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Art & Recording


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A few weeks ago I mentioned that I noticed the name of Douglas Shearer, and if he was any relation to Norma. Well, now I know he's her brother, but what exactly does a 'recording director' do? I notice he's listed on almost every film TCM shows, no one person could cover that many movies and actually have a lot of responsibilities towards each film. Following his name is usually the name of Cedric Gibbons as 'art director', again, what does an art director do? This isn't a vital question, just curiosity.

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I think a recording director would be the guy in charge of the sound recording crew. He might have started out as one of the sound recording technicians and then became head of the department and more or less a supervisor. He would be in charge of being sure the technicians placed the microphones in the right place where they and their shadows would not be seen by the cameras and were close enough to the actors to avoid echo sounds during voice recording. He would also be the supervisor in charge of musical voice dubbing and recording of music and bands. He would also be in charge of sound mixing, which might require as many as six or more sound tracks to be blended down to one final sound track.

 

I think the art director was in charge of how the sets looked, the style of sets, the style of furniture, the types of drapes on windows, and special features in the way the background sets looked, such as whether they were art deco, early American, old English or French style furniture. I think the art director often had to work closely with the costume designer. A movie with a good art director would be Gone With the Wind, where all the various indoor and outdoor scenes had to look attractive and of the Civil War era and have colors that didn?t clash with the actors? costumes. I think a location film such as The Third Man, the art director would be the main one to select the buildings and streets where the filming would take place. He would go out ahead of time scouting locations to be used in the film.

 

Someone correct me if I?m wrong.

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Regardingin location shooting: There are "location scouts" who are sent out to find appropriate places to shoot and make the arrangements to do so.

 

Oliver Stone shot scenes for The Doors in front of my apartment. And I imagine the Art Director was very busy working with the props and costume people. The entire street (in the Haight/Ashbury) was sent back in time: cars were towed and classic cars of the period were brought in to replace them. Storefronts were repainted, the front of my place was covered in macrame. Each store remained in the same ilk, but all the windows were changed. For example, at the newstand, all the magazines were replaced with those from the 1960's; dress shops had their mannequins redressed for the period.

 

Regarding the credits: it's my understanding that the heads of departments were usually listed, though their responsibilities on the picture might have been nothing more than initialing someone else's designs. So when the studios were spitting out 52 pictures a year, the Art Director would be listed on the credits for all of them; though it was his design team who actually laid out the plans for the pictures.

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Thanks Guys:

 

That's pretty much what I thought. Jack, they used my son's apartment itself for 'Bounce' a few years ago, with Gwenyth P. and Ben Affleck. He had a great apartment right on the beach and they used both interiors and exteriors. Years ago when I lived in Lemont, Illinois (small town about 35 miles SW of Chicago), they used the Main street and one that crosses it for exterior shots, and the town and buildings were barely touched because they were perfect for 'The Getaway' with S. McQueen. Of course the whole town turned out for it. I'm surprised nobody ever used it again. This is a town that kept ALL large corporations out until the mid 90's when they finally let a MacDonalds open and a K-Mart, but all on the outskirts. Main Street is the same as always (circa 1875).

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Doug Shearer didn't really know much about sound; he wangled himself the job of recording supervisor on the basis of being Norma's brother when Metro was desperate to get their sound department up and running in 1928. Conseqently, Doug Shearer was allowed to establish his own little fiefdom at the studio, and rule it with unquestioned authority for almost a quarter-century.

 

As a result, MGM's films were rather poorly recorded -- especially the film scores -- all through the 1930s and '40s; they didn't start to modernize until John Green took over the music department in the late 1940s, and Franklin Milton took over the sound department, in the mid-1950s.

 

Sony, which now owns the historic MGM lot, is still paying for Shearer's mistakes, as the scoring stage there (now named for Barbra Streisand, unfortunately), whose design Shearer approved, has acoustics decidedly inferior to the stages at Fox and Warner Bros. (and the legendary, and now, gone, scoring stage at Goldwyn Studios, the finest film music-recording venue in movie history).

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Hey, Jack, I used to live in San Francisco back in those days. I was in the Grateful Dead?s house on Ashbury Street several times. I was there one day when Otto Preminger came up trying to get inside. Jerry Garcia threw water balloons at him from a second-floor window. I was across the street one time in their office, when Janice Joplin came in. That?s when I found out why she wore all the floppy hats and the feathers. That was back in the days when Pigpen was their drummer.

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"Hey, Jack, I used to live in San Francisco back in those days. I was in the Grateful Dead?s house on Ashbury Street several times. I was there one day when Otto Preminger came up trying to get inside. Jerry Garcia threw water balloons at him from a second-floor window. I was across the street one time in their office, when Janice Joplin came in. That?s when I found out why she wore all the floppy hats and the feathers. That was back in the days when Pigpen was their drummer."

 

Then I imagine it's possible you've been in my apartment, Mr. Dobbs. I live in an apartment where Janis Joplin once resided; very near the Grateful Dead house. You might get a kick out of the GD house now, as young kids now make pilgrimages there and gaze at it with starry eyes. The house itself is in great shape, and the present owners considered selling it a couple of years ago (and then thought better of it). They're very tolerant of the gawkers, so it's a nice match. Jimi Hendricks' girlfriend lived on the bottom floor of my building, and grizzled hippies often stop by and tell me stories of when Jimi would jam there.

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"Doug Shearer didn't really know much about sound; he wangled himself the job of recording supervisor on the basis of being Norma's brother when Metro was desperate to get their sound department up and running in 1928. Conseqently, Doug Shearer was allowed to establish his own little fiefdom at the studio, and rule it with unquestioned authority for almost a quarter-century.

 

As a result, MGM's films were rather poorly recorded -- especially the film scores -- all through the 1930s and '40s; they didn't start to modernize until John Green took over the music department in the late 1940s, and Franklin Milton took over the sound department, in the mid-1950s."

 

I was surprised by this take on Mr. Shearer because it was my impression that he was well-respected in Hollywood for his work. My impression is probably the result of MGM propaganda, but he won seven Oscars (5 for sound), was nominated twenty-one times, and I understood that he was a great innovator in eliminating background noise in recordings. Wasn't it his idea to have a musical soundtrack -- the first one being his for The Broadway Melody (1929)?

 

Another image popped like a balloon...

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Yeah, those were the good old days. I moved to SF in ?67, which was a great year. In fact, ?67-?69 were the best years of the old era. Free Grateful Dead concerts in Golden Gate Park and at The Straight Theater. Big multi-band concerts at Winterland and Filmore West.

 

Some ?old timers? told me that the really ?best years? were from about ?65 to ?67, before the Haight Ashbury became so well known. The runaways started to arrive from around the country in the summer of ?67, and there were thousands of them. The old-timers didn?t care much for that. Some of them told me that there were other bands (that later became famous) that lived in some of the big old houses in the Haight Ashbury, but when they finally started making some money, they moved out into more secluded areas such as in Marin County.

 

Those old Victorian houses were beautiful and very large. I met a young hippie guy who went in together with a bunch of other hippies and they managed to rent a half-million dollar house up on one of the hills north of the Haight Ashbury. Today that house would be worth about $5 million. Each of them paid $100 or so rent a month, and the place had 4 or 5 floors and so many rooms, there were still empty rooms that none of the hippies used. I went to see the place. It was strange to see ragged hippies come and go in such an expensive old house. They were renting it for about $1,000 a month back then, when average 2-person apartments were renting for about $150 - $200.

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Ah, the days when San Francisco was affordable. The days of Pal Joey and Vertigo, The Birds, Bullitt... Actually, one of my earliest memories of Haight Street was an unusally sunny day in the summer of 1967. We were driving down the street and I was agog by all that was going on along it. Hippies and eccentrics in abundance. Brightly colored fashions and crazy hairdoos, painted faces; people walking (and dancing!) in the middle of the streets. Guys standing in the middle of the bumper-to-bumper traffic, selling the Haight/Ashbury newspaper. I was fascinated by it all. My reverie was only broken by the voice of my mother saying, "Lock the doors!".

 

I giggle at the memory now. My mother terrified by the neighborhood where I now live. Hmmm... you weren't selling any newspapers in the middle of the streets back then, were you Mr. Dobbs?

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Lol, no. I was mostly filming the area to make documentaries and for history and to sell the film to different networks, but I remember all that tourist traffic on Haight Street toward the end of the Summer. Based on your description I would say you were there maybe in late July or August? As a matter of fact, I shot some color film of those tourist cruises, which were the biggest on the weekends, and my film was aired on the NBC network a little later in the year. I shot a series of reports about the Haight Ashbury for NBC. I remember a guy or a chick who was selling big brightly-colored paper flowers on long stems to the tourists in their cars, and I remember the newspaper sales guys working on the street.

 

By the Summer of ?68 the traffic on the weekend was so bad, the city experimented with closing Haight Street to traffic on the weekends. But too many old folks complained about that, so the city stopped it.

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I was surprised by this take on Mr. Shearer because it was my impression that he was well-respected in Hollywood for his work. My impression is probably the result of MGM propaganda, but he won seven Oscars (5 for sound), was nominated twenty-one times, and I understood that he was a great innovator in eliminating background noise in recordings. Wasn't it his idea to have a musical soundtrack -- the first one being his for The Broadway Melody (1929)

 

Well, BROADWAY MELODY was a musical, after all. But there's little, if any, musical underscoring of the film's dramatic sequences.

 

Max Steiner's music for KING KING is widely regarded as the dramatic film score that set the tone for the "Hollywood way" of telling a dramatic story in music along with images and dialogue.

 

As for the quality of MGM's sound, one really needs to listen to the recording of other studios' films to realize that, by the late 1930s, Metro had fallen behind the likes of Warner's and Fox, though Paramount, Universal and RKO never put the kind of money into technical innovation that they should have.

 

 

Actually, one of my earliest memories of Haight Street was an unusally sunny day in the summer of 1967. We were driving down the street and I was agog by all that was going on along it. Hippies and eccentrics in abundance. Brightly colored fashions and crazy hairdoos, painted faces; people walking (and dancing!) in the middle of the streets. Guys standing in the middle of the bumper-to-bumper traffic, selling the Haight/Ashbury newspaper. I was fascinated by it all. My reverie was only broken by the voice of my mother saying, "Lock the doors!".

 

Your experience mirrors that of Malcolm McDowell's H.G. Wells in 1979's TIME AFTER TIME, after he exits his Victorian time machine and steps out into modern-day San Francisco. Fish out of water, indeed!

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