Sound editors Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg have been working together for 30 years. They’ve created sound effects for hit movies together, won Academy Awards together, and spent countless hours in close quarters tweaking sounds to perfection.
One key to their success, says Hallberg: “We fight more than most people.”
Yes, this supremely successful team thrives on disagreement. Says Landers, “We have similarities, but we’re really opposite in a lot of areas, which is good.” In many respects, they’re very different: Hallberg’s male and grew up in Sweden, while Landers is female and from Southern California.
Some is just a matter of taste. “I react quite emotionally to film,” says Landers. “I’m very emotional about what I’m working on, whether it be comedy, or drama. Per can tend to be more practical, which is a good thing.”
They agree that those differences are good for their storytelling. Usually they meet in the middle and the results are generally superb.
Beneath the differences flows a deep friendship and trust. “We take care of each other,” says Hallberg. “We come up with ideas together.”
“We just really like each other,” Landers adds.
Sound editors focus on creating and preparing sound effects. (Hallberg prefers to use the title “sound designer,” but Landers disagrees.) The team that Landers and Hallberg lead at Formosa Group can be as large as 20 people on a single film. Sometimes they record sounds live, then alter them. Other times they draw on the company’s library of millions of pre-recorded sounds.
Regardless of the source they’re working with, they’re focused on telling a story with sound. Says Landers, “We’ll watch a scene, and it’s like, ‘Well, how can we get the most emotion out of this?’ Sometimes it’s standing back and not putting a lot of sound in, and just letting the moment breathe. Sometimes it’s just putting in the perfect wind, and maybe a loon in the background to create this sense of space and loneliness.’”
That’s where the arguments can start, say Landers. “It’s about how something’s making me feel, versus how something’s making Per feel.” But the arguments are part of their teamwork.
“It is usually an argument about, should we go this way or that way?,” says Hallberg. “Every person is different, so it’s important to investigate those (options) and then to try to come up with a way to come through it and maybe make both happen, that would be the ultimate.”
“And if that doesn’t happen,” he deadpans, “then of course, Karen wins.”
For more on the “Art of Sound,” click here to watch Episode 1 of the series.