Wherever a show takes you, be it through a gruesome Civil War battlefield, the streets of modern London or a house that’s home to the living and the dead, sound pros agree that you have to hear noises that seem “organic” if you’re going to believe it all.
For the sound teams who worked on “Hatfields & McCoys,” “Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia,” and “American Horror Story” — all nominated for both sound editing and sound mixing — organic meant the soundscape of their shows was specific to the place and time where they exist. But each took a different path to that goal.
“I went and found these old pieces of wood and we got the sounds of people walking on them and creaking to use for the show,” says supervising sound editor Tom Bjelic of his work on History’s “Hatfields & McCoys.” He sourced that creaky timber at a store near his home that sells reclaimed building materials.
In a series with so much gunfire the firearms, too, had to be specific. “We wanted a real sense of accuracy so that meant getting as close as possible to the types of guns they used during the Civil War to get the sounds we needed for battle.”
But being organic is not always about finding a historically accurate way into the sound design. Supervising sound editor Doug Sinclair had to navigate between many of the elements on PBS’ “Sherlock” in order to be sure the story was told the way it was intended.
“The dialogue was king on this show even more than it usually is,” says Sinclair. “It’s rapid-fire and contains all the information that the audience needs to understand the characters and the story so we had to be sure it was understandable while still having the sounds of the city be present.”
The show also has two distinct styles — one that took viewers to today’s London and another in which Sherlock and the characters were in a dreamlike interior environment. Sinclair says the trick was making the two obviously different without jarring the viewer.
FX’s “American Horror Story,” which features both living and dead characters, also had to fit accurately to the onscreen images, but it’s anyone’s guess what “accuracy” means when aspects of your show don’t even exist in the real world. And great sound can be as much about what you don’t hear as what’s audible in the mix.
“It’s so easy for shows that deal with this kind of subject to go too far but what you really want is for the audience to fill in the blanks themselves because they’ll scare themselves more than you ever could,” says Gary Megregian, the show’s supervising sound editor. “We used a little less in terms of sound and we were quieter so that if you’re watching it you feel like you have to pay close attention to hear everything.”
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