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Emmy Contenders for Sound Create New Aural Landscapes

Sound in television has, arguably, always played second fiddle to the images. And as with other sound professionals on the top contending shows in the sound categories, Dean Hurley, supervising sound editor on Showtime’s “Twin Peaks,” worked hard to craft a cinematic aural landscape despite challenges ranging from “the usual technical ones,” as he puts it, to the accelerated post schedules of today’s TV shows.

“David Lynch likes to take his time with sound, and it was hard working within the conventions of a TV series and allowing him the usual freedom he enjoys,” says Hurley, who’s worked for Lynch for 13 years. “We did all the picture editing and sound editorial at his home studio, mixing in 5.1 and taking about a week per episode — and we had 18 episodes. It’s a very fluid process, with lots of improvisation and experimentation, and David’s very hands-on. He’s also the sound designer on the whole show.”

Craig Henighan, sound designer on the atmospheric Netflix show “Stranger Things,” relied on his background in movies and what he calls his “cinema-all-the-way” approach. It was “the natural and obvious way to go,” he says. “When I met [show creators] the Duffer brothers and read their scripts, I realized there was really no other way to do it. And they both wanted a very cinematic soundscape that worked with the images, supported the story, and sounded cool.”

The Duffers, says Henighan, gave him “a lot of leeway to experiment right from the start, and I’d send them ideas while they were shooting, and build it from there.” The eerie, synth-heavy score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein “was also a big help, as it left a lot of room for me to create stuff in.” Henighan and his team mixed at Technicolor in 5.1 “and also in stereo, as you have to design it for people who are watching on iPhones, iPads and so on.”

Branden Spencer, supervising sound editor on Netflix’s “Lost in Space,” agrees that TV sound is becoming “more cinematic,” and stresses that the rebooted show “isn’t TV in the old sense — we’re streaming it and we did 10 long episodes, so it’s more like doing five two-hour movies — a huge workload.”

For Spencer and his sound colleagues, including sound designer Benjamin Cook, the big challenge was “trying to create an aural backdrop for a new environment, one that doesn’t sound like Earth, that’s sort of abstract but at the same time, not distracting.” It helped that the show is “very music-driven,” he adds. “The score’s there the whole way through, and we worked very closely with the composer, and mixed in 7.1 native, and also in 5.1 and Atmos.”

A cinematic approach is also a key element in Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Based on the best-selling “Lemony Snicket” children’s series, which spawned the 2004 movie version, the show is mixed by Paul Ottosson, who won Oscars for “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Hurt Locker,” and who also designs the sound.

“[Director] Barry Sonnenfeld treats the sound like he’s on a movie, and we mix in 5.1 and true stereo on a feature dub stage at Sony,” he says. “They’re more suitable formats for the way a lot of people watch it on hand-held devices now.”

(Pictured above: “Lost in Space”)

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