A knife fight, books thrown across the room, a broken jaw and a rainy New York. Those are just a few of the many components that went into the sound design and sound mixing for “John Wick 3: Parabellum.”
The film is as much about sound as it is about the action and the acting. For supervising sound editor Mark Stoeckinger and production sound mixer David J. Schwartz, the one question they’ve both been asked is, “How do you record people in a fight scene like that?”
It helps that director Chad Stahelski — unlike most directors — comes from a stuntman background. Stoeckinger says, “He started off a martial artist, stuntman, fight coordinator, and director. He’s very specific about those sequences. That’s one of the reasons why it’s not cut that much, it’s almost like a dance. This was all unfolding to demonstrate the actors were really doing that.”
With the third installment of the film, the objective was to do something new and bring new sounds to an environment. Take the film’s opening: Wick in the New York Public Library. He encounters NBA center Boban Marjanovic, who tries to kill Wick using his bare hands. For that scene, Schwartz jokes, “A certain amount of Webster dictionaries gave up their life for that.” Aside from the choreography that needed to be done with the two, the action also needed to be embellished, and Schwartz says, “When he breaks his jaw with the book, that was a granny smith crunch.”
Schwartz adds to get the maximum action in a scene like the library fight, the actors weren’t wired. “We try not to do that, even if there is dialogue. We’re worried about the safety of the actors. We don’t want to worry about them falling onto a metal wireless transmitter pack. We don’t want a cable to come to lose. If we can use the boom, which we push for, then we don’t have to worry.” With the boom, Schwartz makes sure he gets the best grunts or footsteps from the action and gets as much as he can, whih helps the other creatives do their job. In that specific scene, he used two booms, staying back and still working to get the best sounds they could. “Let’s give the sound effects guys the best base and the best foundation to build upon. I know they’re going to be adding in so much stuff. The more we can provide for them, the more organic and easier it is for them to build on.”
In a scene later in the movie, which takes place in a glass house, Schwartz couldn’t be on set because of the countless reflections. To capture that sound, he explains they had to hide the microphones. “We were hiding those everywhere and anywhere we could. The reflections from that set didn’t permit us to be on set.”
New York and Morocco are huge components in the movie, with the action moving from the Big Apple to the deserts. Since Stoeckinger was L.A.-based and had hardly traveled to New York, he had a fresh take on capturing the sounds of the city. “You look for things and sounds that are indigenous to that environment. I’m not from the city, but I noticed the sirens had this low-frequency sound so I made an effort to gather those sounds.”
For the Morocco sequences, Schwartz says their picture editor traveled to the African country and recorded some sound, but they also had access to environmental sounds that were shot during the filming of “Black Hawk Down.” “We ended up using those. Also, we don’t have recurring sounds, so we’d find new ways to use sounds we had never used before.”
The film was the first of the series mixed in Atmos — “John Wick” had been mixed in 5.1 and “John Wick 2” in 7.1 — giving the film a bigger, more unique sound, which was what Stahelski had wanted.
The sounds for “John Wick 3’s” gun scenes were mainly developed in post-production. “We’d look at tracks and there were about 10 sounds per gun,” Stoeckinger explains. Each gun needed to have its own distinct tone. For that purpose, and to distinguish John Wick’s gun from his enemies, the team layered the sounds with mechanical and boom effects.