Pump up the volume

The right sound gooses character-driven indies

In the sound categories, Oscar loves louder.

But even for quiet films, “Sound is the biggest bang for your buck of anything in the movie business,” says Skywalker Sound general manager Glenn Kiser.

And in fact some of the year’s most character-driven films use sound effects to subtly convey feelings.

For “Crash,” says supervising sound editor Sandy Gendler, helmer Paul Haggis wanted a raw sound.

“Sometimes you have to work really hard to create raw,” says Gendler, who notes the audio team used production sound when possible and did ADR re-recording outside of the studio.

For the pic’s car chase, the sound mavens even mixed the roar of a lion into a passing car engine, to give it more menace.

But when a father talks to his young daughter under her bed, they took out all the sounds of urban L.A.

Instead, Gendler says, “We had a recording of ‘Ave Maria’ and just played it very low, as if that were part of the air under her bed, because it felt very churchlike under there.”

“Brokeback Mountain” also uses sound, or the lack of it, to convey isolation.

Production mixer Drew Kunin says, “We reduce the density of the sound mix for the scenes that were more bleak and spare, in the town of Signal and Alma’s house.” When the cowboy lovers are together in the mountains, the sound is “much more lush. … There’s more birds, there’s more life in the air up in the mountains,” says Kunin.

Even in “The Squid and the Whale,” a film that seems to have almost no sound effects, sound helps give different feelings to the two apartments a divorced couple’s sons live in.

“Where (the mother’s) house is the house they grew up in, we tried to make it a little warmer,” supervising sound editor Lewis Goldstein says. “(The father’s house) had thicker traffic and sirens and dogs, more menacing than the mother’s environment.”

“Capote,” however, is a movie of greater contrasts: New York vs. Kansas, suburban neighborhoods vs. death row.

When Truman Capote hears killer Perry Smith tell how he killed a family, the soundtrack dwindles to nearly nothing. “You’re left with this very distant metallic wind, which had been there through the entire scene. You can barely hear it,” says supervising sound editor Ron Bochar.

That makes the sound of the shotgun blasts that follow even more shattering. Then, even when the picture returns to Capote, the sound effects stay down.

“It’s hit Truman so hard that it’s pretty much knocked everything out of him. So it takes a few minutes to bring back the reality of the prison sounds.”

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