Saturday, April 22, 2006

Diz in the 70's -- Picking Voice Tracks With Woolie

Woolfgang Reitherman, producer and uncredited director of "The Fox and the Hound," who wore you out with his energy. * * * * * * * * * * "I just got a call from Woolie to go down and pick takes from the last recording session!" I said excitedly to board artist Vance Gerry. "You going?" "Nope," Vance said. "I've got work to do. But I'm sure you'll have fun..." I bounded down to Woolie's big second-floor office. There were fifteen people there: Mel Shaw, Frank Thomas, Larry Clemmons, Earl Kress, Ollie Johnston, Story artist Dave Michener, and a host of others. Everyone was sitting in chairs; Woolie Reitherman, our leader and the producer on "The Fox and the Hound," was sitting behind his big desk. We were all gathered to pick voice tracks from the most recent recording sessions with Jack Albertson, the actor playing the hunter Amos Slade in the feature. This was the first time I'd been invited to join the group, and I was revved up. Big Time show biz. Jeff Patch, the assistant director, handed me a long sheet of transcribed takes for the dialogue and I plunked down in a chair. Woolie got up from his desk, waving his pages. "Okay, we've got a lot of takes here, a lot of different ways to go, so let's get to it. Jeff, start from the top." Jeff Patch was poised over an old record player, the kind you used to see in various school classrooms. A large black disk sat on the turntable -- a quick-pressed "acetate" of all the dialogue recordings (this was a while before the digital age). He dropped the arm of the player down on the first groove. Albertson's voice came out through the tinny speaker. He bellowed "Copper! Get over here!" We all listened intently. "I don't think that was one that grabbed me," Woolie said. "Let's hear the next." We went on to the next take, then the next. They all seemed pretty similar to me. Albertson threw in the occasional chuckle, then muttered the line, then tried hissing, but most of them began to blur together. Woolie said to Jeff: "Go back to take 2241." Jeff put the needle on the fourth track, and we listened to Jack Albertson yell again. Woolie looked around the room. "How many liked that one?" A half dozen hands went up. "Okay. Now let's hear take 2243." Another drop. Another listen. Woolie asked for a new vote, and there were less hands this time. We jumped around from take to take. I was starting to get woozy. Finally Woolie said: "You know, I think I like the way Albertson yells "Copper! on take 2246, but the way he says 'Get over here!' on 2241. Jeff? Think we could cut those two takes together?" Jeff said sure, and we plowed on. There were pages and pages of other lines, hundreds of various takes. On and on we went, voting for our favorites like a small, demented Parliament, slowly narrowing the list of candidates down. Midway through the second hour, Ollie Johnston stood up and announced: "I've got to get downstairs and do some animating." Thirty minutes after that, Frank Thomas smiled, said he had to go, and departed. The rest of us soldiered on, picking, voting, arguing. Late in the afternoon, Woolie dismissed us for the day, and I trudged out to the animation building's central hallway. On a whim, I detoured to Vance Gerry's room. As I entered, he looked up from his pad of paper and smiled at me. "Woolie and everybody finish choosing dialogue?" I shook my head. "We got through two thirds of it. He wants us to come back tomorrow morning to finish." Vance kept smiling. I looked at him. "You didn't want to go to the session, did you?" Vance shrugged. "There was a time I fought to go to Woolie's meetings. But he wears you out, turns you into a limp rag. Now I fight not to go." Six months later, I was up in my office banging away on a sequence script. Woolie's secretary Larraine called and said Woolie was having yet another dialogue picking session after lunch, and could I come. I took a breath and said: "I better not. I have a bunch of work to do." Larraine said she understood.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful story, Steve. As an old guy who had the pleasure of working for Woolie many years ago, that sure brought back some memories.

I can still see the smile on Vance Gerry's face.

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