JG - So how is it that you came to work
on EQ and, since I haven't a clue, what exactly are the
responsibilities of a "music editor"?
RN - I was very wet behind the ears when
I started to work on Equilibrium, and I'm very grateful to Kurt for
trusting me with his baby the way he did. I got a call around May 2001
from Vicki Hiatt, the original music editor for the film. She needed
some help conforming the reels (which is basically re-cutting the music
to the newest picture edit) and heard of me through a mutual friend. So
that same day I started giving her a hand with updating the temporary
music to the picture. About a month later she left the project, and
since I knew the movie very well by then, and Kurt seemed comfortable
with me, I became the music editor.
The duties of a music editor are many, as
I found out during that period. Making sure the composer knows what he
needs to write for which scene and how long the cue (music piece) needs
to be, maintain the music updated to the latest cut from the editor (I
worked for about 16 versions of each reel), coordinate and conduct the
meetings with the director and composer, and many times assemble new
cues from existing ones, as was the case on this film. I even had to
make 5.1 surround versions from several cues.
JG - How does the music department on a
film such as EQ work with the director & other editors? What is the
RN - The editorial
department gives the music editor videotapes with each reel (6 AB reels
for Equilibrium, between 12-20 minutes on each tape). The tapes get
digitized into a computer and handed over to the composer as quicktime
movies. The music editor also keeps copies of the digitized reels in
his system, which are used to synchronize the music from the composer.
The director constantly checks the music to picture with the music
editor, and requests changes either for the edits or the music itself
(arrangements, orchestration, melodies, etc). Meanwhile the reels are
being re-edited all the time, shortening, lengthening, adding or taking
out scenes, and the music has to reflect those changes and still sound
natural. Sometimes changes in picture are made even in the middle of
the final sound mix of the film. It's always hectic.
Equilibrium - Richie Nieto, Geoff Zanelli, and Klaus Badelt
Image property of hanszimmer-archiv.de
The method followed for the initial
scoring was rather unusual. Klaus watched the film, started working
alone for a few weeks and then gave me a big 20-minute chunk of music,
a “collage” of all the main themes for the film separated in stems, and
asked me to fill up as much of the picture as I could with it. So there
was a period of heavy editing, basically putting a puzzle together
piece by piece. Some themes jumped out right away, like the burning of
the Mona Lisa and the first showing of Libria; others took a lot of
time to find a scene where they worked. Once I couldn’t squeeze more
out of that chunk, the writing resumed, this time for specific scenes,
like the sweepers’ slaughter in the Nether, the sparring scene and the
opening shootout, but always following the main themes that had been
JG - How long time wise was the process
of scoring and editing the music to Equilibrium?
RN - I worked on the film for almost six
months, counting assisting Vicki Hiatt, but she had done a ton of work
cutting temporary music to the first versions of the reels, and
Stephanie Lowry handled the final mix and some cues that were left,
which I think took a couple of months altogether. I don't have the
details for that. The scoring itself was intermittent, with flurries of
activity at certain points.
JG - I read somewhere that the score is
entirely synthesized except for the Beethoven sequence. Is this correct?
RN - All the orchestral sounds are
samples from Media Ventures' private collection, so no symphonic
orchestra was recorded. "Real" instruments include electric guitars and
As I mentioned before, some cues were
actually assembled from other cues. What I got from Klaus and Geoff
were "stems", or premixes of groups of instruments, like strings
(violins, viola, celli, basses), brass (trumpets, horns, tubas),
orchestral percussion, electronic percussion, synthesizers, etc., so I
had everything separate for every cue. That way, I could use the
strings from a certain cue and create a new one, or take out the
percussion from another one for a more subtle scene. Kurt mentions the
music in a certain scene on the DVD, when Preston is exiting the
Resistance HQ and is
warned by Jurgen. That cue wasn't
written that way, originally. It was pieced together to fit the scene,
which segues into Mary's execution. Kurt called me from the mixing
studio to ask if that cue was written for that scene, and he seemed
very impressed when I said no. I had a nice little ego boost there.
The temp score used for the first test
screenings before Klaus jumped on board was mostly cues from Mission
Impossible: 2, The Thin Red Line and Speed. It’s funny, every time I
watch MI:2 now and listen to any music cue, I automatically think of
the scene in Equilibrium where we used it. We even got additional cues
for MI:2 from Media Ventures (Hans Zimmer scored it) that weren’t used
in that film, so Equilibrium ended up having more music from MI:2 than
MI:2 itself, if that makes any sense.
JG - Actually it does. I'll have to
remember that the next time I watch MI:2.
Did you run into any difficulties while
working on the music for the film?
RN - Sure. I was flying by the seat of my
pants most of the time, and made a few mistakes. But overall, the rest
of the team were always very supportive. Geoff in particular was great.
I kept going back to him for reassurance, and he was ultra cool.
JG - Are you surprised by the fan
response to the film and it's music?
RN - Yes. I think it's a very good film
overall, but it was painful to see Dimension dismiss it the way they
did. When I left, they had changed the title to "Defender", and I
thought they had lost their minds. So we would be talking about DF
then. But I think it's amazing how people have responded to it. I never
got to see it in theatres; I had already moved to Toronto when it came
out. But it definitely has become a cult film, and to me that's a great
thing, because it will be remembered.
JG - Many of the fans are quite perplexed
that an accompanying CD is not available to purchase thus leaving them
with bootleg or abstinence options. You mentioned on the message board
that if "Media Ventures...notice[s] enough demand for it they [might]
put it out." Is there anyway to help them notice this demand or
something the fans can do (besides piracy)?
RN - I wouldn't flood Media Ventures with
emails. That is just going to piss them off. Try stuff like sending
short letters instead, with the purpose written on the envelope
("Request to have Equilibrium's score released on CD" or something like
that), so that no one there is going to lose their time and patience.
They are a busy place, and fans will have a better chance that way, I
JG - What projects are you currently
RN - I didn't continue working as a music
editor. After another film with Klaus, I started to work as sound
designer, which in my personal opinion is much more fun. While I was
working on the film I had the chance to hear Stephen Flick's sound work
for Equilibrium and thought "this is way cooler than what I'm doing
now", so I did a film called The Laramie Project for HBO, and that was
the turning point.
I'm currently doing all the sound design
for a horror film from Los Angeles called "Shallow Ground", lots of
fun. It will hopefully come out early next year. So far I'm enjoying it
As a little trivia note, the cue that most
people have for the sparring scene between Preston and Brandt is
probably different from the one in the film. The one we used is almost
identical, but I recut the last two taiko drum hits in the movie to
match what Kurt called the “gonad tap”, Preston tapping Brandt’s
privates with his kendo stick.
Q&A from the Message Board
JG - About the vocals in the music are
these "real" or also from MV library?
RN - All the choirs are samples from the
MV library. It don't think it would have been possible to hire and
record a symphonic choir with the budget constraints for this film.
JG - I guess then it would be silly of me
to ask if they were actually singing anything understandable right?
RN - Not a silly question at all. There's
a few newer sample libraries that allow you to assemble syllables
together to form actual words (usually in Latin). I don't think that
was the case with this film, though.
Just to clarify, all the music used in
Equilibrium was written and arranged for Equilibrium, note for note,
except obviously Beethoven's Ninth. I only took all that original music
and cut it to fit different scenes, but the composers deserve full
credit for each note of the score. No part of it was prefabricated; the
samples are just the sounds of the different instruments in an
orchestra, like you would find in a synthesizer, but they sound a lot
To give you an idea of how it works, let's say a violin section is to
be sampled. The live violinists are recorded playing one note at a time
for the entire range of the violin (the lowest note to the highest).
This is repeated playing from very softly to very loudly, recording
each level of intensity separately. Then record all of that with and
without vibrato, starting quiet and getting louder, starting loud and
getting quieter, short and sharp notes, long and sweet notes, and
different techniques. If you multiply all those variables for every
instrument or group of instruments in a symphonic orchestra, you begin
to realize the complexity of a proper sample library, like the one MV
has. Their original orchestral sample library was recorded in London a
few years ago and has been used in many films to date.
JG - I believe Wimmer mentioned that he
originally cut the Beethoven sequence to the Karajan rendition but had
to recut it due to the expense . Did you get to see this original
version and if so how does it in your opinion compare to the final cut?
RN - For the Beethoven cue, it was tough
because everyone had gotten used to the Karajan version, which, as the
rest of the temp music, was okay to use for the screenings, and it
sounded so good. Just having to use an inferior version was a letdown
for everyone, especially for Kurt, but it was all we could do.
CQB - What other films have you worked on?
RN - I worked in a
drama called "The Laramie Project" for HBO, did a little sound design
work for composer Hans Zimmer on "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" for
DreamWorks; sound editing for a feature called "Star Wars: Connections"
for LucasFilms (I hope it may be included in the saga's upcoming DVDs)
and TV series like "Behind The Music" for VH1.
There's a partial
filmography at http://us.imdb.com/name/nm1084137/
Giusy - What kind of autonomy have a
music-editor? I mean..... do you have to report on every bit of
your editing to the composer or to the director?.... or they give you
some range of action? In short words.... have you been "under
pressure" in making the music-editing of Equilibrium?
RN - I had quite a bit of creative
freedom on Equilibrium, although the Director is always the one who
gives the final approval on everything. The composer usually gave
suggestions, and rightfully so, since sometimes I was tearing apart his
creation to make it fit a certain scene.
The pressure was mostly schedule-related. All changes have to be made
very quickly to get ready to mix for test screenings, several in the
case of Equilibrium, and eventually the final mix.
Giusy - Is there any difference between a
music-editor and a sound designer? And if so, what is that?
RN - ... the music editor and the sound designer belong to
different areas of sound. Sound for picture is traditionally divided in
three areas: dialogue, music and sound effects. The music editor
obviously belongs to the music area, while the sound designer belongs
to the sound effects area. One loose definition for the sound designer
is the person who creates sound effects or sound textures to either
make a scene, character or object believable, or to convey an emotion,
much in the way music does. Some examples could be the lightsabers (and
a ton of other sounds) in "Star Wars", the dinosaurs of "Jurassic
Park", the tornadoes in "Twister" or the slicing of Brandt's face in
JG - How exactly did you come to work in
this field (music/sound for film)? Was it something that you went
specifically to school to train for or did you just by chance happen to
fall into it while on some other course?
RN - I was a recording engineer for a
number of years back home, and I decided to attend an audio school to
try to "fill in the gaps" from being self-taught. I fell into sound for
picture by chance, really. My wife and I moved to Los Angeles after I
graduated, we were pretty broke and I was looking for a job. An
opportunity in audio for TV commercials came up and I took it. Well,
after being exploited by the company for a couple of months, I quit.
Things looked pretty grim, but three days later I got a call from Vicki
Hiatt saying she needed someone to help her with this movie called
"Equilibrium" and that my former supervisor had recommended me. The
actual conversation was out of this world:
"Hi, Richie, my name is Vicki Hiatt and I'm doing this
movie. Do you know ProTools?" (an audio editing application)
What's even weirder is that she called me
during my job interview for "Behind The Music", so I ended going from
having no job at all to doing both projects at the same time!
"Do you have a pulse?"
"OK, you're hired!"
Anyways, that was
my big start in audio for film. From then I just started meeting people
who introduced me to other people and so on. I think I finally have
found my niche in sound design. The technology as gotten to a point now
that I can work from my home in Toronto for a project from Los Angeles
and just FTP audio and video files back and forth while conferencing on
the phone. It's great!
you Richie for sharing with us your perspective & experience of
working on the film. - JenGe