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Richie Nieto Interview

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Thanks to Suzana for the Screen Caps!!

Editing EQ's Music
Interview with Richie Nieto

Music Editor on Equilibrium

First off I want to personally thank Richie Nieto for offering to answer questions about the music from Equilibrium and my appreciation that he has already taken the time to respond on the site's message board. The fans are eager for any information they can get and the music/score is one of the most asked about subjects. Definitely the site's most active topic and the one I get the most e-mails on.

 The Interview

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 process?

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.

Scoring Equilibrium - Richie Nieto, Geoff Zanelli, and Klaus Badelt

Image property of hanszimmer-archiv.de 2001/Dirk Hein /(c)

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 established before.

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 some percussion.

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 think.

JG - What projects are you currently working on?

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 very much.

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.

Continuing 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 more real.

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.

Related Links

Richie Nieto @ IMDb

Richie Nieto Website

Interview at Full Sail

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 "Equilibrium".

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)
"Do you have a pulse?"
"Uhh... yeah..."
"OK, you're hired!"
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!

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!

Again, thank you Richie for sharing with us your perspective & experience of working on the film. - JenGe

 Comments on the Boards

Other remarks by Richie Nieto
from the site's Message Board
On a soundtrack release:
If the studio doesn't show interest in releasing the soundtrack, sometimes MV [Media Ventures] will license it to a label like Milan Records. This was the case with "The Pledge", a score by Badelt/Zimmer that I edited for its CD release.

Maybe if they notice enough demand for it they will put it out. Who knows.


About Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, First Movement:
I was given 9 or 10 CDs with different versions to choose from. Most of them were awful, either performance-wise, sound-wise, or both. I don't even know what was the one version chosen in the end (Stephanie Lowry handled that). I believe the person who knows for sure is Joe Rangel, who was in charge of music clearance at Miramax.

A link for those interested:

Geoff is an extremely cool and nice guy, and a great composer. He wrote a great deal of music for Equilibrium and deserves a lot of the credit for the edge of the action scenes. 

Add your thoughts & comments on the site's message board...