‘Lucy and Desi’ Crafts Team on Sounds and Music of Amazon Documentary

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What more can we say about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz that hasn’t already been said? The wedding between the two comedians happened on one of the most popular television shows of all time, “I Love Lucy,” which continues to influence sitcoms to this day. And their presence in American culture has barely waned in the years since their deaths. A scripted movie about their marriage, “Being the Ricardos,” was released last year! So the entire craft team behind Amy Poehler’s Emmy-nominated Amazon documentary “Lucy and Desi” knew they had their work cut out for them.

From a narrative perspective, they needed to tell a new story about Lucy and Desi that deepened fans’ understanding of the sitcom stars while respecting their legacy. And on a technical level, the team had to use their skills to elevate the often uneven 20th century images to the level of clarity that contemporary viewers have come to expect. It’s not an easy task, but suffice to say they succeeded. Film editor Robert Martinez, composer David Schwartz and supervising sound editor Anthony Vanchure spoke with IndieWire’s Kristen Lopez about the process of documenting one of Hollywood’s most iconic power couples.

When they began working on the project, the team realized that most audience members would have at least a cursory knowledge of the subject matter, given the outsized influence “I Love Lucy” had on American pop culture. This had its pros and cons, as they not only had to reckon with the real Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, but also the public’s perception of them. They also had to ensure that their own creative contributions to the project served the specific narrative that the film set out to tell above all else.

For example, many fans have noticed that the film’s theme music, composed by Schwartz, sounds similar to the theme song for “I Love Lucy”. The composer explained how he found a balance between his subconscious nostalgia for the iconic show and the need to ensure the documentary could stand on its own.

“I don’t think I ever consciously said ‘let’s make this sound like the score for ‘I Love Lucy,'” Schwartz said. “But it seeps into that.” He added that when he played an early draft of the theme for Poehler, she encouraged him to tone down the similarities even more. “She liked it, but there were ‘buts’ in it,” he said. “I think that she wanted more on the dramatic side and less on the light side. And I liked that, so we started going more in that direction.

Balancing clarity and authenticity was a constant struggle for the crafting team. Vanchure explained how Desi Arnaz’s existing audio footage was “really difficult” due to a combination of old technology and his accent thickening as he got older. Vanchure often found himself torn between difficult sound and his desire for clarity and his aversion to subtitles. Yet, as easy as it would have been to remove some of that imagery, the team succeeded because that accent was an essential part of who Desi was.

“He had an accent, which is kind of a testament to his roots,” Martinez said, adding that playing with an accent was “a choice to keep that part of your homeland, part of your culture. Desi n’ never lost that.

One angle that the entire team was particularly interested in was telling the story of Desi Arnaz as a separate person from Ball. Martinez and Poehler took special care to show him as more than Ricky Ricardo, highlighting the pain he endured when their business struggled.

“Trauma wasn’t something people talked about back then,” he said. “Especially with men, and especially in Latin culture, there is an element of machismo and not talking about that stuff. And I think where we are now, we can talk about those things. It’s always difficult, but to give some kind of relevance to your journey and lose everything and have to reinvent yourself. It’s a very American story, in that sense.

It was just one of the many ways the team found themselves learning more about one of the most public marriages of the 20th century as they delved deeper into their work on the film. Members of the Crafts team said they left with a deeper appreciation of not just Lucy and Desi as people, but the impact they had on the entertainment world in general.

“The overall perspective of this film was truly breathtaking,” Schwartz said. “The innovations are incredible. They changed television. They changed the way it’s shot, they created reruns, they shot on film, and many more. And they were one of the big studios that produced all these other super-known shows.

“I knew they were hard workers,” Vanchure said. “But just seeing the footage of everything they’ve done…it gives me a new light on Lucy.”

Much of this new perspective was made possible by Amy Poehler, whose involvement brought most of the craft team to the project and who designed the narrative they used to tell the life stories of Lucy and Desi. The whole team raved about her work as a director.

“There are so many things she has done in her career that make her a good candidate to be a documentary filmmaker,” Martinez said. “She’s from an improv background and is on ‘SNL’ and that kind of stuff, she’s not valuable with everything. This is the full play, and she doesn’t get caught up in the weeds on things. Very quick to keep moving forward and doesn’t slow the process down. She’s a very decisive storyteller, and for a documentary, that’s very useful because the story is constantly changing.

Still, while Poehler’s name might generate the most attention, everyone who worked on “Lucy and Desi” pointed out that the project was a team effort. The film’s six Emmy nominations reflect this, and experiencing this together makes the awards show even more special for the craft team.

“I’m very grateful that everyone is represented,” Martinez said. “Six nominations is a big number and all. But we who worked on the project, we all put faces to those numbers. So it’s kind of a best-case scenario that our whole pool is represented and that we can all be there and lose to the Beatles.

IndieWire’s Consider This Conversations brought together Emmy-nominated actors and members of the creative team from five of TV’s most high-profile shows to discuss some of the best arts and crafts in TV production of 2022. In addition to “Lucy and Desi,” other featured shows include Amazon’s “Wonderful Mrs. Maisel,” as well as Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and National Geographic’s “Life Below Zero.” Follow them all here.

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