Sound mixing for half-hour comedies and dramas is a strange and delicate business. The sound pros on set and in post are charged with both letting the dialogue shine and preserving a sense of time and space.
Whether a show takes the audience on a ride through Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with the cast of “Modern Family,” seats them in a cubicle on “Parks and Recreation” or hustles through part of an emergency room on “Nurse Jackie,” viewers have to be able key into the dialogue while not losing a sense of place.
“Everyone who does this kind of work has to have their ways of making it happen,” says Stephen A. Tibbo, production sound mixer for “Modern Family,” nommed last year for sound mixing for a comedy or drama series (half hour) and animation. “We have such a big cast and sometimes they’re all in the room at the same time, so I’ve got everyone wired and we’re also trying to boom everyone.”
For Tibbo, who comes from a documentary background, it’s crucial to cover his bets since there’s an occasional ad lib and most scenes are done in one shot.
The sound crew on “Parks and Recreation” also focuses on getting it all when the cameras run. “No two takes are the same,” says John W. Cook II, a re-recording mixer on the show, which was also nommed for sound mixing in 2013. “And there are always people who are wild cards, who might say anything, so we’ve got to get it all each time, because that makes the mix sound great in the end.”
Cook says the show follows what he calls “The Office” Playbook when it comes to sound — doing a two-track mix, rather than mono, that makes it easier to separate different voices when a scene features lots of characters in the same room, perhaps talking at the same time. Unique sounds identify each office or meeting room.
“Nurse Jackie,” last year’s winner for sound mixing, eschews the “mockumentary” style so popular on recent TV comedies. Instead it takes viewers along for a dramatic ride from noisy New York exteriors to the emergency room.
“This show is about the dialogue and the subtlety of the lines,” says re-recording mixer Peter Waggoner. “We have to manipulate the sounds of the emergency room because you’re trying to balance a sense of where they are with where they are and — in the end — the dialogue must always be clear.”