DSM's notes are lower than almost any human in
the world is able to sing, and we need not just a
singer but an experienced a cappella bass who is
able to deftly maneuver the vocal lines... which
means there are about 3 people in the world who are
up to the task. One of them came into the studio
this morning: Elliott Michael Robinson.
Elliott sings in the House Jacks with me so I know is sound and style very well, and know from many an early morning on tour that he's able to hit some crazy low notes. To set him up for success, Ed and I took him out for a huge steak and red wine dinner last night, then picked him up at his hotel very early in the morning and he didn't say a word, not even "good morning." We drove straight in to the studio, got him in front of a mic, and started recording. It was amazing: some of the lowest a cappella ever recorded, and he did it so quickly and effectively that all his parts were done before most people had come into work. I introduced him to DSM and the rest of the PP family, whose jaws hit the floor when they heard him speak. As they should.
It's never easy to add someone to your social
group. There's a pace, a style, a personality that's
comes from the collective relationships and
perspectives, and when you remove one person and try
to add another, it does not always work.
Which is why I marvel at the effortless integration of Chrissie Fit to the Pitch Perfect family. Maybe it's because she's talented, maybe because she's smart, maybe because she's mature (30 years old), but I think it's primarily because she's just so incredibly friendly and warm and open. A diva attitude or mediocre talent and she'd never fit in.
Genuinely excited to join the family, always eager to help, full of energy and positivity each day, Chrissie is a joy to work with and a spark of energy in each rehearsal. Moreover, her sense of comedic timing and wording (she turned "6 weeks" on a raft to "42 days" - much funnier!) makes her valuable in a cast that's already teeming with talent and timing.
My only regret is that we don't have more for her to sing! We had to craft the role, and choose the voice part (bass) before we knew who would be cast. Luckily little Ms. Fit has an alarmingly low range (you'd never think it looking at her), but her excellent lead vocal skills aren't in the limelight as much as I'd like... and yet I'd say that of all our Bellas: Kelly, Shelley... lots of great lead vocal talent, only so many solo lines.
Since I'm on the topic of Shelley, I should
mention how lucky we are to have her as an anchor in
the group. For PP1, we had actresses cast for the
larger roles, and still had a spot we needed to fill
with someone local. Looking over casting videos, Ed
and I both agreed Shelley looked like the best
choice: strong voice, bright smile. Still an
undergrad at LSU, we had only a glimpse of her
Since PP1, Shelley has graduated and been on the road touring nationally in musicals (most recently a 4 person musical spoof of "Fifty Shades of Grey"). She has a work ethic second to none, always asking when she's uncertain of a note, or if there's a way she can improve on her performance in any way. This is not usual.
Performers are often insecure, and hide their insecurity along with their imperfections, hoping no one will find either. It's the rare singer and actress who understands that mistakes are valuable, and excellence is best achieved through self-examination and openness. I have no doubt this is just the beginning of a long, successful career.
It probably goes without saying, but excitement
about PP2 is high, even though the first movie came
out 2 years ago, and this won't be released for
another year. Every time a photo is posted, it gets
thousands of likes and reposts.
The Bellas can't go out in public together without being recognized. One or two together is usually OK if they're wearing sunglasses and nondescript clothing, but if you get 5 of them, it's all over.
When we're filming, we're keeping a low profile, with signs that read "Slapped" and an arrow to direct us to parking (The shell company that's overseeing Pitch Perfect 2 is called "Pitch Slapped Productions"). Even "PP2" would be too much of a giveaway to locals.
I haven't had a day off in quite a while, which is why two of my closest friends, Josh and Dave, have flown into BR, kidnapped me, and taken me down to New Orleans for a little culture, food, and fun. Laissez les bons temps rouler! Update: much fun was had, but when you're approached by a drunk woman on Bourbon Street asking "You guys look rich... do you have any coke?" it's time to leave.
Most of the time, Ed and I can hold down the fort
in Baton Rouge (creating demos, helping select
songs, making arrangement tweaks as needed for the
script, teaching the actors their parts, coaching
the vocalists as Magee is recording, etc), but there
are times when we need to call in the cavalry, and
there's no question who we call: Ben Bram.
He's young, but when someone wins the ICCAs twice as an undergrad, you take them seriously enough to hire them to help on the Sing Off. And then when that person pretty much singlehandedly pulls together and produces the biggest group in a cappella today (that being Pentatonix), you know you chose wisely. He's barely 25 and yet he's one of the most influential a cappella arrangers/producers in the world.
As soon as he lands we're gonna shove him in the studio where he can sing a bunch of background parts (Trebles, DSM, etc), and then later in the week have him help out with rehearsals while I head home for a reunion and Ed heads to a much deserved vacation & down time for a friend's wedding in St. Thomas.
As attached as fans are to PP1's Treblemakers, I have little doubt they'll be very glad to meet the new members. To make the story and timeline work, there needed to be all new Treblemakers (since only Jesse and Benji were freshmen, so now 3 years later they're the seniors). Of the new members, one stands out as being especially worthy: Ted, who is currently a junior at Vanderbilt University, and a member of the excellent male collegiate group there, the Melodores.
Before I worked on a movie, I assumed each shot
was filmed more or less in order, to give the actors
the experience of a story unfolding. For various
reasons (individual's schedules, weather, time of
day, location availability, etc), this is not at all
the case. The order in which we're shooting this
movie couldn't be more random, and yet it's all very
carefully planned by our very experience 1st AD
(assistant director) Danny Silverberg.
Today, our first day of shooting, is focused on the moment when Emily Junk's mom, Catherine Junk, drops her off at college. I couldn't be more thrilled that Katey Sagal has been cast, as she's both a great singer (we don't have to worry - she'll knock it out of the park without needing coaching) and extremely funny with laser sharp comedic timing.
Every single item the cast interacts with on set
is considered a prop, from a cup during a frat party
to a giant metal hamster wheel during the Bella's
performance. Each item is expertly considered and
chosen by Jonathan and Robin, the movie's prop
master (and prop mistress?!?).
The Aca-taqueria is right across the hall from them, so I peer out my window(s) and see them running with streamers, rolling around in a giant inflatable plastic sphere (for the audience of the world finals), and chat with them about how and where they find all the items, and the hurdles associated with their jobs (every single item seen clearly on screen needs to have approval from the manufacturer - yipes!).
One serendipitous upside to dropping by their office: when I saw a stack of textbooks we got to talking about publishing and I mentioned I recently published "A Cappella Arranging" which they immediately begged for, so it looks like my book (with Dylan Bell), will be in a scene. I think they mentioned wanting it to be something Chloe was packing for the retreat? As much as I know and see, some scenes happen while I'm rehearsing or in the studio, so it'll be as much as surprise to me as anyone.
If props are anything that's touched, then set
design covers everything else on a set: every item
large and small on a table, a shelf, the corner of
an office, the walls of a gym. Wandering around the
set design department is like being in an amazing
thrift shop, run by a mad a cappella fanatic.
My favorite things are the fake a cappella championship banners that Monique has fashioned by hand, one felt letter at a time. They look so very real, down to the faded maroon and off-white colors, and will likely only be seen for a second on-screen, yet they're so very important to creating the overall atmosphere of the film.