SH Spotlight "The most complicated project SH ever worked on?" Franz Waxman "The Nun's Story" WB soundtrack CD

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Nov 13, 2013.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    A guy asked me that in a PM today. I thought about it for two seconds and then remembered. Of all the RELEASED projects, simple. Oh, yes. Audrey Hepburn in Fred Zinnemann's "THE NUN'S STORY" soundtrack, music composed and conducted by Franz Waxman. Without a doubt. I'm playing the CD DCC released now for the first time in over 20 years and it's all coming back to me. The good, the bad and the really ugly.

    You don't own this, you've probably never seen it or heard of it. No matter, it's somber music, a famous music score, favorite of a few film fans.

    Originally a Warner Bros. "Vitaphonic Stereo" Sound Stage LP release in 1959 (WS-1306), rare as hell, especially in stereo. Rod McKuen did an LP reissue of it on his Stanyan label in fake quad in the 1970's.

    Our new version was going to be a snap. Just duplicate the old WB stereo LP and bingo. But NOOOOOOOOOO. I had to open my big mouth. Ya see, at that time I was moonlighting at Warner Bros. doing restoration work on the masters that were saved in the "Music Storage" vault on the lot, almost everything ever recorded on the famous Stage 9. The place where Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner conducted all the WB film scores from the early 1930's on..

    At any rate, when I got to THE NUN'S STORY I was made aware that there were a pile of reels from this movie, all music cues and it was right at that point (without investigating further) that I suggested to Rod McKuen and DCC that we do a super-duper deluxe version of the soundtrack.

    So, the problem began when I realized that I didn't know the film, didn't know the music, didn't know nothing except I had to wear goggles and a gas mask to work on the Music Storage stuff and it damn near was giving me a nervous breakdown. Vintage film reels suffer from what's known as "Vinegar Syndrome" where the materials deteriorate and emit toxic fumes. Ain't a walk in the park, bucko. The film stock breaks down (especially the light brown 35mm mag) mainly because it was stored in METAL CANS. The cheap studios that stored their stuff on pancakes and cardboard out of cheapness just lucked out, pure dumb luck. No chemical reaction.

    Back in the 1950's Jack Warner HATED stereo, the added expense, the extra mag dubbers, converting theatres to stereo, the whole thing. When a picture went into release, he instructed the sound department to ERASE all the stereo mag and reuse it for the next film. So they did, but the sound guys panicked and copied everything on more stable Scotch 111 recording tape and secretly stored it, freeing up the ratty used 35mm mag for the next project. They would use it over and over (Auntie Mame, The Music Man, Gypsy, My Fair Lady) until it just fell apart.

    So, I asked for (innocently, actually) Steve in the sound dept. at WB to ship us everything on THE NUN'S STORY to be sent over to Location Recording Service in Burbank so Kevin Gray and I could start figuring this thing out.

    Much to my surprise, the music score was recorded NOT at WB in Burbank, but at this Cine Studio in Italy called FONO LUX. So, all of those reels I started with, 40 of them, unmarked except for cue numbers. That's it. Oh, and the date (8-20-58, etc). The studio chatter which MIGHT have given me a clue was all in friggin' ITALIAN. Oh, I got a translation book. Most of the chatter had to do with "speed". It took their dubbers like 5 minutes to get up to speed for some reason. Every time they stopped the thing it wowed down and then wowed back up again. Not too many calls for three channel mag in Italy I would imagine.

    Since I didn't have a clue as to what was what and the entire thing was in mono and out of order, I just put it together (preserving the approved "Take" and leaving the outs) in cue order and trying to listen to the soundtrack album to get a clue what was what.

    Well, that didn't work, it was incomprehensible to me so I asked WB Records (a different setup, bosses, legal people, etc.) to see what they had on THE NUN'S STORY (hoping it was in movie order). Well, they had a ton of s*** on the film because since it was going to be a soundtrack, they had the three-tracks. Yes!!!

    No. They had them, but guess what? UNEDITED, in the same f*****g wrong order as the Music Storage reels. At least they were in true stereo (rare for WB to save anything like that, but it was WB records that saved the stuff, not the film co.)

    So, did they have a edited master of the thing? A cutting master that they used to make the old LP? No, only mono.

    Sigh. I asked Rod McKuen how he did it. He said he didn't do it and that Franz Waxman and his son did it for him. Well that wasn't going to happen so we called in an expert in film scores to come over to LRS and give me a hand with the stuff. He was a wild dude but he knew his stuff..

    I remember writing on a big piece of graph paper, giant, like two feet by three feet (this was before the ability to do it on a home computer) and I marked the cue numbers in order while the guy told me FROM MEMORY what each cue was, what part of the movie it was from and a good "title" for the cue so we could find a good hour of music with proper titles. He was (is) an amazing expert authority on film music.

    I still hadn't seen the film (and never would until the laserdisc came out, way after I was finished (dang it).

    Then, another bombshell, the expert casually asks me this:

    "It's not all here, where are the Heindorf sessions?"


    Well, Ray Heindorf re-recorded much of the score in Burbank in a giant remake session in December of 1958 and the beginning of 1959 on Scoring Stage 9. This was without the consent or knowledge of Franz Waxman but that was beside the point. Happened all the time in Hollywood (The Spirit Of St. Louis, same thing). I was told that the final score in the film was a mix of Heindorf Burbank and Waxman Italy sessions and to do it right we had to find those reels.

    Well, back over to WB, same deal, goggles, gas mask on and I found them and brought them over to LRS, a short distance away in Burbank (actually I think I made the WB union driver do that, too heavy at that point for me).

    The next day my music score expert was missing, turns out he had been in some kind of bar fight and we searched the local hospitals for him, without him, I was cooked and so was the project. Later, when he staggered in with a giant black eye, I quickly sat him down and we went through the same thing over again with the score, comparing, fixing, editing, listening and basically driving me bonkers. You see the "songs" (the cues) were made up of a bunch of shorter cues that had to be blended together to make a seamless piece. Each little piece was totally out of order on the reels and had to be found manually, slowly, really deadly slowly (we were doing this in analog, not digital) and it was crazy bad. What made it worse is that our studio bills were getting out of hand. There were fights about who was going to pay for all of this. I felt guilt but we couldn't stop now.

    To make a long story end, I'll skip over the actual boring mastering part.

    Eventually we got it all the way it was going to be, and Rod McKuen approved it (thank goodness).

    From the minute I finished mastering it to this afternoon all these years later I hadn't played one note of the recording. Even thinking about it gave me the shivers.

    It was weird listening to it after all this time, sounded pretty good, the Italian stuff was really badly recorded, overloaded, shrill and just a bit nutsy, but I tamed it a bit in mastering and actually now that I'm a big fan of the film I'm glad we went the extra mile on it.

    But it was a pain. I still can't believe I did the thing without ever having seen one frame of the movie.

    What makes me sad is that I think the entire WB Music Storage vault was destroyed. Jeff Joseph had a reel of AUNTIE MAME score that a dumpster diver had fished out of a trash can in Burbank. Jeff showed it to me and with a shock, I recognized my handwriting on the box, marking what the cues were, etc. Dumped. Sad.

    The second most complicated (actually would have been first if it had actually progressed to the mastering stage) was the WB soundtrack to THE MUSIC MAN. This is the one (along with GYPSY that actually was mastered but unissued) that actually had me starting to have a breakdown. Had to quit.. No sprocket holes to sync up reels of overdubbed choir, vocals, etc. to the basic music tracks. Insane and my health was going. Such is life.

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  2. videoman

    videoman Forum Resident

    Lake Tahoe, NV
    Now THAT'S a good story!
    A Local Bloke, TonyCzar and willy like this.
  3. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    I can laugh now, but just barely..
  4. konut

    konut Prodigious Member. Thank you.

    Whatcom County, WA
    "friggin' ITALIAN" priceless!
    McLover likes this.
  5. Gary

    Gary Nauga Gort! Staff


    I had no idea this existed, either!
  6. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Probably sold 2,000 of them at most.. Not a title for the masses, only soundtrack fans and even then, it's pretty sad music.

    Good mastering story though, you have to admit.
    McLover and Anonamemouse like this.
  7. john lennonist

    john lennonist There ONCE was a NOTE, PURE and EASY...

    Slightly off topic, Steve, but haven't you from time-to-time also posted that your DCC Eagles "Hotel California" and DCC Cream "Wheels of Fire" were two of your most difficult?

    I have and love both, but my "Hotel California" LP especially sounds incredible! :eek:
  8. Gary

    Gary Nauga Gort! Staff

    More like amazing than merely "good" and an excellent example of the "deep dive" in mastering, leaving no stone unturned. In other words, the usual "Steve" effort. :cool:
    Anonamemouse likes this.
  9. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Not compared to The Nun's Story or The Music Man (unissued).
    McLover likes this.
  10. swandown

    swandown Under Assistant West Coast Forum Resident

    Portland, OR
    Awesome story, Steve! Just one question: why not find an Italian translator to help you get through the film chatter?
    BeatlesBop likes this.
  11. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Oh, I got a translation book. Most of the chatter had to do with "speed". It took their dubbers like 5 minutes to get up to speed for some reason. Every time they stopped the thing it wowed down and then wowed back up again. Not too many calls for three channel mag in Italy I would imagine.
    McLover likes this.
  12. Hawkman

    Hawkman Supercar Gort Staff

    New Jersey
    Hmm. Now I want to see the film. Never saw it.

    Probably love the soundtrack. Damn.
  13. ascot

    ascot Senior Member

    Stick to rock 'n roll, Steve! :D Thanks for the story.
  14. Steve, "The Music Man" soundtrack CD project must have been a real :cussing: if it made you actually give up...that's a war story I'd like to read about if you can handle it now...
    Clark V Kauffman likes this.
  15. Balthazar

    Balthazar Forum Resident

    Admittedly, I won't be buying the soundtrack, but I definitely plan to see this film now. It's funny to think about how similar your job is to archaeology, at times.
  16. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Well, just imagine this. Not just orchestra, but choir and a barbershop quartet and a lead singer. All on separate reels, takes unmarked, unsynced. 100 reels, decomposing, dreadful. No digital Sonic system to do any work on (not invented yet)..
  17. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    "The Nun's Story" is a great movie, everyone should see it. Quite remarkable..
  18. kevinsinnott

    kevinsinnott Forum Coffeeologist

    Chicago, IL USA
    I happened (honest) to have this film in my Netflix queue. It arrives tomorrow. I'm watching Fred Zinnemann films right now after recently viewing Day of the Jackal. But, I'm always interested in a film's music. The chances of your remastering this CD is beyond anything I could have expected. I will be very eager to hear it.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2013
  19. Paul Chang

    Paul Chang Forum Old Boy, Former Senior Member Has-Been


    Did you wish you could have done it digitally? :help:
  20. Sounds like an unholy mess to wade wonder you waved the white flag on the "Music Man" CD project!!!
  21. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Seattle, WA
    Wow, that project sounds like it was a living hell.
  22. Doctorwu

    Doctorwu Senior Member

    Fascinating read!
  23. Chris C

    Chris C Music was my first love and it will be my last!

    Steve, I find the work that you do in mastering fascinating, but when I read your story above regarding the time and effort that really goes into this type of work, especially on such a rare title as this one, it makes me happy to know that there is at least one person out there doing it right, or at the very least, to the best of your own ability. I will add though, that when your own health is in jeopardy, that may be a good time to step back and reevaluate the project's worth?
  24. KeithH

    KeithH Success With Honor...then and now

    Beaver Stadium
    Interesting story! I had never heard of the soundtrack, so I never knew about the DCC CD.
  25. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident

    Couldn't help myself ... just bought the only copy of this that I could see on Amazon. My wallet hates our host's excellent stories.

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