Les Misérables - Behind the Scenes

If you're intrigued to get some behind the scenes info on the new movie of Les Misérables, then look no further! 

Catherine Grieves, a member of our choir the Starling Singers, was involved in the movie, and answered our questions about the film here... 

Can you explain a little bit about what your job involves?

I work for a company that does film and television music supervision, and are agents to a roster of film composers. This means we can be involved in any and every area of music for film and TV, depending on the project. A music supervisor is the head of the music department on a film - it‘s their responsibility to bring all musical aspects together creatively and within budget, including on-set music, songs on the soundtrack and recording the score. My job can involve anything from budgeting a recording session, booking studios, musicians, engineers etc, to finding the right song to use for a film scene and negotiating fees with record labels and publishers, with lots in between!

With the above in mind, what was your involvement with the film of Les Misérables and what were the biggest musical challenges with this film?

As a huge fan of musical theatre and Les Misérables, I was really excited to be involved in the movie as Assistant Music Supervisor. 

It was a huge challenge musically: as I’m sure most of you know, Les Mis is all singing, it’s not like a typical musical where there are individual songs interspersed between dialogue. Usually when a song is performed on-set, the actor will pre-record their vocal in a recording studio, where it is edited to make the best possible performance, and then played back on-set for the actor to lip-sync to. With Les Mis, the director Tom Hooper wanted to take a different, ground-breaking approach, and record all of the vocals live. This was new territory for modern film, so in the early stages of the film we had to organise tests to see if recording sung vocals live would feasibly work. People are used to hearing vocals that have been recorded in a studio environment with expensive, carefully positioned microphones and clear headphone monitoring, whereas recording live would mean using small radio mics attached to the actor’s clothes with small, tiny, in-ear monitors. All of the technical sound recording and monitoring methods had to be experimented with by the sound team, with consultation from Abbey Road recording engineers - but it was still a big risk (that luckily paid off!)

My role on this film was as a background support to the music supervisor, so throughout the year long process from pre-production to the film’s release I was involved in things like making sure key cast and crew had the latest draft of the continuously changing score, organising demo CDs for the cast, booking studios, engineers, vocal coaches, pianists, music editors, programmers, musicians and vocalists, etc. The music was a learning curve for everyone involved, and with it being such a huge aspect of the film, everyone wanted it to be the best it possibly could be, so the musical requirements changed continuously, often with very short notice.

What are your favourite memories of working on the film?

I coordinated a couple of choir recording sessions up at Pinewood Studios, which were used to make the big choral numbers sound even bigger. Time is money, so it was key that we used singers who knew the show inside out and that needed no rehearsal, so we used 48 West End singers who had all been in the stage show in recent years - the sound in the studio was pretty phenomenal!

What were your experiences of being on set for this movie?

I got to visit the set down in Greenwich (or the streets of central Paris!) when they were filming Lamarque’s funeral and the students start the protest against the army and police. Being a couple of metres away from Eddie Redmayne knocking a soldier off his horse with a flag, jumping off the funeral carriage on to the moving horse, while a stampede of twenty horses and loads of extras are running past you is pretty exciting, even after the fifth take! You don’t see Eddie’s jump in the final film, which is a shame as the boy's got skills!

Do you think the film of Les Misérables will spark a renaissance for movie musicals, and in particular the use of live singing in film?

I hope so! I’m currently working on the film version of Sunshine On Leith which is The Proclaimers musical - it’s the opposite end of the scale from Les Misérables in terms of budget, and is using the traditional pre-record method. Though with a pop based musical, I’m not sure the live route would have the same advantages. The film version of My Fair Lady has been in development for a while, so I’m hoping that the success of Les Misérables might mean they start production soon as it’s one of my faves!