As the Cinema Audio Society heads toward the 55th CAS Awards, its nominees, who have created immersive and intoxicating work, agree that sound is becoming the new frontier in storytelling.
“Today’s directors understand the importance of sound from the start,” says Doc Kane, nominated for “Black Panther,” “Incredibles 2” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” “Looping is a perfect example. Years ago it was typically used as a safety track. Now, it’s an intricate part of the process and Ryan [Coogler] knew how to work the ADR tool box on ‘Black Panther.’”
In articulating the soundscape of Wakanda the director intertwined native African languages into scenes on city streets and used the ADR stage to record precise breaths and dialogue for fight scenes.
Re-recording mixer Tom Fleischman of “Free Solo,” a documentary that relied on Foley and score to build the suspense behind Alex Honnold’s death-defying climb of El Capitan, agrees. “Sound has gotten a lot more sophisticated in the digital age and directors are becoming more invested in exploring things sonically.”
“They are really paying attention to how music, effects and dialogue can tell the story, and it’s not only in the mixing room; they’re thinking about it at the script level,” says Michael Semanick, a re-recording mixer on “Incredibles 2,” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” On the latter, the sound department designed uncluttered tracks with dynamic peaks and valleys to balance the visual style that mirrored the pages of a comic book.
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Pre-production can jumpstart an advantageous soundscape. “Inviting the production sound mixer to tech scouts can go a long way,” says Steven Morrow, sound mixer of “A Star is Born.” “Even if it’s not a complicated story dialogue-wise, we can learn the goals of the locations.”
Morrow and director Bradley Cooper communicated frequently throughout production on the film. “Knowing beforehand what was going to happen on the day of filming allowed us to avoid asking questions that everyone else who was supporting the image already knew the answers to. We were able to concentrate all our efforts on capturing the performance, as the goal on our end is to never need to ask for another take.”
Brandon Proctor, a re-recording mixer on “A Quiet Place,” says the directing style of John Krasinski will be forever changed because he helmed a project in which sound was a key character. “As storytellers we have to find what sounds can help the story while staying out of the way,” he says. “It has to fit the scope, the period, and at times, be specific without the audience thinking about what they just heard.”
With “A Quiet Place,” detailed auditory perspectives ratcheted up the intensity of the apocalyptic setting where flesh-hungry monsters hunt the living through sound. “Every piece of audio had to be thought about no matter how big or small,” Proctor says.
In television, it’s no different, and turnaround times are extremely tight. “We’ll fix it in post is not a good term to live by anymore,” says re-recording mixer Andy D’Addario of “Mozart in the Jungle,” for which the team was given only two days to create the feeling that the viewer is sitting in the middle of a 90-piece orchestra. “Let’s fix it in production is a better mantra. If you can give your production sound mixer time, especially on a performance piece, you can save hours on an ADR stage.”
Production sound mixer Mathew Price of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” notes it’s important to speak up on set when a take is unusable and let the director decide to roll again. “We want to avoid doing this at all cost, but most of the time there are things out of our control,” he says. To help post, one thing “Maisel” is adamant about is recording music at the location of filming instead of inside a studio. This way audio sounds more realistic to the space.
On Ben Stiller’s “Escape at Dannemora” multiple cameras shot wide and tight angles, making it challenging for production sound to consistently use an overhead mic. “Ben was a great collaborator and understood the importance of sound,” says production mixer Tom Nelson. “He gave us the time to adjust and knew we had to wire the actors every day. We wanted to capture the realism of the locations and give post as many options as we could.”
While technology has allowed sound to do so much more on set and in post, schedules have gotten shorter and budgets have gotten tighter. Both production and post agree that collaborating with each other early on is critical.
“Every time I’m able to talk to the production mixer before a project starts there’s always a better product in the end,” Proctor says. “It creates that bond between production and post.”
(Pictured above: Rock Climber Alex Honnold, arm raised, in Yosemite’s El Capitan Meadow for the filming of documentary “Free Solo”)