The Austin Chronicle

Auditorium Scores: The Sound of 'Spy Kids 2'

By Marc Savlov, August 9, 2002, Screens

Robert Rodriguez has always been a man of many hats -- writer/director/editor/artist -- and one who takes pains to draw as much of his filmmaking infrastructure from Austin and surrounding areas as possible. In addition to bringing together local actors, production designers, effects technicians, and crew members of all stripes on Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, Rodriguez also decided that the film's orchestral score be recorded here as well, something so unusual that Miramax requested an early April run-through -- three whole months before the real deal -- to determine if the idea was even feasible.

Film scores are by necessity the final piece of the filmmaking puzzle. During editing, temp tracks are frequently lifted from other films to set the musical tone and pace of the project. It's not until the final edit is complete that the film scorer can manhandle the passages, themes, and cues into their final timed and locked positions alongside the director's images. Usually, the music is recorded at a sound facility either on a studio lot or in a professional, exacting orchestral hall designed for the detailed, complex process of linking sound and image frame by frame.

Rodriguez's idea? Do it in Austin, with Austin musicians, at a local high school. Listen hard enough and you can hear Bob and Harvey Weinstein's molars grind.

Spy Kids 2 Post-Production Supervisor Brian McNulty was tasked with the job of finding the perfect location: "We made a list of all the likely candidates, and initially thought about using either Bass Hall or Bates Hall at UT. Because we needed to record in late June and early July, summer school became a problem for us regarding UT, and at that point we started to venture out to some of the surrounding school districts."

Rodriguez and McNulty tagged Round Rock, Cedar Park, and Leander School District's performing arts centers as "excellent," but ultimately settled on the facilities at Georgetown High School, which seats some 1,200 people and has the requisite high ceilings and acoustical design necessary for the recording process.

"What we were doing for four straight days," says McNulty, "was more akin to film production, with trucks, crew, craft services, and guys with walkie-talkies, the whole 'recording, rolling, quiet on the set' sort of thing."

The next step involved gathering an orchestra of 74 players, drawn from Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, and bringing in a mobile recording studio from San Diego. Local orchestrator George Oldzeiy and music contractor Tom Hale took care of the logistics of the orchestra at that point and pulling the musicians together to perform the score.

"We did a demo session in late April," notes McNulty, "and although it wasn't at the right facility and it wasn't the bulk of the music -- we only recorded about eight minutes or so -- we proved that it could be done and at that point the studio committed to letting us do the whole thing in Texas. Prior to April, Miramax was understandably concerned because this sort of thing had never been done before, but once they saw that the players were good and the music sounded great they said 'go for it.'"

Recording of the Spy Kids 2 score ran four days and came in on time and on budget, right down to the final post-production wire. Says McNulty, "Quite frankly there was no margin for error, but everything went perfectly, with not a single minute of technical downtime. It was a pretty remarkable first."

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