Sound editing partners powered by big year

Bookstore shelves are overrun with tomes offering suggestions on how to build and maintain healthy partnerships. Sound editor Karen Baker Landers, who has worked with her partner Per Hallberg for more than 20 years, suggests direct communication.

“We probably argue on a daily basis,” she says with a laugh. “We like to go toe-to-toe. Neither one of us have a passive personality with each other, so we get it out.”

Almost in the next breath she says, “We really like each other and I think that’s a big part of it. He’s one of my best friends.”

And how does Hallberg explain their longevity? “Usually she does exactly what I tell her to do,” he says before bursting into laughter. “She’d kill me right now if she heard that, but mostly it’s that we have a very similar way of thinking about the process. She has a great sense of taste in her way and I think me in mine, and I think they complement each other.”

No matter the ingredients for success, the two have worked as supervising sound editors on an impressive swath of films this past year, including “American Gangster” “Things We Lost in the Fire,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Freedom Writers.”

Kudos aplenty

The duo have multiple award nominations and wins, including a BAFTA for sound on “Ray” and a sound editing Oscar for “Black Hawk Down.” “The Bourne Ultimatum” has been nominated for a sound (mixing and editing) Satellite Award.

Experience has shown that each has his or her own strengths when it comes to designing sound for a film, but that doesn’t mean there is a strict definition of who does what. Assignments are divided after the two read the script and watch an early cut of the film.

“There are certain scenes where one of us will have an idea and we’ll run with it,” Landers explains. Often it turns out that Hallberg will be interested in approaching the weapons and vehicles, while Landers will work Foley and backgrounds.

Yet, when the two were working on “The Bourne Ultimatum,” Landers took the lead on the fight scenes. “I like a good hand-to-hand fight,” she says, “which is unusual for me because I’m not a real violence fan, but get two guys fighting and the energy that creates … I loved it.”

It turns out that flexibility and trust, as well as their twin affinity for organization, is one key to their success. That, in turn, has become crucial as schedules and budgets continue to be crunched.

“We don’t have to have big conversations, because I know what she’s thinking and she knows what I’m thinking,” Hallberg says. “That makes it very easy, and if I walk out, I don’t feel nervous that things are not taken care of and vice versa. It’s seamless in that way.”

Lander concurs: “There’s complete trust. If I’m questioning how something sounds, Per will be honest, and I need that. I may disagree with him, but it’s a relationship that’s built on trust and respect.”

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