To spruce up the offices, Nate and Toby in the
art department have hired Marc, a local graffiti
artist, to create a bunch of very cool Pitch Perfect
themed banners that hang around the offices: in the
choreography area, the recording studio, and the
My understanding is that after we wrap, the banners (spray painted onto canvas so they can be moved) will be auctioned off or given to fans. Each one unique, making it a very cool piece of movie history & artwork. Worth every brain cell I lost during the first 24 hours as they were still drying a foot from my head.
After rehearsal today several of us headed down to New Orleans to attend the yellow dress premiere of Liz Banks' latest movie "Walk of Shame". I say "yellow dress" because in lieu of the traditional red carpet, there were two rows of women wearing little yellow dresses"... which you have to see the movie to understand.
For me, the single hardest thing about making
Pitch Perfect 2 is being away from my lovely wife
Katy and my fantastic kids Cap and Mimi. Words can't
express how much I miss them, and yet having spent
20 years spreading and promoting contemporary a
cappella, there's just no way I can turn it down a
sequel to the movie about the competition I started,
and my very supportive family agrees. So, I'm living
in a suite in the Hyatt in Baton Rouge, calling home
every night at 9pm (7 for them), and when I can,
flying home for the weekend.
Today, April 25th, is my son Cap's 14th birthday, so I'm taking him out of school, and we're spending the day together exploring the Bay Area. We head in a direction, and see where the wind takes us. We call it Adventure Day, and we've been doing it since Cap was a toddler.
If I weren't home with my family, I'd be hosting
the ICCA finals in NY. Indeed, if you weren't aware,
the International Championship of College A Cappella
at the heart of PP is real, celebrating 20 years
The name no longer trips off the tongue the way it did when I started it with Adam Farb in '94, as it was the NCCA, a punny nod to basketball's NCAA "march madness" tournament. We can no longer call it "the N-double C-A" and instead I usually hear it referred to as "Ick-uh". Oh well!
Air travel may seem glamorous to some, but having
flown over 1 million miles I can assure you it is
not. Basically, an airplane is a flying bus, and
busses aren't always on time. In fact, my flight to
Houston is delayed, so I won't arrive in time for my
connection to Baton Rouge, so I'll be put up (in the
cheapest hotel United can find) for the night, and
catch a 6am flight (which means waking at 4:30) to
get into the office by 8:30am. I don't blame the
airline or anyone ~ life happens ~ and I'm certainly
not complaining, as I'm very thankful the technology
exists allowing me to pop home for the weekend. I'm
simply making the point that it's nothing to
However, I can report that romance is indeed still alive, as after last night's Pacific Boychoir concert, in which Cap had 3 solos, he turned on his cell phone and had 65 texts from girls in the audience. Now, I realize some people still think singing is for nerds. In fact, Pitch Perfect calls a cappella "organized nerd singing," which is hilarious. I fully support making fun of everyone in a comedy movie. However, out here in reality, singing is of course far more than a punch line.
I read a fascinating essay by Neil Gaiman recently that posited that "nerds" are simply people who are especially focused on a particular pursuit, and whereas this can be quite off-putting, especially to fellow teens who have no such deep interest, "nerds", with their deep knowledge of a subject, paired with countless hours perfecting a skill set, become some of the planet's most successful people. Silicon Valley was built by nerds, and we find very successful nerds throughout the fields of science, medicine, math, history, literature"... and music.
To make sense of all of the various sound files
(both the learning recordings we've created ~ with
one part in the right channel, and the others in the
left ~ and the final recordings), we need a clear,
short naming system for each of the Bellas, so Magee
has assigned them each a 2 letter designation, which
I dubbed "The Periodic Table of the Bellas."
Most of the monikers aren't elements, but a couple are, such as Aubrey who gets the auspicious "Au" (gold) and Beca who is saddled with the far more pedestrian "Be" (beryllium).
Apparently the building we used as our production
offices for PP1 have been locked and untouched since
we wrapped, so a couple runners headed over to see
if anything was worth salvaging over there, and they
came across Aubrey's white board exactly the way it
appeared in the movie! Who knew dry erase technology
was so reliably permanent?
Take a close look at it if you get a chance, as it's pretty hilarious. The level of behind the scenes detail in PP1 is particularly impressive. Best example: the "wheel" in the Riff-Off. Pause the screen and check out the categories. My favorite: "songs ruined by Glee."
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the
introduction to the "worlds", in which we get to
hear versions of Journey's "Anyway You Want It" from
Latin America, South Asia, South-East Asia and
Africa. For moviegoers unfamiliar with a cappella,
it's a great way for them to understand how a
cappella can reflect styles of music around the
globe, and how an arrangement can take a song in
many different directions.
I do like the double meaning of the song's title, as we're in effect saying that you can find and enjoy a cappella music in any style of music you wish, which is why I've been referring to this scene as the "mall food court."
I wish there were an contemporary all-women's a
cappella ensemble in Latin America, and perhaps once
the movie is seen in the region there will be, but
right now there isn't. The closest is the group
Edgar Rios from Nota assembled for The Sing Off
Season 4, which was initially supposed to be all
women, but in the end he couldn't find a single
female bass or vocal percussionist, so Calle Sol
became a mixed ensemble (4 women, 2 men).
So, what do Ed and I do when faced with the impossible task of creating an all-women's group for the mall food court? We get creative! Liz wants an all women's group of amazing dancers, so we pull in the two best dancers (who are also great a cappella singers) from Calle Sol (so they can be on screen as well as behind the mic), have AJ cast the rest of the group with great dancers, and use a variety of voices to fill in the rest of the background parts. And when I say variety, I sometimes mean Ed and myself.
Fact is, on this track, I'm singing the lowest trombone part (no one can tell if a vocal trumpet in this range is coming from a male or female singer), and bass. Yes, bass. Lest you think this is easy, I spent a while in front of the microphone trying different tones while Ed coached me to be less heavy, more resonant in my upper range, etc.
And Ed is similarly all over these tracks, as we're both African vocal percussionists (I'm the conga drums while Ed is both the shaker/gourd and the everything else drum track"... he's remarkably versatile), both Treblemakers, both members of Das Sound Machine (my 25 tours of Germany with my a cappella band The House Jacks has resulted my ability to speak English with a thick German accent that until now was not a marketable skill), and so on.
We would have loved to hire all of our a cappella friends from around the world, but it just wasn't financially feasible, as it starts getting very expensive when you consider plane flights, hotel rooms, etc.
So I can one day tell my grandchildren, for a brief, shining moment, before they were born, I was a red hot Latin dancer.
Often when I'm working with teenage singers
they'll ask me "Is Fat Amy that funny in real
life?!?" to which of course I have to respond "Um"...
Fat Amy isn't a person. Her name is Rebel", which
usually elicits a smile from a nearby adult.
Fact is, Rebel IS funny in person, but she's also at times quite soft spoken and very diligent. We emailed out arrangements and learning files before the actors arrived, and Rebel came prepared, all but memorized by the second day of rehearsals. Very impressive.
Her craft is rather meticulous, which is often the case with comedians who appear scattered and improvisatory. Robin Williams comes to mind. All of us are able to toss out a witty quip from time to time, but even the funniest people on the planet aren't always brilliant, and have a limited ability to improvise at a perpetually high level. Everything else is the result of hard work. And Rebel works very hard.
I'm reminded of our first session together in the recording booth working on PP1. We were recording her part on "Turn The Beat Around" and as much energy as she was putting into the part, it just wasn't funny. We kept trying different things, and finally I asked her if she'd try the part in her Australian accent, which wasn't a consideration, as the role of Fat Amy wasn't written for a foreigner, and even foreigners usually sing pop music with an American accent.
As soon as she launched into the song with a full on "Ozzie" twang it was like the clouds parted and she was unleashed. Each take got funnier and funnier. So the two of us headed to Jason's office and asked if she could be unabashedly Australian, accent and all. "Sure" he said, not giving it a second thought, and that was that. I now have trouble imagining Rebel any other way, as her role became less about her becoming a character for the movie, and more about the movie shining a spotlight on her carefully crafted (yet apparently care-free), zany sense of humor.