In Shaka King’s “Judas and the Black Messiah,” the sound of the 1960s is an authentic and riveting one.
As King tells the story of Illinois Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya) and his betrayal by an FBI informant, the key for the sound team was to not just be authentic, but also to find a soundscape that was naturalistic. The idea was to use sound to support the characters’ stories.
For sound mixer Marlowe Taylor (“Queen and Slim”) he calls the experience one where he was “able to do all the things I loved to do.” King gave him the freedom to “showcase things I knew I could do.”
In one sequence, Hampton addresses a crowd of supporters inside a church in a rousing speech that culminates in him saying, “I am a revolutionary.”
Taylor explains there were 350 people in that scene as extras. For the first take, King filmed Kaluuya going up the stairs and walking to the pew in silence — with no crowd reaction. On seeing that, Taylor says, “I ran up to Shaka and said, let’s have the crows react to Daniel and just let it go, let’s have it organic.” He was inspired by going to church himself as a young boy and knew there needed to be something more dynamic to the sound later in post-production.
King agreed and had another take, this time with the crowd reacting. There were reservations about not being able to catch Kaluuya’s speech clean, but Taylor placed the mics exactly where he needed including a wired mic on the film’s star. “All that sound, when you watch that scene is all of us, there is nothing added,” Taylor says proudly. “It was so dynamic,” he explains. “The only thing I needed to do was make sure I pressed record.”
Taylor’s instincts were right — sound designers Rich Bologna (Supervising Sound Editor) and Skip Lievsay (Re-Recording Mixer) did not have to do anything in post, including ADR, because the sound was captured perfectly.
Watch Taylor and the two-time Academy Award winning Sound mixer Russell Williams (“Glory,” “Dances With Wolves”) discuss the sound of “Judas and the Black Messiah.”