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‘We tried to create a soundtrack par excellence’: Oscar winning sound mixer Simon Hayes on bringing Mary Poppins Returns to life through audio

Hayes tells PSNEurope about the “huge technical task” he faced working on the recently released Mary Poppins sequel

Oscar winning production sound mixer, Simon Hayes, has spoken to PSNEurope about the “huge technical task” he faced working on current box office smash Mary Poppins Returns.

Having started his career in film sound working with Guy Ritchie on the likes of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Mean Machine, he has since gone on to become one of the most sought after production sound mixers for cinematic musicals in the world, scooping an Oscar in 2013 for his work on Les Miserables.

Now, he has applied his magic touch to the recently released, highly anticipated Mary Poppins sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, which stars Emily Blunt and has been met with both commercial and critical acclaim.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of [director] Rob Marshall,” Hayes told PSNEurope. “He’s one of the most exciting directors in the world today and getting offered Mary Poppins was hugely exciting. He brings such enthusiasm and support that it’s infectious. When you’re on a set with him everyone wants to do their best. We all knew it was a huge project to take on. Everyone loves Mary Poppins and we knew we had to do the best job possible to be considered in the same ballpark as the original. Not only was it a challenge for the spoken dialogue but also the musical numbers. We did some really great live recordings and we blended some live recordings into playback and back out to live when we needed to. For sound, it was a huge technical task.

“What was wonderful about it was the scale of Rob’s vision. He only wants the best and that’s what I want when I’m recording sound for a director. He was very supportive of that. Rather than settling for something slightly sub par to save time, he was very happy to extend the time to support his heads of department.”

Hayes also noted the collaborative nature of the project and how the close relationships between the various production departments benefited all involved.

“We were very lucky; we had a music director called Mike Higham who was incredible to work with,” Hayes continued. We also had Mike Prestwood Smith who is one of the best re-recording mixers in the world. And the supervising sound editor Renee Tondelli collaborated with me and my team from the get go. It wasn’t a case of sound production handing over the sound to sound-post, there was collaboration before we even started shooting, where we talked about the tonal qualities of what we wanted to record, what we wanted to record live and how we would weave creatively in and out of live singing to playback to dance numbers, but also going into all of the historic vehicles we have in the background on set and getting them recorded and putting mics inside the engines, on their exhausts, so that every singe background sound you hear is era-correct. That creates a soundscape that the audience believes. We tried to create a soundtrack par excellence.”

You can read our full interview with Hayes in the January edition of PSNEurope, out on Tuesday, January 8.