real film, Massey also worked “fairly hard trying to get that original Johnny Cash sound.” That included replicating some “analog (tape) distortion” in the singin’ and on-stage talkin’ between Johnny and love-of-his-life June Carter (played by Reese Witherspoon).The re-creation included not just digital mixing tricks on the Ford-housed console, but stepping out of the mixing room itself—and not just for coffee. Massey didn’t want to just use electronic reverbs. “We tried to recreate those (physical) spaces” where music and dialog originally took place. And so he found himself taking tracks and playing them back in various Fox hallways, empty weekend parking lots, and the like, and then rerecording them with the ambient sound, and mixing those tracks into the finished production tracks he had on hand.“It doubles the amount of tracks,” he concedes, but “it gives us great flexibility. I think it made a big, big difference.” A difference that didn’t just walk the line, but crossed over it into one of this season’s premiere film sound mixes.
Written by Mark London Williams