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Recording ‘Ricki and the Flash’: Managing Live Performance in the Film’s Production

Director Jonathan Demme wanted authenticity on his film Ricki and the Flash, which follows an aging rocker played by Meryl Streep. Demme insisted the film’s band had to perform live on camera rather than mime to playback.

Although Neil Citron, a jack-of-all-trades in the fields of both music and audio, was initially involved in casting Streep’s co-star—they picked Rick Springfield—and then teaching Streep to play guitar, the film’s producer, Gary Goetzman, put him together with the project’s music coordinator, Mark Wolfson, to find a solution to the film’s live performance challenges.

Greg (Rick Springfield) and Ricki (Meryl Streep)

The production set up an intensive band camp at Rodeo Bar, a defunct venue in Manhattan’s Murray Hill neighborhood. Streep, Springfield and the band—Bernie Worrell on keyboards, Rick Rosas (who passed away shortly after production wrapped) on bass and Joe Vitale on drums—worked on the songs for two weeks before relocating to a soundstage in Brooklyn, where a set stood in for the film’s Los Angeles-area bar.

For the rehearsals and shoot, PreSonus supplied a StudioLive 32.4.2AI mixer and several speakers. An ADL 600 tube preamp offered vocal processing. PreSonus also provided special projects liaison Phil Garfinkel, an experienced live sound engineer.

Since the StudioLive console is integrated with PreSonus Capture recording software and the Studio One DAW, Citron’s role expanded again. “I got hired to record everything live and then mix everything for the editor. They rented us an apartment—we would work all day, then Mark and I would go home and do rough mixes,” says Citron. “That turned into us mixing the whole soundtrack,” which was released on Republic Records.

Recording was challenging, as Citron explains: “The first conversation that Gary, Mark and I had, Gary said Jonathan didn’t want any mics on stage, but he wanted to record everything live, with no playback. It’s supposed to be a [run-down] club; maybe there would be three vocal mics, but that’s it.”

From left, music wrangler Neil Citron, director Jonathan Demme, music coordinator Mark Wolfson and PreSonus tech Phil Garfinkel

A call went out to Roxanne Ricks, artist relations manager at Audio-Technica, who supplied an ATM450 for the hi-hat, AT4050 for overheads and, for the Hammond Leslie speaker, an ATM650 (high) and an ATM250 (low). A-T also provided 5000 Series wireless vocal mics for the wedding reception scenes and a pair of AT4080 ribbons for capturing room ambience.

As for the drums, Vitale’s DW kit had built-in triggers, which the team hooked into the recording setup using Garfinkel’s personal collection of Radial Engineering DI boxes. “Once we created drum sounds, we had to put them into a reverb to make them sound like they were in a room, recalls Citron. “Because we had room mics, I could adjust the size to what it was supposed to be.”