On December 13th, Gotham Sound and Sennheiser hosted veteran film and television sound mixer Dennis Maitland at a screening of the movie Lenny. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of his talk.
Dennis Maitland at the Walt Disney Screening Room
Look for his book Never Slap the Bellboy - an autobiography of his expereinces in the TV and Film business soon.
On meeting Jackie Gleason and working on the Jackie Gleason Show
I was at CBS, and I was at my very early audio stage. I was doing soap operas. The way that they matriculated in television was that you spent four or five or six years doing soap operas, and then they would work you into a night-time show. Night-time didn't pay any different but you "had arrived" if you did night-time shows.
So I was doing the soap operas, in the soap opera stage. I got a phone call from the scheduling department. They asked me if I wanted to work on Saturday, which was my day off, and it would have been time and a half pay. I said, "What's the job?"
They said, "Record man on the Jackie Gleason Show. They need you for a bit."
So I said, it's night time and it's Jackie Gleason, and big-time crews and everything like that. I was about 20, 21 years old.
So I went over and they were doing a Reggie Van Gleason bit. The Honeymooners used to be a bit, and Reggie Van Gleason used to be a bit and Poor Soul used to be a bit. Reggie Van Gleeson was the guy who wore the black tie, and a very tall, opera hat like Lincoln. He was a womanizing fool and a drinking fool, but he was an interesting character.
Jackie Gleason as Reggie Van Gleason III
One of the scenes that he did is, he is in this mansion and he goes in front of this large library of books and everything and he looks around and he sees nobody is there and he goes over and he pulls one book out and he turns the switch on. And out of the bookshelf, along the shelf, the lower shelf of the book and around, comes this train. And it's pulling along a number of boxcars behind it, open flatcars with different bottles of booze on it.
And my bit is that when he presses the button and the door opens for the train to come out, I am to play "Chattanooga Choo Choo", the old Tex Beneke, you know, "pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?" And then it goes toot, toot, toot and goes around and he picks one out, he takes it, does this -- tympani, rim shot and he goes, "That's good booze," and he always got it, it was what it was one of his lines anyway.
So, it was a very, very simple bit and I had been a record man on the Kovacs show, Ernie Kovacs in the morning. And Ernie allowed us to do whatever we wanted to do. I mean, if he was dying on there, I was the record man, I could put anything on [that] I wanted to and then he would play off of it. And many times it was successful and sometimes it died, but then it was my fault and he blamed me on television, but he got out of the bit. So, it is always a natural thing for me, anyway.
So I was there in the daytime going through rehearsals, and I did a rehearsal - it was piece of cake. And I'm sitting there and there is a record rack over here and there is the old 78s that are there. I'm not going to watch the rehearsals, so I take them down and put the thing on, play it to myself and there is "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", and all those old things, and Dorsey and Harry James and everything like that. And one of them is Perry Como singing "Prisoner of Love," which "Alone from night to night you will find me, too weak to break the chains that bind me."
It so happens that Jackie and Perry were very good friends and NBC put Perry up against Jackie Gleason and he was clobbering him. So we did the show and as we got to the Honeymooner skit, Art Carney was quite the drinker and he blew three pages of dialog. So at the end of every show Gleason would come out in this velvet long smoking jacket down to the ground and rap with the audience. And fill the time if there was time to fill.
Perry Como on set at NBC.
Well, this day there was time, there were three pages of dialogue to fill and he came out and he started and he died, he absolutely died. I mean, you think the thing was bad with [Lenny] Bruce in the beginning, I mean the audience turned on him like you can't believe. I mean they were animals. And he out of total frustration said, "I wonder what Perry Como is doing now."
I don't know why I did it, I was 21 or 22 and married and I just automatically grabbed the record and - bang! and I hit it, and it played out on the stage and on the air.
Video is in one cubicle and the sound was in our own cubicle and the director, I mean the intercom just came off the wall and he was screaming, "Who the fuck! Get that off, get that off."
I couldn't even hear what Jackie was doing, because he was screaming so loud and I kept saying to myself "Why did you do this? Are you crazy? I mean all the things that you've been planning on, they are gone." And even the mixer over there said to me, "Turn that down, get it off, get it off," and I couldn't turn it off. So the show went off the air and the other man said, "Oh boy, you are really in for it." And over the speaker the guy says, "I want the audio man backstage, I want him backstage now."
So we went backstage and there they all are and I came back and I was scared. And the director said, "Who did this?" And the audio man said, "He did it, he did it. I didn't tell him, I told him to turn it off." And he was like, "Did you do it?" And I said, "No, ggh."
Gleason comes trumpeting down the backstairs and he sounded like a bull elephant in musk coming down there. "Who the hell did it? Who you put that damn thing on for Christ sake?" And everybody pointed to me. And he says "What's your name kid?"
And I said, "da-da-da." I could not say my name. I mean, he had scared the bejesus out of me and he said, "What?"
I said, "da-da-da..." then he said, "Dennis?" I said, "Yeah, yeah." He said, "Do you have a last name?" "Ma-ma-ma-mai..."
"And you put that on? Did you do it by yourself?" And I said, "Ye, ye, ye, yeah."
And then he turned to all his writers and everyone, "You idiots, I pay you guys a million dollars for Christ sake to give me stuff to save my ass and this kid, who I don't even know, comes out and he puts this thing on and I worked it with the audience and got big laughs," (which I never heard)." Well, I was the audio man on his show from that point on for three years and he used to always call me kid.
That's how I got started in nighttime television. I didn't have to do seven years on soaps.
On mixing for Live Telelvision, and why Dennis Left
I came from live television. So we would have 40, 50 mics at a time. So as a matter of fact, I left CBS because I loved live television. I loved the excitement of it, of not knowing. In live television there was no, "hey, wait a minute." If you fucked up, it's gone. It's on the air. I could have always done films as a steady living and made more money, but I loved that excitement of live TV and when videotape came to television where you could stop and do another take, I lost interest, because there was no more "separate the men from the boys," you know what I am saying, I might as well go out and make money. So I did.
On being a soundperson for film and TV
First of all, sound is a thankless job. I don't mean that it is not a worthy job or that it is not a rewarding job.
There are only two people on the set that really are not told what to do. One is the director and the other is the sound person. Everybody else is told what to do.
The boom man, to me, is my forward leader. He is the guy who tells me what is a difficult thing to do on this set. He is my lead man. He is my liaison between everybody on the set. I give them total credit.
Everybody thinks that they can do sound. The same way as everybody thinks you can do boom. "You know, well, we'll have the PA boom" - I am sorry; it just doesn't work that way. Boom work is an art. There is no way around it...
I remember this one situation where there was a shadow in the background, on the wall. The electrician came over to me and he said in front of everybody, "Can't you use a wireless?"
I said, "I beg your pardon?"
And he said, "Can't you use a wireless."
I said, "Well, can't you put that 750 on a trombone and drop it down and kick the shadow up? Or cut it here and back fill it?"
And he said, "Well, yeah."
I said, "And why are you asking me whether I can use wireless? I would never tell you that. You know what you are doing. Well, I know what I'm doing."
On reading the script, and listening to actors' dialogue
I did a movie with Kirk Douglas and a woman named Sylva Koscina. She was Italian. And [after the] first day… we get a phone call from California, and an executive says, "We can't understand her because she had a very heavy accent." I understood her, the director understood her, we didn't have a problem, and later in the day, the executive called back and he said, "I watched it again, and I understood her."
I said to myself, how can that be? I understood her, because I knew what she was saying. The director understood her, because he knew what she was saying. And the executive...heard it for the second time, so now he knew what it said.
From that point forward, I never read another script before I did the movie.
I had my boom man read the script, he would tell me (so I could cover my ass) what the scene was, and basically what the story was, because if the director comes to me and says, "Hey, you know, in the scene coming up..." and I'm saying: "Yeah sure…Boom man! Boom man! Come over here."
Any time that there is something wrong with sound, it is wrong. Because the minute that something takes you out of what the director is trying to put you in - and the scene that he is trying to put you in, the mood that he is trying to put you in... When somebody turns to somebody and says, "What did he say?" - they are both out of what the director wanted.
Every time when you go to dailies, you come out and the director is patting the DP on the back and saying what a beautiful shot, and the camera man is saying, 'did you see where I did this and I did that.'
And [when] nobody says anything about sound - you know you did a good job. But if you are waiting to hear it, you are not going to hear it. The only time you ever hear [about] sound is if something was wrong...That is just the way it is.
The tooth fairy never corrects anything at Dailies, by the way. So if something is wrong when you did it, it's wrong when you see it the next day. You can't go home and pray.
On Working With John Casavettes for the first time
I'll tell you the first time I ever met John Cassavetes. I did a movie called Husbands, and we went in to see a rehearsal, and...Ben Gazarra, and Peter Falk, and John were there, sitting at a table. They introduced everybody, (transportation) captain and script supervisor and so on down the line, and then the three guys start talking to each other, and you know, it was like a Friday, and I was off early, I want to go home. And I'm waiting for them to start doing a scene, and they're talking about this poor guy who was a friend of theirs who died, I think the week before or something, they went to the funeral.
John Cassavetes and Ben Gazarra in Husbands
I listened to that thing for like 20 minutes, you know, and I'm saying, when in the hell are they going to do the damn story? So I turn to the script supervisor, I say: "Are they going to do this thing or not?"
He says, "What do you mean?"
I said, "When are they going to rehearse?"
He said, "They just did."
I said, "THAT was the rehearsal?" It was so real that I thought... there was no way…[that] it was nothing more than just conversation between three friends.
Anyway, so the first day that we go on location, we're at a blue collar bar on 86th Street and Third Avenue, and it was the kind of a bar where the owner lives upstairs with his family, and at night at 7:00, they pull the purple curtains down and it's over, and at eight they open the following morning.
Now, John did a lot of homework. He loved to use people off the street and do adlib dialogue etc., so he went drinking at this place for a number of weeks, and he got together a coterie of, say, about six or seven neighborhood people. Some of them pretty bad looking.
And when we were going to do the scene, he has three cameras - wide, medium, and close - and it was totally adlib, and John said, "Don't worry about what you're going to say, we'll ask you the questions, or we'll bring you into it, we'll lead you into what we want basically for you to say, so don't worry about it, alright?"
I'm looking at this thing, and I went to John and I said, "John, I'm going to have to somehow wire these people." And he said, "Why?"
I said, "Because you're shooting the world with one camera, and half the world with the next one, and close-up with the next one. I can't... how's a boom going to..."
He said, "Well, the boom man will come down for that shot."
I said, "How's he going to know when to come down?"
He said, "He'll come down when something's interesting."
I said, "You want my boom man to decide what's interesting, and come down? No, I'm sorry, you can't do that."
And he said, "Are you telling me how to direct?"
And I said, "No, no, I didn't intend to."
He said, "Well, fuck you."
And I said, "Pardon me?"
And he said, "Fuck you."
And I said, "Well, excuse me, Mr. Cassavetes, fuck you!"
He stormed off the set, and I'm stunned. I thought he was kidding.
I go back standing behind the mixer, and he's in the back, and Ben Gazarra goes over to him, got his arm around him and everything, and he's apparently trying to explain to him what I have in mind... So, he's down at the end, maybe 50 feet away. And he's mouthing to me, "Fuck you." And I'm saying to myself, what in the hell have I gotten myself into here? So I'm standing there, I mouth "Fuck You".
He leaps to his feet, and he comes running down the bar. And he's got one of these Jack Nicholson "Here's Johnny!" looks, you know, from "The Shining" on his face. And I say, this son of a bitch is going to clock me. So I say, well, I've got to stand up. And as he's coming down - and this is all split-second thinking, you know, and I say, what am I going to do? And I say, well, how close do I let him come before he's in my territory? And you know it's... purely a defense; I say to myself, "You take the shot. That's something you can do, and then you're going to be right. Just prepare for it."
He ran up to me, and he went forehead-to-forehead and nose-to-nose touching, and he says, "Fuck you."
And I said, "Fuck you."
He said, "Fuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyou."
I said, "Fuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyou."
He said, "You only said it four times, I said it five." He kissed me on the mouth, and he said, "Wire everybody, let's go!"
And that was my first meeting with John Cassavetes. And I wound up doing five of his movies, too. And .... if I would see him on the street, he'd say it out loud, as he was passing by: "Fuck you Dennis Maitland!"
On Meeting Bob Fosse on Day One of "Lenny"
I was hired by the producer to do Lenny, and Fosse didn't get a chance to interview me, and he was not happy about that. So when I was introduced to him, the producer introduced me and said Dennis is "technically qualified", and so on.
And then Fosse turned to me and he said, "Well, you will be sure and tell me when I am not doing something technically right, will you?"
And I knew I was dead from the minute that he said that.
And the first day of shooting, we did a night club scene with 300 extras and it was shot with six cameras and we shot it as a live piece with a live orchestra, we balanced the orchestra and the audience reaction and everything like that. And he got on the intercom to announce that he was going to do the take and he said, "I want to make this announcement first - nobody cuts the take, I am the only one to cut the take and Dennis Maitland, you can tell me what I did wrong technically afterwards."
Now, this is in front of everybody, and so I am saying to myself, "Uh-huh, OK, this is going to be a great movie." So, we started it, and a minute in, one of the extras stepped on an electrical junction box and knocked out the sound - he knocked my power out and I hollered "Cut."
And he said," Who said that?"
I went, "Uhhh" " I wanted to give him an alias, but I couldn't think of anything, so I said, "I did."
"Why did you say cut it?" And so he came in on the set and he started to holler.
Well, I have never accepted hollering from anybody or to my crew either, so I said, "Calm yourself. Did you want me to go through the whole thing, it is a half-an-hour show, do you want me to go through the whole thing and tell you afterwards I didn't roll any of it?" I said, "If that is what you want, if you call that technical, then I guess that is technical." So that made him even madder at me because I cut it for a good reason.
On Dennis' choices of equipment for "Lenny"
I used cheap microphones as he made his rise from small clubs to bigger clubs. At the end, when he was at the end of his drug addiction... He was on stage and he was no longer telling jokes. He was now pushing the First Amendment thing, and everything.
I took the microphone. I opened it up, took the blast filter out, and put a connector on there that was loose. So, when he talks, he pops. There was no way that you can add that in post-production, because that is a physical air pressure situation. Unless you loop it, there is no way that you are going to reproduce it.
In the men's room scene, where he is going bananas... The men's room was very reverberant. If it would have been a feature [film shot] in color or anything... Don't ask me why I would do it, but I would wire them. And then use maybe the room for its flavor.
Dustin Hoffman in Lenny.
I liked the bounce so much, especially at the point of him arguing and shouting in here, that I didn't use any wireless. I used just the overhead. The mic pick-up is not that great, but that is exactly the effect that I wanted.
At dailies - Dustin [Hoffman] used to come to dailies too - Fosse said, "Well we will have to loop that." Dustin said, "Not with me. I mean, I am frustrated. This is it and kicking around is where it's at."
On modern cinematography techniques and the use of wireless microphones
Wireless microphones had and have a great use, if they are used properly. DPs are not as good as they were in my day, because when you lit something like this in black and white, you had to know what the hell you were doing. Even in garbage, lemon peels and egg shells look beautiful in color. So everything looks great and they always lit for sound. And if you couldn't possibly do it, then we had to work something else out, hidden mics or something, but they always tried.
Today, they just say wire everybody and let's go. And it sucks... I don't like it at all, because nothing can beat an overhead sound of a boom, nothing can beat it in terms of what sounds really meaty to it.
On Wireless Mic Etiquette
I never ever repeated anything I ever heard on a wireless microphone, not even to my wife, because there would have only been one way that it could have gotten out, and that would have been me.
|George Segal and Barbra Streisand in The Owl and the Pussycat
[Barbra] Streisand did this to me a couple of times when she cooled off and talked with George Segal [between takes of The Owl and The Pussycat]. And they'd say, "Do you think Dennis can hear me?" Well, of course I can hear you and I'm listening. And they look at me and I'm cleaning off the mixer and everything and then Segal says to her, "I will check." Now they are about 100 feet away from me, he says, "DENNIS!!!!!!" into the microphone.
Well I don't move. I mean he could have blown my eardrums out and there is no way that I was going to react to it.
And so I learned that if you want to stay on the air, you just clean the mixer up and do what you want.
On Why Dennis' Book Will Be Called "Never Slap The Bellboy"
I was doing a movie in Denmark and we were shooting in a seaside resort and it was now into September, so everybody has left it. And it was a story that the Israelis were honoring the fact that the Danes slipped Jews over to Sweden, smuggled them over against the Germans and they did that to many, many, many, many people who were slipped over to Sweden via the Danes. So, Israel was going to honor them with this documentary.
We went to this small town and we got to the hotel, this guy, I guess about 25, blonde hair, came out in a cutaway suit and he was the porter, took our luggage in and then he became the registrar when we signed in and then he was the concierge, afterwards he told us where we could go and then he was the headwaiter at dinner. And really, there was no one there, but our crew.
So we'd go out to shoot, we shot six days a week and we'd come back and we were tired and then we'd [go into a] production meeting and I said to him "Neils," his name was Neils Anderson, I said to him, "Come on up."
He said, "No, no, no, I can't, I have to go."
I said, "Neils, who the hell is here?" I said, "You know we are all workers, this is business, why don't you come on up." So, I finally talked him into it and he came up and he had a really good time and he came up like a couple of times.
And then about three weeks later he said, "I would like everybody to come to my "hooglihoot" -- "hooglihoot" means very small cottage -- for lunch. It was 125 kilometers out from where we where and we worked six days a week and nobody wanted to go. And I said [to the crew], "You have to go. The man is giving you what he has to give you and you cannot do this, I mean you've got to go."
So finally I talked [them] into it and everybody was pissing and moaning. We drove this mileage and then passed a big boulder that had the number that he had given, when we looked down, there was a castle and [we all] said that wasn't it. So we continued on and there seemed to be nothing else. And we stopped and asked a farmer and he said, "No, it's that number." So I said, "OK [he must live in the] Gatehouse" that kind of thing.
So, we went down this long driveway, passed the gatehouse and went into the courtyard of this castle, and the doors were easily 20 feet high and this thick mahogany, and Neils came out to greet us, he has knickers on with argyle socks and everything and I said, "Neils, who the fuck are you?"
And he said, "I'm Prince Anderson and my father owns Anderson Shipyards, which is the biggest in all of the Netherlands."
And I said, "What were you doing in there?"
He said, "I'm learning the hotel business."
And I said, "For Christ sake and you never said a word to me about it?"
So, we all went and here was this table that was like oak and went on forever, mounds of shrimp and everything and you could drive a Volkswagen into the fireplace, I mean it was so big. And I said to myself, "Gee, never slap the bellboy."