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SoundWorks Collection Interview Series - The Sound of Get on Up with Scott Millan and Curt Sobel

August 11, 2014 10:39am

This week we talk with the sound and music team behind the film GET ON UP starring Chadwick Boseman as James Brown in this biopic from Director Tate Taylor (The Help).

We talk with Re-recording Mixer Scott Millan and Music Production Supervisor Curt Sobel about the music that is featured in the film and the work that was required to prepare a wide range of archival recordings for the big screen.

ABOUT GET ON UP:

Based on the incredible life story of the Godfather of Soul, the film will give a fearless look inside the music, moves and moods of Brown, taking audiences on the journey from his impoverished childhood to his evolution into one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Boseman is joined in the drama by Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Nelsan Ellis, Lennie James, Tika Sumpter, Jill Scott and Dan Aykroyd.

Academy Award® winner Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind, 8 Mile) produces for Imagine Entertainment, with Mick Jagger and Victoria Pearman (Shine a Light) producing under their Jagged Films banner. Imagine’s Erica Huggins (Flightplan) also serves as a producer on Get on Up, while Taylor produces under his Wyolah Films label. Peter Afterman, Trish Hofmann, Jez Butterworth, John Butterworth, John Norris and Anna Culp serve as executive producers.

Let the Boogie Do the Rest: Making the Music

The concert sequences in Get on Up offer a thrilling taste of sizzling moments from James Brown’s legendary stage career. As Brown himself says in the film: “You may not know me, but every record you got has got a piece of me in it.” Get on Up audiences will hear Brown’s own voice and the instrumental performances of his band members— including such key players as Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, brothers Maceo and Melvin Parker, Fred Wesley, Clyde Stubblefield, John “Jabo” Starks, Jimmy Nolen, Bernard Odum, brothers Bootsy and Phelps “Catfish” Collins and, of course, Bobby Byrd—via original multitrack recordings from the James Brown archive at Universal Music.

They will also see every actor and musician on screen singing or playing every note in real time. A team of music editors and supervisors worked with Taylor, Jones and the performers to keep the audio and visual aspects of these sequences in harmony. Music production co-ordinator and supervising music editor CURT SOBEL offered a thumbnail description of the process. “First, of course, songs were chosen,” he says. “James Brown had an enormous catalog with many massive hits, but they had to be right for the time frame, as well as the energy of the scene. We cut medleys together for some scenes. After working them out with Tate, and then Aakomon, we handed the music over to Chad to learn in advance of performance. “He had to sing and dance in time with the recordings, and cue with the musicians on stage. It’s a tough job when you combine all that with dialogue, but he’s been terrific.”Boseman’s own singing voice is heard several times during the film, in non-gig moments.

The concert sequences depict numerous phases of Brown’s career, and various incarnations of The Famous Flames and the backing band. Actors portraying band members include Craig Robinson as saxophonist Maceo Parker; TARIQ TROTTER as sax player Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis; Aloe Blacc as original Flame Nafloyd Scott; and KEITH ROBINSON as Baby Roy Scott, also an original Famous Flame. Jenkins, Sobel, music supervisors BUDD CARR and MARGARET YEN, and other members of the music team worked to help the actors get comfortable with their instruments. “We made sure everyone playing in a particular scene was as close to accurate as possible,” says Jenkins. “The actors came a long way in a short period of time.”Several of those actors had a head start. Trotter, Blacc and Craig Robinson are already musicians, although not necessarily known for playing their characters’ instrument. Robinson, for one, enjoyed expanding his musical résumé. The actor-comedian notes: “Maceo may be the most fun character I’ve portrayed because in learning his sax solos…I became a little bit funkier.”

More than 80 real musicians performed alongside Boseman and the other actors in the course of filming Get on Up. Darren Glenn worked with extras casting to find these players. “They had to be able to play and dance at the same time. That was the biggest issue,” says Glenn. “We also wanted to use local musicians as much as possible and give them an opportunity they wouldn’t ordinarily have. We process. “First, of course, songs were chosen,” he says. “James Brown had an enormous catalog with many massive hits, but they had to be right for the time frame, as well as the energy of the scene. We cut medleys together for some scenes. After working them out with Tate, and then Aakomon, we handed the music over to Chad to learn in advance of performance. “He had to sing and dance in time with the recordings, and cue with the musicians on stage. It’s a tough job when you combine all that with dialogue, but he’s been terrific.”Boseman’s own singing voice is heard several times during the film, in non-gig moments.

The concert sequences depict numerous phases of Brown’s career, and various incarnations of The Famous Flames and the backing band. Actors portraying band members include Craig Robinson as saxophonist Maceo Parker; TARIQ TROTTER as sax player Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis; Aloe Blacc as original Flame Nafloyd Scott; and KEITH ROBINSON as Baby Roy Scott, also an original Famous Flame. Jenkins, Sobel, music supervisors BUDD CARR and MARGARET YEN, and other members of the music team worked to help the actors get comfortable with their instruments. “We made sure everyone playing in a particular scene was as close to accurate as possible,” says Jenkins. “The actors came a long way in a short period of time.”Several of those actors had a head start. Trotter, Blacc and Craig Robinson are already musicians, although not necessarily known for playing their characters’ instrument. Robinson, for one, enjoyed expanding his musical résumé. The actor-comedian notes: “Maceo may be the most fun character I’ve portrayed because in learning his sax solos…I became a little bit funkier.”More than 80 real musicians performed alongside Boseman and the other actors in the course of filming Get on Up. Darren Glenn worked with extras casting to find these players. “They had to be able to play and dance at the same time. That was the biggest issue,” says Glenn. “We also wanted to use local musicians as much as possible and give them an opportunity they wouldn’t ordinarily have.

We were fortunate to find very good talent in this area.”The guiding principle was to make everything seamlessly real, and give the audience an experience worthy of Brown’s legacy. “My goal,” says Taylor, “is to have people dancing when these scenes hit the screen.” With access to James Brown’s original multitrack recordings, the Get on Up team was able to remix those tracks to create state-of-the-art surround sound for the film’s audience—and tailor any given musical performance to the film’s dramatic needs. “They can make something a cappella, or make an instrumental solo louder,” Yen explains. “With the multi- tracks, we could do whatever Tate wanted for the scene.” Afterman, who promoted a couple of James Brown gigs back in the day—including one at San Quentin—spoke with the fervor of a seasoned impresario. “This music is going to be booming. I promise you’ll think they’re live!”

Released on July 29 by Polydor/UMe, “Get on Up: The James Brown Story (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” has studio and stand-out live versions of Brown’s top soul/ funk hits—from his first, 1956’s “Please, Please, Please,” to “Out of Sight,” “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Try Me,” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.”

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