Before Pitch Perfect became a 100 million dollar
hit with a platinum soundtrack, it was a little
movie made by first time producers, a first time
director, and first time music team. I have spent my
entire adult life working to popularize a cappella
and spread harmony through harmony, and yet the
success exceeded even my wildest dreams. We made a
movie, then a year went by before release, then it
slowly built and grew and now everyone wants to know
everything about it"... but it all feels so long ago
and far away, a dream that grew much bigger when I
This time I decided to do a little writing each day, like a polaroid snapshot, so it wouldn't all slip away as quickly as it had the first time, and so I could do a better job of answering questions and giving people an idea what it was like to be a part of bringing Pitch Perfect 2 to life.
I landed this afternoon in Baton Rouge, my head
full of images and sounds from the last movie"... a
movie I never expected to be anywhere as big, as
beloved as Pitch Perfect was and is. What will be
different this time?
Well, it won't be the location, as we're making PP2 in the same city we made PP: Baton Rouge ("red stick" in French), Louisiana. Why? Because the state gives huge incentives to movie makers, it's inexpensive to house a large cast and crew for 3 months, and since many other movies are made here, you can find most things you need. Several other films are currently in town, including the Fantastic Four reboot.
I just learned that more major movies are made in the state of Louisiana each year than New York or California. So much so that people are moving from LA to New Orleans because that's where the work is, and there aren't enough Union transportation drivers ("Transpo") that people are being flown in from Florida and other states, and put up in hotels. That's right, if you can drive a van and would like to shuttle celebrities around, get yourself to "LA. (not L.A.)"
Where are the rehearsals? The production offices?
The headquarters? I'd love to reply that they're on
a fancy sound stage"... but they're not. We're in a
vacant combo warehouse and office complex formerly
owned by Maison Blanche, the department store
("white house" in French), and more recently
occupied by FEMA, immediately following hurricane
This location is a step up from last movie's home base: an abandoned Louisiana state building. Music was up on the 10th floor, the former department of Veterans affairs. Choreo was above us on 11 (a mistake, STOMP STOMP STOMP), and the rest of casting and production was on the first two floors.
What was on floors 3-9, amidst the overturned office furniture, lit by the shafts of sunlight cutting through the deep plumes of dust that rose with every step? Zombies, of course.
If you're gonna make an a cappella movie, there's
no better partner than the one and only Ed Boyer. I
first met Ed when he asked me to produce the albums
he was overseeing as music director of The Tufts
Beelzebubs, a role he took over when he graduated,
and has since become a legend, arranging and
directing the group's work on Glee, mixing
Pentatonix, and so on. When I was allowed to add
someone to my staff season one of the Sing Off,
there was no question, I said "Get. Me. Ed."
When I say there's none better, I mean there's none better. He arranges for male a cappella groups with a style so effortless that the parts seem to sing themselves, making even the most amateur group sound professional. He records, edits and mixes groups with an insight and artistry that is unassailable. And even though he has an astounding attention to detail, he's still a visionary with a 10,000 foot view, understanding trends, movie moments, and mashup nuances with no more than a couple seconds of consideration.
Having worked together for years on so many projects, we're like a couple of old friends on a park bench, finishing each other's sentences, bickering about the greatest pop album of all time (he insists it's Michael Jackson's "Thriller," I favor the late Beatles albums), and asking "are you gonna finish your fries?"
I can say with no exaggeration that there's no way I could make it for 3 months in Baton Rouge working on a movie without his talent, dark sense of humor, and friendship.
Not only do we teach and rehearse all of the
Bellas performances in our production offices, we
also record them. For the movie. That's right, we
have a state of the art studio.
As you might expect, you can't just take over an office building and expect it to be designed exactly the way you want. Walls have been erected, areas partitioned off, etc. But none more completely than the music studio, which was built from scratch in a back corner of the building, and filled with top shelf equipment trucked out from Los Angeles
And who designed and outfitted this studio? None other than"...
Joseph Magee has a movie mixing resume that unfurls in IMDB like Santa's list, starting with Sister Act, and spans all genres, including What's Love Got To Do With It, Fantasia 2000, High Fidelity, Hannah Montana: The Movie, The Muppets, Metallica Through The Never, Saving Mr. Banks, and of course Pitch Perfect. Magee, and his partner-in-crime Kate Clark (from the country duo "After Austin') have been a constant source of information, help and of course laughter, as Ed and I work closely with them daily and share an office (aside the music studio). Magee's the one with his hands on the mixing console, as Ed and I coach singers in rehearsal and during recording.
Every song that's approved for the movie goes
through several stages. First, it's suggested by
someone, be that Liz Banks (our fearless leader,
producing and directing PP2), Jason Moore (PP's
director and PP2's executive director), Julia
Michaels and Julianne Jordan (music supervisors on
both films), Ed or myself. We generate lists, we
generate more lists, we discuss movie moments, and
then at some point a song that everyone likes rises
to the top.
When that happens, the first step is to create a "cut down" which is just an edited version of the original recording, cut to the length it would be used in the scene (and if it's a mashup, roughly mashed up so we can hear the songs overlaid). Once that is approved, we create a demo. And when I say "we" I mean all of the arrangers, which beyond Ed and myself includes our frequent collaborator Ben Bram (with whom we work with on The Sing Off), studio singer & songwriter Alana Da Fonseca (many movies including Footloose), and musical theater composer/former collegiate a cappella singer Tom Kitt (Next To Normal, If/Then, etc.).
Each demo is completely a cappella, usually featuring just one person's voice, stacked up layer after layer. There are many songs that have made it to the demo stage but ended up not being chosen for one reason or another. Then once the song clears the final hurdle and is chosen, the demo needs to be expanded or contracted to be the proper number of vocal parts, and each vocal line (from solo down to bass) gets assigned to a specific singer, and a learning recording generated from the demo.
When asked for casting suggestions for Pitch
Perfect, we recommended one excellent a cappella
singer who we thought would be perfect for the
Bellas: Kelley Jakle, who sang in the USC SoCal
VoCals, and 2 groups in the Sing Off (The SoCals in
season 1, and the Backbeats in season 2).
Kelley made life far easier as our "ringer" within the group, both with her vocal skills and friendly, helpful manner. There's no question she's the backbone of the Bellas sound, so when it came time to figuring out our recording process for PP2, the first person to step in front of a microphone had to be Kelley, who we had flown into BR a week early to track her parts.
In fact, she's so helpful that the other Bellas refer to her as "The Professional" as if she's some kind of a cappella out of a Quentin Tarentino film. For example, Britney might say, in Kelley's presence "I've forgotten how these two measure go"... can The Professional remind me?"
I don't know if it's a regional thing, but for
some reason people like their cars in Cobalt blue
down here. Ed and I have seen more automotive cobalt
in the past week than I had in my life up to this
point. It would have made sense if the LSU colors
were blue (they're purple and yellow, not the most
flattering colors on most people), or Saints colors
(black and gold), since those two teams are like a
religion down here. We couldn't figure it out, and
for some reason it just got funnier and funnier, as
Ed initially started with first person proclamations
along the lines of "Look, Ma, I got me a brand new
cobalt Kia!" and eventually just devolved to "COBALT!"
Update: when I headed home the following weekend, I kept a careful eye out for cobalt cars in the San Francisco Bay Area. Total seen in 72 hours? Zero.
Office buildings are strange, each with its own
quirks, and the home of the PP2 production offices
is no different. In scouting for the perfect
location for music rehearsals, which has to be far
enough away from both the recording studio and the
dance studio so we can't hear each other, it became
apparent the perfect location was the employee break
room on the second floor, which, with its red paint,
terracotta tiles and lattice work resembles a small
So, I have named it appropriately: the "Aca-taqueria"
For those of you who were ever involved in a
theater production in school know the feeling: for a
brief period of time you're thrown into an intense
creative project with a bunch of people you don't
know well, you create a strong bond, and then when
it's over you all go your separate ways and hope to
see each other, one at a time, from time to time,
but you're never all together again.
Well, I've made exactly one movie, so my sampling size is small, but I'd say the experience is like making a school musical"... on steroids. No classes, just constant intensity, rushing toward a goal, pouring your creative heart in daily, and then one day it's over, and you're exhausted and don't have any way to measure what just happened. Will people like it? Will they watch it? You go home and wait"... in the case of Pitch Perfect, we waited almost a year before it hit theaters. And then it became a bigger hit than I could have ever dreamed, with over $100,000,000 in box office alone, plus an album that sold platinum, was the best selling soundtrack of 2013, and the most downloaded soundtrack in history.
Today, I got to hug so many of the people that I haven't seen since things went ballistic, and it was a great feeling. Many smiles!
Side note: when I started working on Pitch Perfect, back when it was just Liz, Ed, Julia, Julianne, and a couple other people, there were no plans to make a soundtrack. I remember saying, perhaps too bluntly "Are you crazy?!? We're gonna make a music movie and not release the music?!?" but the movie was so small that there just wasn't any expectation that people would buy it.
Watch the Pitch Perfect 2 Aca-Bootcamp Featurette on YouTube here: View Video