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Top Cinema Sound Teams Talk Up Audio Efforts

Sound teams from some of the biggest movies of the year, from 'Mank' to 'Judas and the Black Messiah,' were onhand to discuss their work at the Mix Sound for Film & TV Awards Season event.

On Mank, the sound crew was tasked with reviving the feel of the Golden Age of Hollywood in the track, and came up with a process of combining old and new technologies to create a “patina” for playback.
On Mank, the sound crew was tasked with reviving the feel of the Golden Age of Hollywood in the track, and came up with a process of combining old and new technologies to create a “patina” for playback.

Hollywood, CA (March 3, 2021)—To celebrate Hollywood’s annual awards season, Mix Magazine recently hosted Mix Sound for Film & TV Awards Season, an all-day online event of panels with the sound teams behind some of 2020’s likely contenders in advance of the Oscar, Motion Picture Sound Editors and Cinema Audio Society Award nomination announcements.

Netflix’s Mank, about Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, has already picked up a handful of Golden Globe nominations, including for the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Director David Fincher’s reported wish was for his film’s soundtrack to share the sound character of Citizen Kane—and be mono. The sound crew reported that they followed a three-step process, first mixing the picture in full resolution then adding “patina”—replicating the character of Golden Age films—before playing the soundtrack on the Skywalker scoring stage, with its 3.2-second RT, and re-recording through a variety of mic setups. Sound designer Ren Klyce dubbed the final result “monorama.”

Amazon’s Sound of Metal is about a hardcore band drummer who begins to lose his hearing. Mucht of the soundtrack offers the sonic point of view of the drummer, played by Riz Ahmed, a Golden Globe nominee, which offered the team plenty of scope for creativity. For a dinnertime scene featuring other hearing loss sufferers, the character’s near-silent POV is juxtaposed with the clatter in the room. “We planted mics under tables and contact mics on surfaces. The sounds of plates and the table itself was done by the actors; we did our best to capture it,” said production sound mixer Philip Bladh.

Mix Sound For Film Event a Virtual Hit

George Clooney, who directed and stars in Netflix’s post-apocalyptic feature The Midnight Sky, mentioned to Randy Thom, the project’s director of sound design, that he was a fan of The Revenant, on which Thom also worked. There are some parallels, said Thom, “so I had that in the back of my head as I was figuring out which sounds would be appropriate and how to process them.” The team generated 27 versions, in 27 different formats, including a Dolby Atmos theatrical mix and the full complement of Netflix requirements, they reported.

“We started the week that we had to shut down for COVID,” said Rich Bologna, supervising sound editor on Judas and the Black Messiah, about the death of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, “so we all worked remotely.” A key scene at which Hampton addresses a church rally of 350 people was “a testament to production sound,” he said, with a nod to the location sound work of Marlowe Taylor. “We just hammered through it and all of a sudden, it felt like you were in the room.” Veteran re-recording mixer Skip Lievsay agreed: “It was a dream scene.”

Hulu’s Golden Globe-nominated The United States vs. Billie Holiday focuses on the famed jazz singer’s run-ins with the FBI in the early days of the war on drugs. “It’s an amazing performance,” said re-recording mixer Josh Berger of singer Andra Day in her first major role. “The dialog was the action…so we really had to be careful how we added sound into those scenes,” said re-recording mixer and supervising sound editor Bob Hein. “It’s almost like seeing some kind of an action film, emotionally.”

Wonder Woman 1984, one of the rare films to have enjoyed a theatrical release this past year, presented some challenges, according to production sound mixer Peter Devlin. One scene was shot near the White House, where construction work threatened to ruin the location sound, but re-recording mixers Gary Rizzo and Gilbert Lake saved the day. “I couldn’t hear any jackhammers,” said Devlin of the final mix.

Entertainment company Deluxe presented an overview of its One Dub solution, which eliminates the need for post-editing when recording remote group ADR and walla. Every participant receives synchronized video from the audio engineer, who controls the session. Picture is overlaid with the script, which updates for everyone if there are changes. After recording, multiple subscribers can edit different dialog tracks within the session, if necessary. “It’s one of those tools that will go forward even after COVID,” said supervising sound editor Mandell Winter.