By Jennifer Walden
Tom Cruise is one tough dude, and not just on the big screen. Cruise, who seems to be aging very gracefully, famously likes to do his own stunts, much to the dismay of many film studio execs.
Cruise’s most recent tough guy turn is in the sequel to 2014’s Jack Reacher. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, which is in theaters now, is based on the protagonist in author Lee Child’s series of novels. Reacher, as viewers quickly find out, is a hands-on type of guy — he’s quite fond of hand-to-hand combat where he can throw a well-directed elbow or headbutt a bad guy square in the face.
Supervising sound editor Mark P. Stoeckinger, based at Formosa Group’s Santa Monica location, has worked on numerous Cruise films, including both Jack Reachers, Mission: Impossible II and III, The Last Samurai and he helped out on Edge of Tomorrow. Stoeckinger has a ton of respect for Cruise, “He’s my idol. Being about the same age, I’d love to be as active and in shape as he is. He’s a very amazing guy because he is such a hard worker.”
Because he does his own stunts, and thanks to the physicality of Jack Reacher’s fighting style, sometimes Cruise gets a bruise or two. “I know he goes through a fair amount of pain, because he’s so extreme,” says Stoeckinger, who strives to make the sound of Reacher’s punches feel as painful as they are intended to be. If Reacher punches through a car window to hit a guy in the face, Stoeckinger wants that sound to have power. “Tom wants to communicate the intensity of the impacts to the audience, so they can appreciate it. That’s why it was performed that way in the first place.”
To give the fights that Reacher feel of being visceral and intense, Stoeckinger takes a multi-frequency approach. He layers high-frequency sounds, like swishes and slaps to signify speed, with low-end impacts to add weight. The layers are always an amalgamation of sound effects and Foley.
Stoeckinger prefers pulling hit impacts from sound libraries, or creating impacts specifically with “oomph” in mind. Then he uses Foley to flesh out the fight, filling in the details to connect the separate sound effects elements in a way that makes the fights feel organic.
The Sounds of Fighting
Under Stoeckinger’s supervision, a fight scene’s sound design typically begins with sound effects. This allows his sound team to start immediately, working with what they have at hand. On Jack Reacher: Never Go Back this task was handed over to sound effects editor Luke Gibleon at Formosa Group. Once the sound effects were in place, Stoeckinger booked the One Step Up Foley stage with Foley artist Dan O’Connell. “Having the effects in place gives us a very clear idea of what we want to cover with Foley,” he says. “Between Luke and Dan, the fight soundscapes for the film came to life.”
The culminating fight sequence, where Reacher inevitably prevails over the bad guy, was Stoeckinger’s favorite to design. “The arc of the film built up to this fight scene, so we got to use some bigger sounds. Although, it still needed to seem as real as a Hollywood fight scene can be.”
The sound there features low-frequency embellishments that help the audience to feel the fight and not just hear it. The fight happens during a rowdy street festival in New Orleans in honor of the Day of the Dead. Crowds cavort with noisemakers, bead necklaces rain down, music plays and fireworks explode. “Story wise, the fireworks were meant to mask any gunshots that happened in the scene,” he says. “So it was about melding those two worlds — the fight and the atmosphere of the crowds — to help mask what we were doing. That was fun and challenging.”
The sounds of the street festival scene were all created in post since there was music playing during filming that wasn’t meant to stay on the track. The location sound did provide a sonic map of the actual environment, which Stoeckinger considered when rebuilding the scene. He also relied on field recordings captured by Larry Blake, who lives in New Orleans. “Then we searched for other sounds that were similar because we wanted it to sound fun and festive but not draw the ear too much since it’s really just the background.”
Stoeckinger sweetened the crowd sounds with recordings they captured of various noisemakers, tambourines, bead necklaces and group ADR to add mid-field and near-field detail when desired. “We tried to recreate the scene, but also gave it a Hollywood touch by adding more specifics and details to bring it more to life in various shots, and bring the audience closer to it or further away from it.”
Stoeckinger also handled design on the film’s other backgrounds. His objective was to keep the locations feeling very real, so he used a combination of practical effects they recorded and field recordings captured by effect editor Luke Gibleon, in addition to library effects. “Luke [Gibleon] has a friend with access to an airport, so Luke did some field recordings of the baggage area and various escalators with people moving around. He also captured recordings of downtown LA at night. All of those field recordings were important in giving the film a natural sound.”
There where numerous locations in this film. One was when Reacher meets up with a teenage girl who he’s protecting from the bad guys. She lives in a sketchy part of town, so to reinforce the sketchiness of the neighborhood, Stoeckinger added nearby train tracks to the ambience and created street walla that had an edgy tone. “It’s nothing that you see outside of course, but sound-wise, in the ambient tracks, we can paint that picture,” he explains.
In another location, Stoeckinger wanted to sell the idea that they were on a dock, so he added in a boat horn. “They liked the boat horn sound so much that they even put a ship in the background,” he says. “So we had little sounds like that to help ground you in the location.”
Tools and the Mix
At Formosa, Stoeckinger has his team work together in one big Avid Pro Tools 12 sessions that included all of their sounds: the Foley, the backgrounds, sound effects, loop group and design elements. “We shared it,” he says. “We had a ‘check out’ system, like, ‘I’m going to check out reel three and work on this sequence.’ I did some pre-mixing, where I went through a scene or reel and decided what’s working or what sections needed a bit more. I made a mark on a timeline and then handed that off to the appropriate person. Then they opened it up and did some work. This master session circulated between two or three of us that way.” Stoeckinger, Gibleon and sound designer Alan Rankin, who handled guns and miscellaneous fight sounds, worked on this section of the film.
All the sound effects, backgrounds, and Foley were mixed on a Pro Tools ICON, and kept virtual from editorial to the final mix. “That was helpful because all the little pieces that make up a sound moment, we were able to adjust them as necessary on the stage,” explains Stoeckinger.
Premixing and the final mixes were handled at Twentieth Century Fox Studios on the Howard Hawks Stage by re-recording mixers James Bolt (effects) and Andy Nelson (dialogue/music). Their console arrangement was a hybrid, with the effects being mixed on an Avid ICON, and the dialogue and music mixed on an AMS Neve DFC console.
Stoeckinger feels that Nelson did an excellent job of managing the dialogue, particularly for moments where noisy locations may have intruded upon subtle line deliveries. “In emotional scenes, if you have a bunch of noise that happens to be part of the dialogue track, that detracts from the scene. You have to get all of the noise under control from a technical standpoint.” On the creative side, Stoeckinger appreciated Nelson’s handling of Henry Jackman’s score.
On effects, Stoeckinger feels Bolt did an amazing job in working the backgrounds into the Dolby Atmos surround field, like placing PA announcements in the overheads, pulling birds, cars or airplanes into the surrounds. While Stoeckinger notes this is not an overtly Atmos film, “it helped to make the film more spatial, helped with the ambiences and they did a little bit of work with the music too. But, they didn’t go crazy in Atmos.”