I just wanted to post a quick follow-up to my previous post after finding a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes on YouTube. I’ll make it quick, I promise.
I captured a few images from the videos to illustrate some of the points I made in the other post. First, we have this, a shot of the off-stage pianist/accompanist encased in her little soundproof box. The box allowed the pianist to play and move without fear of the sounds being captured by the on-set microphones that were recording the cast’s singing.
This closer shot is really interesting because it shows the reflections of the video monitors in the glass. The pianist has to be able not just to hear the singing, but to be able to interpret an actor’s body language, watch their eyes and lips and breathing in order for the accompaniment to blend seamlessly with the singing performance. Remember, what the pianist played was recorded and used as the basis for the orchestra recordings yet-to-come.
Finally, this shot of the orchestra during one of the recording sessions. This is one of the smaller groups in the score, made up of strings, woodwinds and what looks like two or three French Horns at the upper-right of the photo.
At the lower-right you can see the short walls placed in front of the empty chairs. These are called “baffles” in recording studio language and they are used for absorbing sound as much as possible so that the instruments being played behind the baffles don’t “leak” or “bleed” as much into the other microphones. I wrote in the other post about the difficulty the musicians face hearing each other in a recording studio; baffles are one of the leading causes of this difficulty. Lastly, you’ll note a video monitor behind the conductor at the far left edge of the photo. There is a green vertical line visible on the screen. This line is called a “streamer”. The edited film is run during a scoring session so that everyone can watch the film as the music is recorded to see if everything fits as expected. This is done at all scoring sessions for films and TV shows, not just blockbuster musicals. At a pre-determined point during the running of the film the streamer appears at the left edge of the video screen and “travels” left-to-right across the screen. When it reaches the right edge it disappears in a sudden burst of light known as a “punch”. This “punch” is a “sync point” where something in the music should match something happening on the screen. In an action film it could be a car crash. In a romance film it could be when the two lovers kiss. In “Les Misérables” I’m sure it was used most often to cue the conductor to be right on a certain bar of the music just as an actor would reach a certain word in the song. The green streamer (there are other colors – choice of which color means what is unique to each conductor) takes two seconds to travel across the screen before the punch. So, the conductor needs to keep one eye on the orchestra, one eye on the musical score and one eye on the video screen (!) When the conductor sees the streamer appear at the left edge s/he knows s/he has two seconds to prepare for the big moment. When the punch appears on the screen the conductor should cue the orchestra at the just the right instant, then continue conducting through the piece until the next streamer appears, and so on.
OK, enough already! Below are the two videos and you can enjoy them at your leisure.