Moonage Daydream Interview: David Bowie Remix Featuring Paul Massey

Re-recording mixer Paul Massey tells IndieWire how he created “a huge resolution” for Brett Morgen’s innovative David Bowie documentary.

With films like Walk the Line and Bohemian Rhapsody on his resume, rerecording mixer Paul Massey is no stranger to working with the music of popular pop acts. But Brett Morgen’s epic David Bowie documentary Moonage Daydream had its own unique punch from the start.

“These songs are iconic, so there was a ‘don’t screw up’ factor, big one,” Massey told IndieWire. “Growing up in London in the ’60s and ’70s, Bowie was a huge influence at the time, not just in what was played on the radio but culturally. Throughout his career, he achieved success in one genre of music and then turned left 90 degrees and tried another genre. Then he would throw that up and try something else and be successful the also. He’s done that his whole life in art, music and fashion.”

The manner in which Moonage Daydream tells the story of Bowie’s development departs as far as possible from a traditional documentary format, opting for a largely impressionistic, immersive sensory experience that conveys not just who Bowie was, but how it could have been to be David Bowie. Sound design is key to the film’s impact, as the lines between music, effects and dialogue are blurred, and Massey and his collaborators use the Dolby Atmos sound channels as expressively and aggressively as any film to date. “Brett wanted the film to be essentially one big dissolve,” Massey said. “There’s no place that doesn’t have music, and there’s music and sound effects that shouldn’t go together and work together with mash-ups of the songs.”

To realize Morgen’s vision of a ‘theme park ride of sound’, Massey assembled a team that included his frequent collaborators David Giammarco, John Warhust and Nina Hartstone. Warhust and Hartstone took over the editorial side from London; Giammarco worked alongside Massey in Los Angeles, where the former focused on mixed effects and the latter on dialogue and music. And because the filmmakers had access to Bowie’s archives, Massey found he had a wealth of material to draw from. “For the concert scenes, I had all the original multitracks with custom instrumentation,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure to stay true to the original mixes, but also to revise them to make everything a theatrical experience.”

Moontime Daydream

“Moontime Daydream”


Massey was remarkably successful in this regard, moving the individual instruments and sounds across the 100+ channels enabled by Dolby Atmos to create a surround sound field that gives new meaning to the word immersive. “I’ve never panned as much or relied on my surroundings as much as I did on this film in my life,” Massey said. Remixing the tracks with the help of Bowie’s longtime collaborator and producer Tony Visconti gave Massey a new appreciation for the musician’s genius. “In ‘Heroes’ a lead guitar is holding a note and you have a violin holding that note and when you put the two together you get overtones and sounds that I haven’t heard from a violin or guitar. The result is spectacular. What seemed like a fairly simple song was actually very, very detailed and complex, which of course is always the case.”

Massey and his team mixed Moonage Daydream for multiple formats including Atmos, IMAX and more traditional 7.1 and 5.1 cinema environments. The experience changed his perspective on mixing clay. “When you get used to working on feature films for Atmos, 7.1, 5.1, home theater, you set yourself limitations because you don’t want each and every version to suffer from the format,” he said. “This film taught me to push those boundaries and just do it, just remix for each and every format, because we couldn’t find an approach that would work for all formats. I think it will change the way I mix in the future. I’ll keep thinking, “Can I cross that line? Can I max out the envelope I originally thought I shouldn’t?’ It was a real lesson.”

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Lindsay Lowe

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