With any musical, there’s also a challenge in how to blend music within dramatic, dialogue-heavy scenes. For “The Color Purple,” a reimagined take on the Alice Walker novel and quasi-adaptation of the Broadway show, the entire production team involved in the movie had to work together.
“One of the biggest challenges with this film, as with any music-based film, is trying to make the transitions from production dialogue to ADR dialogue to the characters singing in a studio, seem as though they’re natural,” said re-recording mixer Paul Massey in the latest episode of TheWrap’s How I Did It, presented by Warner Bros.
“As a re-recording mixer I’m joining the project quite late,” Massey said. “We have a mixture of so many different varieties of song: gospel, jazz, some of the big band numbers. The brass section must have had a hoot recording this cause you don’t get to play that that often.”
“Our movie oscillates between the crazy, ostentatious, rambunctious madness, but the heart of the film lives in all its intimate moments,” said director Blitz Bazawule.
For Bazawule, he wanted to create an established reason for why the characters are singing in this version, and that started with the very first shot. “One thing that’s gonna set this musical apart is that our music is gonna have a source,” he said. “Our first shot, when you hear those horses hooves and they start to build a cadence, you hear the girls clap, you hear the banjo, and then you hear [composer Kris Bowers] come in with that ‘whoa!’….the audience goes, ‘I buy that. It started somewhere.’”
“You don’t feel like you’re stopping a dialogue scene and starting a music scene,” said Poll.
Kris Bowers is no stranger to working with unique musical stylings, whether it’s rearranging classical compositions with “Chevalier” or creating a naturalistic story for this film. In the case of a dramatic scene like Celie (Fantasia Barrino) and Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson) celebrating the color purple, the score had to complement, not overpower. “It’s a quiet conversation,” he said. “It’s a very simple conversation. The score should be intimate and personal. We recorded it with close mics and a slightly smaller ensemble.”
“When it’s quiet, that’s the hard work,” said Bazawule. “When it’s expansive and people are flying all over the place … no problems, because we can always make up for the error.” But there was absolutely no room for that with the scene of Shug and Celie. “Everything came down to that scene,” he said. “It’s about identifying the rare elements and the rare birds, honoring those rare things parallel to Celie’s life. Celie was the rare bird. She was the one no one paid attention to. She was that purple flower.”
“The Color Purple” opens in theaters on Dec. 25.