The country watched in amazement as popular New York congressman Anthony Weiner sexted and lied his way out of office. When he came back, this time making a run for mayor of New York City, we were mesmerized once more at the true drama — and proverbial train wreck — that was enfolding in front of us. This story is the focus of the new documentary, Weiner.
As is the case with most documentaries, audio post can be a huge challenge. Directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, the Sundance-winning Weiner, currently in theaters, VOD and airing on Showtime in October, was definitely no exception.
postPerspective caught up with mixer Tom Paul of Gigantic Post and the Hobo team, which included Chris Stangroom, Stephen Davies and Julian Angel, to talk about their work on the film.
Creatively, what were some of the key challenges you faced with the Weiner project?
Chris Stangroom: As with most documentaries, the vérité style of the film and the varied audio sources used proved especially challenging. A lot of the audio sources we were dealing with came from old news footage, cell phone cameras and the filmmakers themselves shooting in a guerilla-style.
We needed to clean all that up — the harsh drones, crackles and blaring sounds of city life. More so than other film genres, nobody pays attention to the audio in docs unless something sounds wrong. Making sure all of the source audio was as clean as possible was paramount.
Tom Paul: I approach docs and narrative films in basically the same way. They are both stories being told with sound and picture. The biggest difference is that in some docs, the production sound is quite noisy and usually can’t be replaced, so the sonic space available for subtlety in the sound design is sometimes more limited.
What was your and the filmmakers’ “big picture” thinking about the film’s audio mix?
Paul: We tried to infuse the film with the sound of a high-energy campaign in the middle of New York City, and to contrast that with the intimacy of the Weiner’s personal and home life that the film was privileged to have access to.
Anthony Weiner was on a whirlwind ride through the campaign and media onslaught, and we wanted to bring the audience on that ride with him. We also played with subjectivity, reflecting the dramatic events that took place, sometimes from Anthony Weiner’s perspective.
Any particular scene or sequence that proved the most interesting creatively or difficult for you?
Paul: The Caribbean parade sequence was a big challenge, and a big, fun party, but we had the most fun doing the scene near the end, when “Pineapple” (Weiner’s campaign staffs’ code name for the for the woman Weiner was caught “sexting” with) was trying to crash their campaign-closing party.
Creating the feeling of tension as the Weiner crew approached the scene in their SUV, contrasting that with the stakeout awaiting them, and the ensuing pursuit through a McDonald’s and into the bowels of the back hallways and staircases on their way to their own party, was a blast. It feels like an action movie for a minute.
Julian Angel: For me, the Caribbean parade scene was particularly complex because of the extreme noise level. Weiner is yelling into the megaphone, the crowds are almost louder than he is and booming music from the floats is everywhere, yet somehow we had to clear out all of that noise and focus viewers on what Weiner was actually saying and, more importantly, what the scene represents in the context of the film.
Stephen, you and Julian are credited as sound editors. What did that entail?
Stephen Davies: Julian and I concentrated primarily on finding the right city ambiences to use, and layering them so they sounded natural and believable. The challenge sonically was to make it all feel like one cohesive world.
What tools did you guys use on this film?
On Hobo’s side, we were using Avid Pro Tools|12 HD across the board. We use Soundminer for all of our sound effects organization and design work. I also used Izotope’s RX 5 Pro a lot for the dialogue (Spectral Repair and De-reverb mostly.Occasionally, EQ Match and Ambience Match come in handy as well). And of course that Hobo love… couldn’t do it without the camaraderie.
Tom also uses Pro Tools HD and works on an Avid ICON D-Control console for the final mix. We are all huge fans of Altiverb for reverbs, as well as Speakerphone and Revibe on occasion.
Tom, you’ve worked with Hobo several times prior to Weiner. What did they bring to the project and how would you describe the working relationship between the two companies?
Paul: I love Hobo. Howard Bowler, Hobo’s founder/president, and his team have been strong allies over the years on many projects. I know for certain that when I bring them onto a film I am doing, they will deliver not only impeccably crafted work, but also work done with their passion for storytelling.