×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Crew Helped Marry Wildlife, Wartime Sounds in ‘Zookeeper’s Wife’

Sound is crucial to the film “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” a period drama based on the real-life story of Warsaw Zoological Garden owners Antonina and Jan Zabinski (played by Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh), who rescued hundreds of Jewish citizens by smuggling them through an underground system on their property in WWII Poland, right under the noses of the Nazis.

Yet most of what’s heard by the audience remains off screen: the screams of animals, aircraft bombers flying overhead, piano music drifting through a basement chasm. Crafting authentic and accurate sounds for these cues fell to supervising sound editor Becky Sullivan, re-recording mixers Terry Porter and Anna Behlmer, and the members of the film’s sound department.

The challenge was to authentically portray the changing mix of nature, warfare, domestic life, and life in the Warsaw Ghetto, as well as the perilous scheme going on underground at the zoo over the six-year period covered in the movie.

Sullivan, a WWII buff, turned to her personal library of recordings for the fighter planes, gunfire, and other battle elements. The list of zoo sounds that open the story proved more challenging to nail down.

“We had to show the love for these animals,” Sullivan says. “They had to sound authentic, but not get cartoony. We had to create a personality for them.”

The crew recorded a catalog of sounds for featured animals, including Antonia’s purring lion cubs and a baby camel that frequently followed her around. After spot-testing sound levels, a few short moments of vocals were included.

To create the soundscape for a scene in which Antonia saves a baby elephant from suffocating, the team used recordings of a baby sea lion whose breathing patterns worked best for the injured mammal, and added heavy footsteps and anxious trumpeting to indicate the pachyderm’s parents.

For the scenes that depict the refugees in the Zabinski’s basement, Sullivan and her team were looking for ways to extend a sense of dread. Working with foley artists, they captured the sound of creaks on different types of wood. Adding these to the track, the re-recording mixers worked with reverb and delay to differentiate the presence and distance of individuals on the floor above. Porter also used compressed or expanded piano music to indicate the way it leaked into the basement space.

In addition to creating location-based sounds, the team ensured that what viewers hear corresponds to visual cues, including the reactions of actors.

During the pre-mix and dubbing stage, director Niki Caro and film editor David Coulson collaborated with the sound crew, discussing how to adjust the effects to make sure they captured the emotional landscape Caro envisioned. This included finessing the layout of an explosion — from a plane’s overhead flight to the scattering of debris.

“Niki did a great job of shooting directional cues,” Behlmer says. “If something drew our attention, we watched the action and figured out how to orchestrate it.”

More Artisans

  • Chaz Ebert DePaul CHA Documentary Filmmaking

    Chicago Program Gives High School Girls Lessons in Documentary Filmmaking

    At the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, three of the projects screening in the Short Film Corner — “Birthday,” “Phenomenally Me” and “Without Dying” — will be products of the DePaul/CHA Documentary Filmmaking Program, a six-week course co-sponsored by the Chicago Housing Authority in which high school girls learn filmmaking from graduate students and faculty of [...]

  • Steven Spielberg55th Annual CAS Awards, Inside,

    Cinema Audio Society Sets 2020 Awards Show Three Weeks Earlier

    The Cinema Audio Society has moved its 2020 awards show ahead by three weeks to Jan. 25 due to the compression of the season. It will be held at the Intercontinental Los Angeles Downtown. The CAS Awards recognize sound mixing in film and television, outstanding products for production and post-production, as well as the recipient [...]

  • Rocketman Elton John Biopic

    'Rocketman' Production Team Took the Fantasy Route With the Elton John Biopic

    Paramount has high hopes for “Rocketman,” the Elton John biopic starring Taron Egerton as the legendary performer. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival on May 16, the film comes on the heels of Fox’s massively successful Freddie Mercury movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” and could capitalize on audiences’ newly discovered interest in rock star stories that transport [...]

  • Burbank-based Barnstorm VFX Studio Expands to

    Barnstorm VFX, Creator of Visuals for Amazon’s ‘The Man in the High Castle’ and Other Shows, Expands to Vancouver

    Barnstorm VFX, the company behind the visual effects on Amazon Studios’ “The Man in the High Castle” (pictured above), “HBO’s Silicon Valley” and CBS’ “Strange Angel,” has opened a new facility in Vancouver, British Columbia. The move positions the boutique digital effects, design and production shop to take advantage of expanding work north of the [...]

  • Maryland Production Incentives Include 25%-27% Refundable

    Maryland Lures Producers With a Tax Credit of Up to 27%

    With its close proximity to the nation’s capital and a wide diversity of filming locations, Maryland offers producers many enticements. The physical attractions range from the historic and picturesque Chesapeake Bay, scenic Appalachian Mountain landscapes, the U.S. Naval Academy with its marching cadets, the gritty yet gentrifying cityscapes of Baltimore, and the leafy suburbs around [...]

  • Women Rule in Front of, Behind

    Women Reign in Front of and Behind the Camera on 'The Spanish Princess'

    “The Spanish Princess,” which premiered May 5, rounds out the Starz miniseries triptych that began in 2013 with “The White Queen” and continued four years later with “The White Princess.” The latest seven episodes revolve around Spain’s Catherine of Aragon, played by Charlotte Hope, in line to receive the highly contested throne of England in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content