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Making the sound of Mary Poppins Returns supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Production sound mixer Simon Hayes talks to TVBEurope about the festive season's big film

Production sound mixer Simon Hayes has made something of a career of working with on-screen Nannies. Having already worked on both Nanny McPhee and its sequel, he was delighted to be invited by director Rob Marshall to be involved with Mary Poppins Returns.

The Oscar-winner admits he’s long been a fan of Marshall’s: “He’s one of the most exciting directors in the world today and getting offered Mary Poppins was hugely exciting,” enthuses Hayes. 

“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.”

Hayes concedes the film’s production team faced a daunting task as they worked on the sequel to a much-loved classic. “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,” he explains.

“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.”

The highly-anticipated film, which stars Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, finally arrives in cinemas around the world this weekend. Hayes says when production finished the whole team felt incredibly lucky to be involved. “We had a music director called Mike Higham who was incredible to work with,” he enthuses. 

“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 single background sound you hear is era-correct. 

“That creates a soundscape that the audience believes. We tried to create a soundtrack par excellence,” he concludes.

For an in-depth feature with Simon Hayes, check out the January issue of PSNEurope.