Shawn Mendes: In Wonder is a documentary that takes a behind-the-scenes look at music artist Shawn Mendes as he embarks on his most recent world tour and grapples with the pressures of juggling fame, perfectionism and a personal life. The film takes viewers behind the music and gives a little glimpse of an artist who has come of age right before our eyes. With loads of concert footage, early career home videos and recording studio footage, the music department on this film had their work cut out for them. Music editor Shie Rozow (Wu-Tang: An American Saga, Creepshow, Guardians of the Galaxy) recently sat down to chat with us about the work that went into this project and his time working with the legendary John Singleton.
LV Taylor: Hi Shie, how are you?
Shie Rozow: Pretty good. Hope you are too.
LV Taylor: I am, thanks. So let’s go ahead and jump right in — I heard that you only had about two weeks to work on the Shawn Mendes: In Wonder project, and there are so many different musical elements involved in this. How did you guys pull it off and make it into a cohesive project?
Shie Rozow: Yeah, that’s a good question. I’m not entirely sure how the hell we pulled it off (laughing). I mean, you just kind of first go through the documentary and figure out exactly what needs to be done, and it was then I realized I had over 120 music starts and all the different things. Then you prioritize — as far as what stuff that I need to get from other people — so I gotta make sure that that balls rolling. You have to ask, what’s more urgent, what’s still up in the air? What’s pretty straightforward and can wait till later.
So you kind of prioritize and figure out what’s what. And once you have that, you just start and just go one thing at a time. Then the phone rings and somebody wants to do something specific, like now or someone’s availability is only this, that or the other, and you’re like, okay well, let me switch to that so that we can jump on a Zoom call and do this together now. Just one thing at a time — you just keep going — when things are too much, and it’s too overwhelming, you can’t think about the whole because then you’ll be paralyzed. You just have to go, “okay, I’ve got my list, and I’m just going to do one thing at a time and just cross things off the list one at a time,” and that’s it. Otherwise, you get too overwhelmed, and it’s just completely paralyzing. Yeah, so that’s what we did.
LV Taylor: Totally makes sense, one step at a time. So you said that you had 120 starts in this project, is that a lot compared to other projects you’ve worked on?
Shie Rozow: Yeah, it’s a lot. I mean, a lot of it is like there’s a home video of him singing five seconds of “Say Something” on camera — not a ton for me to do on that other than make sure that the sync is correct and that things didn’t accidentally slipped. But that five little seconds, that’s a start, and it has to be looked at, and I have to make sure that it’s right and that you’re getting into it the proper way and getting out of it the proper way so when it goes to the mix everything’s nice and smooth. A lot of the job was just cleaning up production rolls, so just literally production audio like that — just little tweaks, little cleanups — there’s a pop there, and there’s a crackle there, so just improving the quality. And then there are four concert songs, all the other different things, so you just tackle them one at a time and get through them. But, yeah, if you count up every single start and stop there, it becomes over 120. I can see exactly how many ones I open up my music list, one second. Yeah, 123 or 124, something like that.
LV Taylor: That makes the feat all the more impressive. So going to the beginning, how did you get involved with this project?
Shie Rozow: I got a call from Katherine LeBlond, who is a co-producer on it. I have known her for a few years. I met her a few years back when I worked on “Janis: Little Girl Blue,” which is the Amy Berg documentary. So that’s where we met, and we hit it off and stayed in touch ever since. She just called me out up one day, and she was like, “what’s your availability for the next two weeks?” I was actually scoring another documentary — which she had actually had recommended me to those filmmakers –, and they had a delay. So suddenly, I had a three-week hole in my schedule. While we’re waiting for them to do stuff. So I was like, “as a matter of fact, as of like 10 hours ago…” It was literally like less than half a day after finding out the other project was on hold, she jumps on hold. So the timing was perfect.
LV Taylor: Yeah, it definitely worked out in your favor.
Shie Rozow: Yeah, we’re not complaining.
LV Taylor: Is there a difference when you’re working on a project that is about a fellow musician or a project that is basically a documentary about an artist or music in general, versus a project that’s not necessarily about music?
Shie Rozow: Well, The biggest difference is that when you’re doing a non-musical project — whether it’s narrative, or documentary, or anything like that — the music truly scores. But when you’re doing a musical documentary, there’s tons of music on camera that needs to be addressed. There’s tons of stuff where you got to make sure the sync is right, you know, technical issues that don’t exist when you don’t have to make sure that it’s exactly up. If you see Shawn singing, then his mouth better move at the exact time you’re hearing those words. You know, if the sync is off it, you break it. And everything’s been cut, so it’s not like you sit there, and you get the whole song beginning to end, and it’s just there to go.
Even the concert numbers, the picture editors cut them to shorten them, so you just get a flavor of it. And sometimes it’s just like we’re just in for part of the song, but other times there’s edit so that we’re jumping around the song and creating a shorter version of it on camera. When they do it in the avid, they can only cut down to a resolution of one frame because they’re cutting video, and the video goes by frames. Sometimes a frame isn’t good enough resolution for music, and you hear a bit of a glitch, so when you get the tracks from them and the edits they made — they’re pretty good and really, really close — but because of that issue, sometimes there’s a little glitch or a little slam or a little hiccup, and it’s perceptible. So part of my job is to fix all of those hiccups because I can work at a resolution of down to the sample if I want to — I mean, I can work in essentially an infinite resolution. So I then kind of go okay, let me do that but let me fix it and nudge it ever so slightly here and nudge it ever so slightly there and do a little tweak here and a little tweak there so that the stuff that they do in the avid — which is essentially rough, even when it’s very, very good — it’s still not 100%. My job is to take it and make it 100%.
And that’s not really an issue in score because I don’t have to hit sync in the same way. So that’s a difference. Then working the material is different, so you think about it differently when you’re working with songs that everybody knows. For certainly, the fans that are watching know the songs inside and out — you can’t just take out a beat, wherever you want, to hit the picture. Where if you’re writing the original score or cutting the original score, you can do whatever you want. Nobody knows it, it’s brand new music, they accept it as they hear it. So there are challenges — it’s how you handle the music and where you make the edits and how you make the edits — those things are different.
In this one, Shawn’s manager and Shawn himself were very involved in everything. So everything I did would ultimately go to Shawn’s manager and then to Shawn, and we’d get feedback from them. I’d work with Grant [Singer], the director, and Saul [Germaine], the producer. And sometimes we do these live Zoom sessions where I have them all on Zoom, and I would stream audio in real-time, sharing my screen with them. I’m literally cutting, writing, or making changes to cues in real-time with them. Once they were happy and we got through everything, we had a big Zoom meeting where Shawn and his manager were on. I was doing the same thing with them showing them everything. And then they gave notes, and we had discussions and did tweaks. Afterwards, I had to go back and do fixes, and then most of those guys tend to them with little quick times without your review — so there’s stuff like that.
We actually have one thing that was kind of funny — I use this plugin to stream high-quality audio directly from my software to them. So they get a website link, so they have the Zoom thing and a website link to listen to in their browser. We’re doing that, and eventually, Shawn had to go. I had all my notes, and I started working on rewriting some stuff and doing some tweaks. About two hours later, I jumped back on the Zoom to use the same link, and they get on with Saul, and we’re waiting for Katherine and Grant. So I was like, well can I see what you did — so I hit play, and suddenly Shawn jumps on the Zoom and goes, “I love it!” I’m like, “really?” And he’s like, “oh yeah, I forgot to disconnect from the from streaming audio, so I’ve been listening to you composing and making all the changes. This is great.” So, the moral of the story is you got to be careful with that technology and remember to turn it off. (Laughing) Because I didn’t realize I was still streaming — I wasn’t thinking about it. He never turned off either — he was apparently just listening to me do my thing. So it was kind of funny and startling, but at the same time very efficient to listen to everything I was doing when I was doing it. So, yeah, it was an interesting experience.
LV Taylor: We’ve seen that a lot recently, you’ve got to be careful with Zoom (laughing). You’ve been a music editor on a lot of music-heavy projects — what’s been your most challenging, and which one has been your most fun?
Shie Rozow: Hmm, I think it might be the same one for both, which might be Hustle & Flow. It was a long time ago with John [Singleton, who was a producer on the film], who I miss terribly. It was only my second project with John, but John and I really hit it off. There are a lot of jokes and a lot of pranks and a lot of laughing, and just working with John is fun. I worked with him for 15 years, and we laughed a lot, and we played a lot of pranks played on each other — so it was just fun on a personal level. But Hustle was also very, very challenging because it was a very, very low budget movie but very ambitious. Normally, there would either be a music supervisor, or I will be on set when they’re shooting musical numbers. We can keep our eyes out for potential problems later and in post go “oh, we need another take, or we need to do this differently” or whatever to make sure that it’s right so you don’t have to fix it in the post, but rather you can improve it in post.
We didn’t really have that here because it was done super cheap. I remember having conversations with John and saying, “do me a favor, please, make sure you or somebody does this review or somebody watches for that.” And then when I got it back, some things were good and some not so much. So there were technical challenges. Cutting lip sync for Rap, especially fast Rap, is incredibly hard. And a lot of the style of the songs do this thing with the voice, and then they literally copy-paste the track twice, and they move it one frame ahead and one frame behind so it creates this weird effect on the voice — but it also makes you aware in the sync on the first or second frame. So there is a lot of cutting — it’s technically right, but it doesn’t feel right, or it doesn’t look right, so there’s a lot of just nudging and messing around. There’s also a ton of songs in it, so I think we tried somewhere around 400 different songs to end up with however many that we ended up within the film — 80 or 90 starts total.
There was a first-time composer [Scott Bomar] who had never scored anything to picture, so there were a lot of challenges there. We were recording in studios in Memphis where a lot of the old Stax Records were done — it’s like at the studio where Isaac Hayes recorded some of his biggest hits — and we were working with some of these great musicians like Skip Pitts and Willie Hall on drums and Marvell Thomas on keys and stuff. They’re not film guys — they’re not used to recording with a click and to being accurate to picture. The studio wasn’t even set up to run picture at the same time that we were recording, so there were just a lot of technical challenges due to budget, times, schedule, circumstances, and stuff. So it was super, super challenging, but because of John and the friendship that we were developing during that film, it was fun. We kind of hit it off on our first film together, which was 2 Fast 2 Furious. Once it was in post, he and I spent a lot of time together — a lot of time on the phone and a lot of time going back and forth. So that was a really cool one.
Even if you’ve seen the film, Djay [Terrence Howard] plays this little Casio keyboard that he gets — none of those sounds were done on set. It made no sound. I ended up getting the actual instrument that’s on camera — John sent it to me. I was playing with it — it didn’t even have an output, well, it had an output, but it didn’t work, so I had to mic it and literally record sound. Every sound that you hear coming out of that thing in the film I actually did in the post after the fact using the actual instrument. Half the time, the button that he’s pressing doesn’t even make the sound that you’re hearing because it didn’t work creatively, but it is coming from that same box every time. So yeah, that one had a lot of interesting challenges, but it was a very special project.
LV Taylor: Sounds like it. I just have one final question for you — what are you working on now, or what’s up next for you?
Shie Rozow: Taking a nap. Kidding. I have actually been very fortunate to stay pretty busy, even since the shutdown and everything. I mentioned there as the independent documentary that I scored — we’re waiting to hear about some film festivals which will determine when the premiere — that’ll premiere in the next month or two. I’m working on Season Two of Creepshow as music editor with Chris Drake, the composer. I just started up on Season Two of Stargirl — again, music editing for Pinar Toprak. We worked together on Season One. And I’m also finishing up another scored indie feature called “Monologue,” which is just a beautiful, beautiful film that I’m absolutely in love with — it’s really fun to write that score, and I’m almost done writing it. So yeah, I got my hands full.
LV Taylor: Yeah, you are definitely keeping busy.
Shie Rozow: I’ve been very, very fortunate — literally last week I just finished a film — music editing another film for the Welcome to the Blumhouse series — it’s my fourth for them. And I think, well not I think, I know there’s one more coming right after the new year — it’s in post already. So I’ve got that coming up too, my fifth “Welcome to the Blumhouse” Yeah, so not a lot of time to take a nap.
LV Taylor: Right! Doesn’t sound like it, but we’re definitely looking forward to seeing all these projects that you just mentioned and all of your future work. I want to thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with us today!
Shie Rozow: Thank you.