By Jennifer Walden
“It’s Quentin Tarantino meets Guy Ritchie.” That’s how Cleaners supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Michael McDonald describes this web series. If that doesn’t get your attention, I’m not sure what will. The show follows two highly skilled killers-for-hire trying to get their share of $57 million.
McDonald works out of Private Island Audio in LA; the studio recently completed the audio post on Cleaners Season 2, which premiered mid-August on Crackle, the online video network for Sony Pictures Television.
Season 2 was delivered to McDonald and his audio team at Private Island Audio six episodes at a time. They sat down with director/writer Paul Leyden and series producer Anne Clements to spot each episode for Foley, sound effects, sound design, dialogue edits and ADR. McDonald admits that working on the series is a huge undertaking: “This season has been the equivalent of two movies worth of work,” he says. “There is usually two action sequences in each episode, which means a lot of action sound design. It’s a huge amount of fun,” he says.
For each episode, McDonald and his team spent a week creating and editing the sound, and one and a half days for the final 5.1 mix. “We did three months worth of work in about one and a half months,” reports McDonald.
At times, the action scenes employ the use of slow-mo, which was a fun challenge for the team. After building the sound design and Foley for those scenes, McDonald says they slowed everything down to sync it with picture. “Even though we’re slowing the sounds down, particularly with the gunshots, we are still trying to keep the dynamics. It’s challenging to get pitched down gunshots and still have them smack.”
McDonald worked with director Paul Leyden three years ago on the film Come Back to Me, which was just released in theaters this July. During their work on the film, Leyden had talked about creating Cleaners. “Paul brought us Season 1 of Cleaners and we all had a fun time putting together the audio post for that. To me, Paul is a very brilliant writer and director,” says McDonald. “We’d been looking forward to working on Season 2 since last year.”
Cleaners Season 2 takes place on a small island in the Caribbean. Shooting on location in Puerto Rico created some unanticipated audio challenges, like flocks of tourists on ATVs and on ziplines through the trees. There were also scenes by the ocean.
“Some locations were really brutal in trying to salvage as much of the production dialogue as possible,” notes McDonald. He used iZotope’s RX3 noise-reduction toolkit to clean up the tracks. “The RX3 is really fantastic,” he reports. “We managed to clean most of it up, and then looped anything we couldn’t get clean. Despite the challenges, I feel the dialogue came out really good and I’m really proud of it.”
Originally a music recording studio, Private Island Audio expanded into audio post in the mid-1990s. The studios are housed in a converted old mansion in mid-city Los Angeles that was built in 1910 by Mr. Hauser, of Hauser Boulevard fame. “We converted the space into a Foley pit, recording studio, a large mix room and a small mix room,” he says. The series edit and mix was done within a Pro Tools 10 HD4 system using an Avid C|24 control surface.
“I mixed many movies and music projects on a big console over the years,” says McDonald, “and for me, nothing compares to the total control and complete recall of a mix done ‘in the box.’”