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A closer look at Southpaw’s audio

Director Antoine Fuqua and the film’s sound team talked about their process during a panel at Sony Pictures.

By Mel Lambert

With Oscar buzz swirling around the film Southpaw, director Antoine Fuqua paid tribute to his sound crew on The Weinstein Company’s drama during a screening and Q&A session on the Cary Grant Stage at Sony Pictures in Culver City — the same venue where the film’s soundtrack was re-recorded earlier this year.

The event was co-moderated by Cinema Audio Society president Mark Ulano and Motion Picture Sound Editor president Frank Morrone; it was introduced by MPSE president-elect Tom McCarthy, Sony Pictures Studio’s EVP of post production facilities.

The film depicts the decline and rise of former World Light Heavyweight boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), who turns to trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) for help getting his life back on track after losing his wife (Rachel McAdams) in a tragic accident and his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) to child protection services. Once the custody of his daughter falls into question, Hope decides to regain his former life by returning to the ring for a grudge match in Las Vegas with Miguel “Magic” Escobar (Miguel Gomez).

“Boxing is a violent sport,” Fuqua told the large audience of industry pros and guests. “It’s always best to be ready to train or you’re going to get hurt! I spent a lot of time with the actors preparing them for their roles, and on Jake’s pivotal relationship with his daughter, but I had to make sure that Jake’s character wasn’t too consumed by anger. If you don’t control your anger [in the boxing ring] you cannot control your performance.”

Fuqua is best known for his work on Training Day, as well as The Replacement Killers, King Arthur, Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen and The Equalizer. He has also directed a number of music videos for artists such as Prince, Stevie Wonder and Coolio. The latter’s Gansta’s Paradise rap video won a The Young Generators Award.

Director Antoine Fuqua with his Southpaw sound crew.

Director Antoine Fuqua (center, leather jacket) with the panel.

Fuqua revealed that he has worked with most of the crew since Training Day (2001), his major directorial debut. “I like to give them a copy of the script as early as possible so that they can prepare” for the editorial and post process. “The script shows me the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the film,” stated production mixer Ed Novick. “It shows the planned environments and gives me an idea of how I can capture the sound. Most of the key boxing matches were staged as a TV event, like an audience watching an HBO Production, for example. I placed mics in the corners of the boxing ring, on the referee and around the audience areas.”

“I drove Ed crazy,” Fuqua said. “I gave the actors the freedom to improvise; Jake is that type of actor and he just went with it! But often we had no idea where we were heading — we were just riffing a lot of the time to get the fire going — but Ed did an amazing job of securing what we were looking for.”

“The actors were very cooperative and very accommodating to my needs,” said Novick. “They wore mics while fighting, and Jake and Rachel helped me get great tracks.”

“Sound secured from the set is always the best,” added the film’s dialog/music re-recording mixer, Steve Pederson. “There was very little ADR on this film — most of it is production.”

“We developed a wide range of crowd sounds, which became our medium shots,” explained supervising sound editor Mandell Winter, MPSE.

Sound designer David Esparza and supervising sound editor Mandell Winter

Sound designer David Esparza and supervising sound editor Mandell Winter

“We made a number of ambience recordings during HBO boxing matches in Las Vegas using microphones located around the perimeter of the boxing ring and under the balcony, as well as mounting a DPA 5100 surround mic below the press box and camera platforms,” added sound designer David Esparza, MPSE. “We covered every angle we could to place the action into the middle of the ring using the sound of real crowds, and not effects libraries.”

As sound effects re-recording mixer Dan Leahy stated: “We used a combination of close-up and distant sounds to accurately locate the audience in the center of the fighting action.”

“It’s all about using sound to reinforce the feeling and emotion of a scene,” stressed Fuqua.

Picture editor John Refoua, ACE, added that “the sound also drove the cut. We had an initial mix with pre-cut effects — the final mix evolved with effects being cut at different audio frequencies to heighten the crowd’s excitement. It was an amazing process to witness, to have the soundtrack evolve during that period.”

“You could feel the heart beat rising,” Fuqua added.

For the major fight at the end of the film, Refoua recalled that there were 12 cameras running simultaneously, includingSOUTHPAW a handful of Canon EOS-5D DSLRs being assigned to the press. “That was a lot of footage,” he recalled. “We looked at it all a shot at a time, and made decisions about which one worked better than another.”

Originally, the final boxing match was choreographed for six rounds, “but we then cut it into 12,” continued Refoua. “We stretched and took alternate takes to build the other rounds.”

Regarding the use of a haunting score by the late James Horner, music editor Joe E. Rand said that the composer was drawn to the film because of the intimate father/daughter relationship, “and looked to different harmonic structures and balances” to reinforce that core element.

But the sound for one pivotal scene didn’t run as expected. “For the graveyard scene [between Gyllenhaal and Laurence, at the grave of the lead character’s wife] we lost most of the radio mics,” reported Winter. “We had a lot of RF hits and [because of camera angles] the boom mic wasn’t close to the actors. The only viable track was Oona [Laurence]’s lavaliere, which still had RF dropouts on it — iZotope RX saved the day.” “We needed to use iZotope to extract the signal from the RF noise,” recalled re-recording mixer Pederson. “Mandell [Winter] and I were surprised it worked out so well.”

“No director can make a movie by themselves,” concluded Fuqua. “The sound crew all came up with creative ideas that I needed to hear. After all, moviemaking is a highly collaborative effort.”
Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based editorial service. He can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.

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