A scene can change many times from first concept,
and the "boot camp" medley is a great example. Jason
Moore originally pitched the idea but others weren't
all so excited about it. I loved the idea of showing
the Bellas singing a medley of the greatest women's
harmony songs of all time, so I dove in to help
Originally, Jason was thinking of starting with a montage of warmups (which eventually fell off so we could get right to and spend more time with these classic songs), then a song from the 30s (Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy or Three Coins in the Fountain), 40s, 50s (Mr. Sandman), 60s (Supremes), 70s (Carole King), and ending with the 80s (bringing us back to the Bangles).
I suggested we start in the 40s (because the Andrew's Sisters "Bugle Boy" is the perfect opener), then Mr. Sandman for the 50s,, then offered a few up-tempo Supremes tunes from the 60s (Can't Hurry Love was the favorite, and works with Fat Amy's story in the movie), then my favorite from the 70s was and is Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" (plus it was remade in Moulon Rouge so a new generation knows it), then for the 80s maybe Walk Like an Egyptian, then end in the 90s with either Bills Bills Bills (but we already were looking at Beyonce songs elsewhere in the movie) or En Vogue's "My Lovin (Never Gonna Get It)" which has the added bonus of being a downer at the end of the scene, setting them up for an uplifting moment around the campfire shortly after.
Then there were some tweaks: The Bangles made sense since the Bellas sang "Eternal Flame" in PP1, but their other songs don't really have much harmony, so Jason suggested the Pointer's Sisters (who have many great harmony songs), and "I'm So Excited was a great high energy song late in this medley, underscoring them working out through an obstacle course. There was concern the medley spent too much time in older songs, so Mr. Sandman was pulled out and we tried adding The Spice Girls "Wannabe", but Liz wanted to mix it up and add a funny moment, so she recommended a boy band. I came back with a few suggestions and was especially excited about Hanson's "Mmm-bop," (which is fun, high energy, and could be mistaken for a girl's group, setting up the laugh) but she said "Nah"... I want a powerful, classic boyband song here" so we demo'd the Back Street Boys "Everybody" but it just didn't fit or seem as funny, so Liz somewhat sheepishly asked "Ok, can we try Mmm-bop?" which we did, and voila!
The fact is, lots of songs could have worked in this medley, but I do feel like we arrived on the best choices for the film. Starting with the Andrew's Sisters really sets up the scene (and it starts with the verse, not the chorus, so it feels like a beginning). Supremes were a must, Lady Marmalade is just high-belting-women's-voice-heaven, I'm So Excited is iconic 80s, Mmm-bop is supremely fun (and a great joke), and Never Gonna Get It has one of the greatest pop a cappella passages in recorded history.
Every music moment is a long, thoughtful process considering the movie's story line, our characters, music history, how big a song was (then and now), if we can get a song, if we can afford the song (every song needs to be approved by the publisher, and they name their own price, so we can't necessarily get or afford any song"... but these older songs are usually easier than current or recent hits), and so on.
I'm particularly happy with this medley in the movie because it gives us a chance to offset a lot of current/recent pop music arranged in a very modern style and gives us a chance to educate young viewers. Some of the greatest music from the past 100 years has come from women's harmony groups, and it feels good introducing them to a new generation.
Liz likes to be extra certain that the songs in the movie are the right ones, so today Ed and I are in a very empty office arranging and demoing songs you'll likely never hear in the movie. There's always a chance a song won't work out (could be for story reasons or sonic reasons), or it won't "clear" (meaning we won't get the rights from the publishers to use it in the movie).
Every movie needs a villain, and Pitch Perfect 2
is no exception. The stakes need to be higher, the
scope greater, now that the Treblemakers have been
vanquished. Cue: Das Sound Machine!
Today the members of DSM (as we call them) arrived, and they're great. Full of energy and excitement, they're gonna be a joy to work with.
In DSM we have 4 people singing their own parts: The Kommissar (Brigitte is from Denmark but can speak and sing in German), Flula (from Germany, our anchor), Allie (our first Soprano, sang in the SoCals season 1 of the Sing Off, good friends with Kelley Jakle), and Fitz (our world-class beatboxer). The latter 2 are American, but no one will ever know. The rest? All locally cast dancers, so the group can be intimidating in their choreography as well as the vocals, and we'll track the vocals ourselves.
Much as in PP1, there's a desire to make DSM likeable and funny as well as an insurmountable obstacle, so we're treading a fine line between cold and warm, humorous and dead serious. Ed's responsible for crafting their sound & arrangements, which at this point is frustrating, as we still have to figure out how to make the Bellas win in the end. We had the same problem in PP1 with the Treblemakers, who were just better until we'd assembled the perfect movie finale. I'm all for it: set the bar impossibly high, then figure out how to get over it with our Bellas.
I feel like a frog in a boiling pot, as when I
arrived the weather here in Baton Rouge was lovely,
but each day it gets more and more extreme: Hotter &
muggier... with the occasional rain storm so
Biblically violent it's like a car wash with
periodic blasts of electricity. We got to the studio
in the mild sunshine, and at lunch I had to run
through 8 inch high water covering the sidewalk and
street to get the car just 100 yards away. An hour
later, when we returned from lunch the ground was
And at the end of the month, just when we start shooting outdoors, we'll be entering what I've heard referred to by locals as "the season of mosquitos: our state bird" So, that should be nice.
Anna Kendrick just arrived. I walk in the room:
00:00:01 big smile
00:00:03 runs over
00:00:06 question about how challenging the music is
00:00:09 my apology...
00:00:10 big smile and "Fuck You!"
That's Anna: great sense of humor, not afraid to drop a well timed F-bomb. Of course later that morning it took only an hour's worth of rehearsal before she was able to sing the first 4 arrangements for me by memory perfectly (she'd been practicing). Anna's incredibly focused, intelligent, and works hard, which means she's always reliable. Tomorrow she'll be in the studio singing all of her parts (that have been handed out thus far - we're still tweaking the riff-off and deciding on the finale), meaning even though she showed up 2 weeks late to rehearsals, she's caught up within 24 hours. She could be a diva - she has the resume, the following, the cred - but instead she's down to earth and focused. Aspiring actresses: be like Anna!
The Riff Off is about as complex a musical puzzle
as you can assemble: different songs, one after
another, woven together in the most dramatic way
possible. And, as if the challenge isn't great
enough, this year we've added a twist: the beat must
be steady through each round.
In other words, not only do we need to find a series of great songs for each theme, but they now need to be performed at the same BPM (beats per minute). There's some flexibility, but more than 10 BPM in either direction - fast or slow - usually renders a song ridiculous. And remember, we can't just get any song, as they all have to be "cleared" with the publishers.
Things don't always go our way. Example: "I Dated John Meyer" was going to have a Katy Perry song in it (obviously)... but we couldn't get the song cleared, which meant the scene had to be reworked. This happens repeatedly through the process, and Tom Kitt does a fantastic job drawing on his musical theater background to shape the flow of this scene.
The final round was going to be "Boil a bunny: songs of obsession" (or some such) but it just wasn't powerful enough for the final round, so we went with 90's Jamz." (I'm not sure yet it'll be spelled with a "z" at the end, but lezbehonest, that's what it should be). We knew we wanted to end with Emily absent-mindedly singing the movie's original song (resulting in boos from the crowd), but before this we need some tension to build, and the obvious choice is to get Flula and Fat Amy up in each other's faces, trading insults.
So, working from the songs we had cleared that worked in the same BPM range, I pulled together the following sequence/story:
-DSM singing "This Is How We Do It": get our international superstars to start off the final round bragging about how great they are.
-Bellas singing "That Thing": have Cynthia Rose jump on top of their swagger with some swag of her own, urging her sisters to "watch out!" and referring to "some guys" which clearly refers to DSM and Flula.
-Flula cutting them off singing "(That girl is) Poison": which has the epic line "never trust a big butt and a smile", in reference to Fat Amy
-Fat Amy sings "Scenario": answering "Here we go," getting up in his face saying essentially "what's your problem, dude?!?"
-Flula jumping in with "Insane in the Membrane": A perfect childish retort, Flula gets to call Fat Amy crazy.
And this quick back and forth in this final round, a verbal/musical battle that is all on theme and in time, gives us a reason to have Emily distracted enough to launch into her own song, handing DSM the win, and the Bellas another crushing, embarrassing defeat. We could have had the Bellas lose many other ways, but it's best to have them lose big, plus reintroduce her original song to set it up for the big successful reveal at the end of the finals.
Then DSM gets to do a victory lap singing Kris Kross' "Jump," which was another song we'd considered in the above battle, but we decided to save it for the end, so we could have the entire crowd yelling "JUMP, JUMP!" in the background as the Bellas bemoan their loss.
The studio needs a name for the publicity
materials, movie credits and liner notes. Our
choice? "Neon Hobo Studios." Why?
The "neon" comes from the fact that we have florescent lights in the ceiling that buzz annoyingly, which have to be turned off anytime we're doing any recording. They especially bother Magee, who gives us a hard time if they're on when he arrives in the morning. Sometimes he makes a loud buzzing noise at the exact pitch of the lights, other times he calls us the neon boyz, and often he just shakes his head and switches off the overhead lights. We have a chain of xmas lights and a couple small lamps, which gives the whole studio area a cool, relaxed vibe, which is great... but sometimes we need bright, buzzing lights.
The "hobo" comes from the fact that the studio is right next to the train tracks that lead to a train depot 1 block away, and several times a day we have to stop recording because a train rumbles by, shaking the building and blasting its train whistle. It's frustrating and hilarious and hard to believe... but it was the best building available, so we just make the best of it. Who lives at/in train depot? Why, a hobo, of course.
It's a working weekend, as we have to get parts
tracked in time for filming. First up is a young
beatboxer that Ed has worked with: Julia Ramos.
She's still an undergrad and yet has been a finalist
in the American Beatbox Championship, and she
clearly knows collegiate a cappella, since she's
actively a member of UCLA's "Random Voices."
Julia has great sounds and is the perfect "beat box double" for Hana Mae, who has been spending the day following, filming, and learning from Julia. Once we're done tracking, HM will have to learn every kick drum and crash cymbal perfectly to represent them on screen (I'd say "lip sync" but it's about much more than just lips). And to anyone who thinks HM should be doing her own beatboxing, I offer this: she's a young actress who is doing her own singing and dancing and acting., so expecting her to be one of the best beatboxers in the world is unrealistic. To give the role to one of the best beatboxers in the world (of which there are only a handful) is to expect and require them to sing, act and dance at high levels, which is a near impossibility. Time for a little movie magic!
Since we're on the topic of the Bellas not doing
everything themselves, I should also make it clear
that they don't all do all of their own singing as
well. Don't misunderstand: they're doing all of
their own lead vocals, and harmony parts, but there
are times when the vocals become extremely difficult
or "rangy" (outside of their vocal range, too high
or too low), and it's just unrealistic to expect
professional actresses with very different voices
and styles (which is necessary for their characters)
to form a gorgeous blend with only a few weeks of
rehearsal and recording, especially since they are
working hard through the same days on their
choreography, lines, costume fittings, stunts, and
Therefore we have a fantastic singer - Candice Helfand - who comes in and creates the "glue" in their sound. Today she sang bits of several songs - Bellas and DSM - insanely high notes, gravelly low notes, screaming loud bits, soft gentle transitions. She's able to sound like different members of the Bellas in different ranges, so she can seamlessly create seamless seams, quickly and efficiently, so she'll be back at her NYC desk job Monday morning, no one around her knowing just how important she is to the movie.
Reading a script on your own is informative, but
if you really want to see how a movie will play out,
how jokes will land, how characters will interact,
you need to get all of your cast in a room and read
through everything, and that's what happened today.
The script changed many times in PP1 from the first drafts (which featured much more of Beca's dad), and there are changes here as well. Jokes that don't land will get replaced, big laughs will be amplified, and the people who are especially funny will end up with more lines... and by this I'm referring to Flula, who read Bumper's lines as well, and had people in stitches with even the non-humorous lines. There's something funny about a German accent, but that's only a small part of his charm and timing. He has a way of finding humor in the smallest of lines, which is then amplified by his enthusiasm. Like a great Sasha Baron Cohen character with far more heart, I have a feeling Flula will steal many a scene.