"I love doing third albums," says Jimmy Iovine, who coproduced Dire Straits' Making Movies with the band's lead singer, guitarist and songwriter, Mark Knopfler. "A group makes its first album, and then the record company rushes them into the studio to make their second album. After that, they go, 'Whoa, wait a second.' They get a little more confident. They step back and say, 'Okay, now we're gonna do it.'"
Iovine's description is an apt summary of the road Dire Straits traveled to get to Making Movies, which followed the band's distinctive 1978 debut, Dire Straits, and its disappointing second album, Communique. The description also captures the nature of Knopfler's ambitions for the record. "I think he wanted to take Dire Straits to that next step, especially in terms of the songs, and to have the album really make sense all together, which I think it does," Iovine says. "It's a really cohesive album. He stunned me, as far as his songwriting talents. The songs on that album are almost classical in nature."
Knopfler contacted Iovine because he liked Iovine's work on "Because the Night," the Patti Smith single that she'd co-written with Bruce Springsteen. Iovine, who had also worked on Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town, was instrumental in calling E Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan into the sessions for Making Movies. Without him, the album's cinematic power and evocative landscapes might have been impossible to achieve.
The melodicism and romantic intensity of Bittan's playing alternately underscore and serve as a foil for Knopfler's guitar — and help elevate such tracks as "Romeo and Juliet," "Tunnel of Love" and "Expresso Love" to poetic heights. Bittan's role became especially important because Knopfler's brother David, the band's rhythm guitarist, left Dire Straits during the first week of recording. Guitarist Sid McGiniss was brought in to assist Mark, bassist John Illsley and drummer Pick Withers, but Bittan's contribution was unique in that it was the first time the band had ever fully worked a keyboardist into its lineup.
"Mark was real excited, because it was the first time he expanded Dire Straits in a way that has been consistent since then," Bittan says. "It was a seminal album for them in that respect."
Bittan describes the sessions for Making Movies as "work sessions where we went in and really took time to capture the emotion and paint the picture.... They were not very straightforward songs. The subtleties of emotion that he was trying to capture was something real special — it reminded me of Bruce, you know?"
Making Movies was recorded in six weeks, but, Iovine says, "it basically happened on the first six days of the sessions. The right people were in the room together. It really was making a record in the pure sense of the term. The whole thing sounds like one song. But you know what that is? That's the writing, the guy who wrote it. He wrote the album like that; he wanted to make the album like that."