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Interview - Deke Sharon Talks Vocals On 'Pitch Perfect 2'

Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2 lands in Australian cinemas this week and I had the chance to speak with vocal director Deke Shanon about the world of a cappella and his role in bringing this film together…

Matt:  You were involved in an a cappella group when you were studying at college, is that correct?

Deke:  That is correct.  It was at Tufts University and we were the Tufts University Beelzebubs

Matt:  Is the a cappella industry as competitive as this film makes out?

Deke:  It wasn’t when I was in college but after I graduated, I wanted to create a lot of excitement about a cappella.  I wanted to come up with something that was the equivalent of March Madness for college basketball so I started a competition that took off like wildfire.

Matt:  Are there big titles that people compete for?

Deke:  Yeah.  The finals just happened and there were 300 groups competing this year in America.  When I started it, I called it the NCCA which stood for the National Championship of College A Cappella but it’s now international as we had groups coming over from England.  I hope that one day soon we’ll also have some Australian entrants in the competition.

Matt:  Since the original Pitch Perfect came out, do you think there has been more interest in a cappella music?

Derek:  Absolutely, no question whatsoever.  There were 200 college a cappella groups when I graduated and now there are 3,000.  It’s so much fun.  You can become a rock star on campus, you can pick whatever songs you want, you get to tour other states and other colleges, and it’s really the best thing of American college in my biased opinion (laughs).

Matt:  You’re credited as a vocal producer on Pitch Perfect 2.  Exactly what does that role entail?

Derek:  There were a lot of levels.  I helped choose the music, arrange the music, and then teach it to all the actors.  Once it’s all done and recorded, when then shoot the scenes.  I sit in the corner and watch the actors performing the songs to make sure that the lip syncing matches up perfectly.

Matt:  I was going to ask that about the recording process.  All the songs are recorded in advance in a studio, right?

Deke:  Yeah.  We had a studio in our production offices where we recorded the actors one by one to get the parts exactly right.  We’d then mix it together.  There’s so much going on in those performance scenes and the microphones would be impossible to have in the right place all the time so we record the music first and then the actors have to lip sync to themselves.

Matt:  How hard is it for them to even lip sync when they’re running around all over the place?

Deke:  It’s quite hard.  If you look at old movies like Singing In The Rain, the only time anyone is lip syncing is when they have the melodies and it’s easy.  We have these giant production numbers and I have to try to watch all of their mouths.  You can’t have them only doing the melodies as it would pop the bubble and ruin the experience for the audience.

Matt:  You mentioned the songs that you picked for the film.  There appears to be a hell of a lot of songs in this movie.  How do you work out which ones are right for the film?

Deke:  First of all, you think about all the different moments in the movie.  What do you want emotionally there and what is the story you are trying to tell?  At the same time, you have an overarching thought that you don’t get the rights to every song.  Some artists won’t give you the rights and others ask for too much money.  On top of that, you have to take into consideration the different characters and their personalities and what they will enjoy singing.  You also want to make sure there is a nice breadth of sound and style.  You want some current stuff and also some classic stuff.  You want pop, rock and hip hop so as to try to span different genres.

When we were making the first movie, it was so small that we weren’t even planning to make a soundtrack.  Success has many side effects and there were a lot of opinions about what was going to go into this second movie.  Because the first film made so much money, a lot of people wanted to make sure that every choice was exactly right.  I had to remind people that the big breakout song from the original movie was an old, folky 1930s country & western song sung by a single woman sitting on stage with a plastic cup.  In other words, there’s no way you can know what is going to be big so we may as well just pick songs for the movie and not worry about it.

Matt:  How much preparation goes into getting the cast ready before you do those final recordings?

Deke:  We had a cappella boot camp about a month before we started shooting.  I run rehearsals with all the different actors based on what’s going to happen in the movie.  I make them all sing every note perfectly for me from memory before they go into the recording studio.  The idea is that if they’re looking at sheet music and trying to remember their part, they’re never going to be able to perform it.

When we put them in front of a microphone and they sing for us, we’re pushing them for more energy and more personality because in the end, we can take the very best moments and cut them all together.  When they’re running around on stage in that finale, they need to sound like they’re running and singing for their lives.

Matt:  Are they generally pretty confident or is that something you have to help them build up?

Deke:  I would say they’re not so confident, especially in the first movie.  It was difficult to create an ensemble sound from 10 actresses where only 1 of them had sung a cappella before.  Only one of them is singing a melody at any particular moment.  The rest are singing harmony parts and beat boxing and making instrument sounds.  It’s really quite complex.  Each one of them is very different personally which makes it difficult to create a smooth, consistent vocal blend.

Matt:  Of the main cast, was there someone who stood out for you?  Someone who you think was the most talented?

Deke:  The great thing about the cast is that they’re all talented in different ways.  Anna Kendrick brings a sassy snark to her character and she’s a total professional.  She actually came into the project late because she’d been making Into The Woods and she didn’t want anyone saying she was behind.  By the end of our first hour together, she sang all of her parts up to that point perfectly by memory to show she’d been working hard behind the scenes. 

Rebel Wilson has a fantastic spark and energy and creativity but it’s not entirely chaotic in the same way that Robin Williams would take time to craft his humour and write jokes carefully.  Rebel puts a lot of time in to make sure her performance and time behind the microphone were spot on.

Matt:  It feels like we’re living in the age of the superhero movie these days but do think there’s room in the market to revitalise the musical genre?  It feels like we’re not getting a lot of them these days.

Deke:  The superhero movies have crazy large budgets and it feels like they keep making the same movie over and over.  The great thing about Pitch Perfect was it was a tiny little independent movie from a studio that only had one big hit previously, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  So when we were making the film we had the freedom to do whatever we wanted but I have to admit, even I didn’t think it would be the success that it was.  The fact that it was that big proves that you don’t need a lot of money.  If you tell a good story and create great music, you’ll have an experience for viewers that they want to go back and see again and again.

Matt:  I realise that it has a strong presence in the U.S. but do you have any idea if there’s a strong interest in a cappella here in Australia?

Deke:  Oh it’s huge.  There’s an organisation there called Vocal Australia and you can look them up online.  They’ve got the AUS-ACA Awards coming up very soon.  There are different regions all around Australia with different a cappella groups from high schools and colleges.  There are some professional groups too who are fantastic.  Definitely check them out because you will be impressed.

 

Interview - Alan Rickman And 'A Little Chaos'

Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman has appeared in many great films but for his latest effort, he is working hard both in front of and behind the camera.  I spoke with Rickman about A Little Chaos were he serves as writer, director and actor.  Here’s what he had to say…

Matt:  I’ve seen a few photos of you since you’ve been here in Australia for the past few days.  Have you had a chance to see some of the sights?

Alan:  I’ve been busy during the day but yeah, in the evenings.  I was at the Sydney Dance Company last night, I saw Suddenly Last Summer when I got here, and I’m going to go see As You Like It at the end of the week.  That, and being endless surrounded by the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the art galleries… it’s almost like being on holiday.

Matt:  You have one of the most distinctive voices that I know in the film world.  I’ve always wanted to know if you get approached a lot about animated features or doing narration work for documentaries?

Alan:  I’ve done a little bit of that and I think the second part of Alice In Wonderland will be out soon which again has me as a caterpillar.

Matt:  You directed The Winter Guest about 17 years ago but had you always wanted to direct again?

Alan:  I’ve always wanted to but along came Harry Potter and I didn’t know that I was going to be in more than 3 films when we started shooting because that’s all J.K. Rowling had written.  It’s hard to direct a movie when you have to spend 7 weeks a year showing up for that.  Once I had finished with Harry Potter then I could then kick start A Little Chaos.

Matt:  Can you tell us a little about where this project came about?  I believe there was a screenplay that you would have been originally sent.  Why was this the project that you really wanted to see brought to the screen?

Alan:  I’m credited as a writer but much more as the “interferer” than the “writer”.  Alison Deegan wrote the original script and then Jeremy Brock and I came along and worked on it with her.  It arrived in my letterbox unannounced and I loved the freshness of Alison’s writing.  When you get attached to a project, it’s often because images start jumping around in your head and they won’t go away.  That’s how I felt here and I knew I had to remain attached to it.

Matt:  You’ve got Kate Winslet in this film and I can remember you two working together on Sense & Sensibility.  I’m sure Kate is a very busy woman so was it easy for her to find the time to make this movie?

Alan:  Fortunately, she’s a busy woman because she’s making movies and so you just need to make sure that you’re one of them.  She read the script and loved it as much as I did and so then it just came down to time management.  Kate thankfully had a period of time between other movies and also, what is also important to her, spending time with her family.

Matt:  You didn’t have a major role in The Winter Guest but here you do.  When you read the script for the first time, did you picture yourself in the role of King Louis?

Alan:  Not at all.  It was only because of pressure from the producers so as to make the numbers add up.  By having the director also acted, it was one less person they had to worry about employing. 

Matt:  I was reading that while the film is set in France, most of it was shot in London.  How easy was it finding the locations to make it look credible?

Alan:  The nearest to London we shot was Ham House in Twickenham and then we built the actual fountain which is the climax to the film at Pinewood Studios.  The rest of it was shot in England but no more than an hour or two from London.  What’s surprising is that you find there are genuine 17th century French interiors in England.  Waddesdon Manor was built in the 19th Century by the Rothschild family but they filled it with stuff from 17th Century France.  Louis’s bedroom in the film is actually the dining room at Cliveden which has a similar story.

Matt:  I’ve always wondered about films that are in the English language but they’re set in a non-English speaking country like France, how do you decide on what accents need to be used by the characters?

Alan:   You say to yourself that we’re all French but that we’re all pretending to be English.  The only problem is when you have to say words like monsieur and madam.  You have to skate over those and get them done quite quickly.

Matt:  I love the climax of the film which I guess we can describe as a dancing number.  Did that in itself take a lot of rehearsal?

Alan:  Absolutely.  That was days of work and Jane Gibson, the choreographer, did a brilliant job.  I think she’s very happy with it but of course it hurts in the editing room when you have to cut out quite a lot of stuff that people spent hours and hours learning.  I guess you kind of know at the time that it’s not all going to be in the film.  We spent 2 days shooting that sequence while also trying to get the water right in the background and also trying not to fall over while wearing heels.

Matt:  I’m a lover of great movie music and I really like the music in this film but I had never before heard of the composer, Peter Gregson.  I’m curious to know about his background and how you came across him?

Alan:  You won’t be familiar with him because this is his very first movie score.  I was at a very small ballet company in London with about 80 people in the audience because that’s all it could hold.  The dancers were dancing in water and I was thinking to myself “this guy really knows how to turn water into music.”  I eventually met him and asked him if he wanted to do a movie score.

It was a very moving moment for me to be sitting in Abbey Road with all the kids outside walking across the zebra crossing and photographing themselves… and we’re inside with a 26-year-old composer conducting a full orchestra so brilliantly and so confidently.  I agree with you in that I think it’s a really special score.

Matt:  Is the plan from here to direct more movies?

Alan:  I hope so.  I’d like to do more acting and directing on the stage.  It’s all about presenting a moving target and trying to explore who you are.

Matt:  So when are we going to see you on screen next?  What do you have coming out?

Alan:  You’ll see me next in a film called Eye In The Sky with Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul.  It’s a contemporary film where I’m the head of the British Army and I’ve got my finger on the button to use a drone against terrorists.  It’s about the huge dilemma that governments face about whether to push that button or not.

Matt:  I’ll finish up by saying that you’ve won an Emmy, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award.  What have we got to do to get you an Oscar nomination?

Alan:   Pay somebody (laughs).

Matt:  It’d be great to see because you are such a fantastic actor.

Alan:  Thanks very much.

 

Favourite Backers Happy With Predictable 2015 Oscars

The Oscars are over for another year and here’s the quickest wrap I can produce…

Oscars Competition

I had a total of 86 entrants in my 15th Annual Pick The Oscars competition.  The tie breaker question wasn’t required because we had just one person with a perfect 6 out of 6.  Well done to Josh Dagan.  I’ve known Josh for more than 10 years and as a lover of film, I’m sure he’ll be happy with his efforts and will enjoy the $100 Amazon voucher.

Honourable mentions go to Peter Wickins, Solo Fogg and Gilbert Albertson who each managed 5 out of 6 – the same as me.  Funnily enough, not a single entrant managed to ace the tie-breaker question.  The presenter of the best picture Oscar, Sean Penn, is 54 years of age.

Oscar Betting & Tipping

It was another very predictable year.  I nabbed 20 out of 24 for the second consecutive year.  The categories I missed were original screenplay, animated feature, editing and sound mixing.  Some pundits will have performed even better.

I lost a bit of cash early in the season by having $200 on Emily Blunt at the Globes and then $100 on Unbroken at the Oscars (all pre-noms).  Thankfully I recouped most of that with a win on Eddie Redmayne at the Oscars (I had $100 on him at $3.50).  It’s getting tougher and tougher to get good odds these days but I owe Eddie a drink if I ever meet him!

Here’s a look at my cumulative Oscar betting…

1996 – profit of $750 – won on Susan Sarandon
1997 – profit of $300 (cumulative profit $1,050) – won on Frances McDormand
1998 – loss of $250 (cumulative profit $800)
1999 – loss of $250 (cumulative profit $550)
2000 – profit of $620 (cumulative profit $1,170) – won on Kevin Spacey and Michael Caine
2001 – loss of $190 (cumulative profit $980) – won on director Steven Soderbergh
2002 – profit of $480 (cumulative profit $1,460) – won on Halle Berry
2003 – profit of $275 (cumulative profit $1,735) – won on Catherine Zeta-Jones and Adrian Brody
2004 – profit of $150 (cumulative profit $1,875) – won on Sean Penn
2005 – profit of $214 (cumulative profit $2,089) – won on Hilary Swank
2006 – profit of $350 (cumulative profit $2,439) – won on Reese Witherspoon
2007 – profit of $1,463 (cumulative profit $3,912) – won on Eddie Murphy at Globes, Alan Arkin & West Bank Story at Oscars
2008 – profit of $268 (cumulative profit of $4,280) – won on Tilda Swinton and the Coen brothers
2009 – profit of $253 (cumulative profit of $4,533) – won on Mickey Rourke & Kate Winslet at Globes, Kate Winslet at Oscars
2010 – loss of $830 (cumulative profit of $3,703)
2011 – profit of $30 (cumulative profit of $3,733) – won on Social Network at Globes, Tom Hooper & King’s Speech at Oscars
2011 – loss of $640 (cumulative profit of $3,093) – won on Jean Dujardin at Oscars
2012 – loss of $850 (cumulative profit of $2,243) – won on Ang Lee at Oscars
2013 – loss of $72 (cumulative profit of $2,171) – won on Matthew McConaughey at Globes and Oscars
2014 – loss of $50 (cumulative profit of $2,121) – won on Eddie Redmayne at Oscars

Oscar Results

The winners in the major categories were as follows:

Best Picture – Birdman
Best Director – Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman)
Best Actor – Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)
Best Actress – Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Best Supporting Actor – J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Best Supporting Actress – Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Best Original Screenplay – Birdman
Best Adapted Screenplay – The Imitation Game
Best Animated Feature – Big Hero 6
Best Foreign Language Film – Ida

My heart wanted to see a Boyhood win but it was never a likely possibility after Birdman won the 3 major guild awards – SAG, DGA & PGA.  It was a nice touch to see all 8 of the best picture nominees get to take home at least one award.  Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel led the tally with 4 each.  Whiplash surprised many, myself included, with 3 wins (great to see though).

 

A Quick Trip To The 2015 Australian Men's Amateur

I normally talk film on this website but to preserve the memory, I thought I'd post a quick overview of my trip last week to the 2015 Australian Men's Amateur Championship in Sydney.  For those who don't know me very well, golf is another of my interests (it can be a lot more frustrating than movies though!)

The event sees the best amateur golfers from around the country compete.  There are also international players from countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan and Korea.  To even make the 236 man field, you had to play off a handicap of 0.8 or less. 

It was only the 4th time that I've played the event (it's often hard to get time off work) and it was a thrill to get out there and give it a crack.  Part of the lure this year was to play two courses that have both hosted the Australian Open in recent years.

I managed to finish tied 132nd with scores of 80-75-155.  That isn't too bad for someone who doesn't practice and only plays on weekends these days.  It left me 7 shots out of the important 64th place (which got you into the subsequent match play component of the event).  I'm not complaining though.  To make 6 birdies during my 36 holes was more than I was anticipating.  Congratulations to New South Welshman Cameron Davis who went on to claim the trophy.

It's now back to my regular life of work and movies... but I thought I'd share a few photos from the week so that everyone can see how great the game of golf can be!

2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Before I teed it up in the Championship, I pulled some strings to play a social round at New South Wales Golf Club on the Saturday afternoon.  It's ranked the 5th best course in the country by Australian Golf Digest.

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
The tough par 3 6th is the signature hole at New South Wales Golf Club.  It's not hard to see why there is a 15 year waiting list to become a member of the Club.

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
New South Wales Golf Club was the first time I had the chance to play from "links style" bunkers.  I started with a double bogey on the short 1st hole but was pretty happy with my round of 75 (3 over).

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
A practice round at The Lakes Golf Club before the 2015 Australian Men's Amateur.  This is the 8th hole where Adam Scott made an albatross in the 2011 Australian Open.

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
This pretty much explains how The Lakes gets its name.  There are 3 par 5s on the back nine and you have to hit over water on every one of them.  There is currently no waiting list to join... but that's because you'll need to stump up roughly $30,000 as a one-off joining fee.

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Another water carry at The Lakes at the beautiful 14th hole.  How often have you played to a green that is 50 metres wide???  I played my best golf at The Lakes during the Championship with 4 birdies in a round of 75 (3 over).  A shame about the shank and double bogey on 17th!

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
We don't quite have these facilities at Brisbane golf clubs!  The locker room at The Lakes includes a spa and sauna.

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
The locker room at The Australian is even better.  It features a bar (installed by the late Kerry Packer) for a number of reasons.  Someone told me a story about how a player heard his name called out during the presentations while he was in the shower.  He promptly walked out nude, accepted the trophy, then went back to finish washing himself.

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
A look inside the two storey locker room at The Australian.  Most visitors wouldn't get to see this "members' only" area but I got the chance thanks to a helpful reciprocal member.

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
There were plenty of great players in action at the 2015 Australian Men's Amateur including Queensland's Cory Crawford, a member of the Golf Australia national squad.

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
He may only be 16 years of age but Ryan Ruffels is a ridiculously talented golfer who finished 2nd in the stroke play phase of the event.

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
The Australian is a brutally long golf course that measures roughly 6,700m off the back tees.  I don't think I've played a longer course.  During my competitive round, I hit 3 iron into all but one of the par 3s.  The only exception was the 4th (where I hit 6-iron because the tees had been moved forward!)

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
A good friend, Andrew Anderson, caddied for me during the week and he was kind enough to take this great photo off the 5th tee at The Australian during a practice round.

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Some have compared The Australian to Augusta and it's easy to see why when you miss the fairways and find the pine straw.  I fought hard at The Australian during my competive round but stumbled with a bogey-bogey-double bogey finish for a final score of 80 (8 over).

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
Having missed out on the match play, I snuck in a quick caddy job for Golf Australia national squad member Lucas Herbert during his first round of match play (thankfully he won).

 

 
2015 Australian Men's Amateur
A look at my scorecard during the 2015 Australian Men's Amateur.  A few ups, a few downs.  It was fun regardless!