As one would expect, Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro” was a production that devoted extensive time and energy to its sound design. The musical score itself is credited to Leonard Bernstein, portrayed by Cooper in the acclaimed film, alongside Carey Mulligan as his wife.
But that score, indelible as it is, makes up only a percentage of the sonic landscape. As you can see and hear in the exclusive video above, recording all the other audio components was a crucial part of the sound department’s job.
“When you’re talking about a film that centers around music, it’s important to capture that feeling,” says sound mixer Steve Morrow, who discusses the live 1973 concert of Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony” at Ely Cathedral in the film. “Bradley vision was always to get it live. If it’s on camera, he wants to capture it live. The challenge is: How do you do that?”
All of the instruments were “saturated with microphones,” Morrow explains, and then the concert’s audio was carefully mixed in post-production.
“That scene was recorded live with the London Symphony Orchestra,” says Cooper, who spends that whole scene, as a sweaty Bernstein, leading the musicians from the podium. “I spent six years learning how to conduct six minutes and 21 seconds of music.”
Also in the video, more of the sound-team maestros – including Tom Ozanich (dialogue and music re-recording mixer), Dean Zupancic (sound effects re-recording mixer) and Richard King (supervising sound editor) – describe the subtlety and beauty of movie’s sensory experience.
And much of it does not even include music.
“Bradley made it clear that there was a wind motif throughout this movie,” says Zupancic. “(Cooper and Mulligan) are at Tanglewood the first time and they’re sitting in the grass and playing a guessing game. The wind is very gentle and we’re experiencing it with them. And you feel the space.”
“It’s a very, very subtle soundtrack and so every sound is heard and the specificity of each of those sounds was very important,” says King.
The soundscape is not encouraging the audience how to feel. “It’s the wind and the birds instead,” says Ozanich.
In addition to that gentleness, the sound crew also worked arduously to record multiple voices during the film’s several party scenes. Cooper, who was influenced by a 1970s filmmaking aesthetic popularized by Robert Altman and Hal Ashby, greatly favors overlapping dialogue and naturalistic verbal exchanges between characters.
So all of the actors were fitted with hidden microphones. “What that did was it elevated everybody at the party so that it feels real. And also it helped all the actors stay in this party atmosphere.”
That mission was accomplished. “(The sound crew) set the party up and we just had to go to it,” says comedian and actress Sarah Silverman, who portrays Bernstein’s sister. “It was a really fantastic way to work.”
“Maestro,” in theaters now, will be available to stream on Netflix on December 20