Sunday, November 6, 2011

Longstanding Nuisance Now Logically Rationalized

Ron Howard. Director. Auteur. Baseball cap wearer. Anyway you slice it, he's a pro's pro. I mean, Apollo 13, right? To achieve weightlessness for filming, he built an exact replica of the Lunar module inside a 747 and filmed during over 600 30-second intervals of actual free fall. The actors were trained in the genuine operation of the module by --among others-- the real Jim Lovell. He built an exact replica of Mission Control. They used a real battleship (USS New Orleans) to re-enact splashdown. Meticu-flippin-lous details. I mean, had it not been for one talking pig (an honest to goodness cinematic miracle), he would've won an Oscar.

So why is he just the latest Hollywood director to misrepresent the true process of studio recording?

It seems any movie or TV show that includes a character in the recording studio inevitably looks like a recent Howard-produced "Parenthood" episode I stumbled across:


All the MUSICIANS are gathered in one big room. They are spaced and grouped exactly as they would be on stage, facing an imaginary audience instead of each other. Each instrument has one NEUMANN U87 MICROPHONE above it. BACKUP SINGERS fill a CHOIR SHELL, hips a-rockin and each demurely clasping but one ear of the STUDIO CANS in place --you know, professional-like? No more than FIVE FEET away from these backup vocalists, we have a FULL HORN SECTION. There is something subtly wrong with both the spacing and constitution of the DRUM KIT, but it is overshadowed by the WEIRD GRIP the DRUMMER employs.

A PRODUCER observes the action from behind a large glass window to the BOOTH, with little eye contact, but NODDING APPRECIATIVELY nonetheless.

The entire ensemble commences a performance together, from the top. As the take proceeds, either the PRODUCER or the LEAD SINGER becomes worried, as if they had inadvertently swallowed a FRUIT FLY and waves the whole production to a grinding halt.

What's wrong?

I don't know. I'm just not feeling it yet.

Let's take it again from the top with no real idea of what we'd like to do differently. Sorry everybody --all your effort has been and will continue to be wasted until we can get all 15 of you to play this perfectly from tip to tail. Incidentally, good thing you guys all have perfect time. Must be the weird grip!

And... scene.

Strangely, this fiction has become the de facto representation of the recording process in dozens of instances from "More Cowbell" to "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist." In fact, the most accurate representation of the actual process I can think of was "Boogie Nights" (no, not *that* scene), and that was intended to enhance the awkwardness of Dirk Diggler's naïve dreams of rock stardom (then again, maybe that's why it seemed so accurate).

Long has it bothered me, but like the noise of lasers in space, the ink is in the water of our collective perception, and there's probably no use cleaning it now.

Not that it's stopped me from complaining.

But now, forced to reconcile my respect for Ronnie Boy with my perplexed Caesarian horror (et tu?), I finally may see the true force behind the fiction. The truth is that recording is... well... boring to watch. And complicated. And counterintuitive. And most importantly, accurately depicting recording would take a lot of time.

So rather than show layered recording, punch-in/punch-out fixes, discussions of performance strategy, and the like, it is probably just easier to make the lasers go PEW-PEW!!

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