By Jennifer Walden
“Girls do not do rewrites,” says Jim Belushi’s character, Wick McFadden, in Amazon Studios’ series Good Girls Revolt. It’s 1969, and he’s the national editor at News of the Week, a fictional news magazine based in New York City. He’s confronting the new researcher Nora Ephron (Grace Gummer) who claims credit for a story that Wick has just praised in front of the entire newsroom staff. The trouble is it’s 1969 and women aren’t writers; they’re only “researchers” following leads and gathering facts for the male writers.
When Nora’s writer drops the ball by delivering a boring courtroom story, she rewrites it as an insightful articulation of the country’s cultural climate. “If copy is good, it’s good,” she argues to Wick, testing the old conventions of workplace gender-bias. Wick tells her not to make waves, but it’s too late. Nora’s actions set in motion an unstoppable wave of change.
While the series is set in New York City, it was shot in Los Angeles. The newsroom they constructed had an open floor plan with a bi-level design. The girls are located in “the pit” area downstairs from the male writers. The newsroom production set was hollow, which caused an issue with the actors’ footsteps that were recorded on the production tracks, explains supervising sound editor Peter Austin. “The set was not solid. It was built on a platform, so we had a lot of boomy production footsteps to work around. That was one of the big dialogue issues. We tried not to loop too much, so we did a lot of specific dialogue work to clean up all of those newsroom scenes,” he says.
The main character Patti Robinson (Genevieve Angelson) was particularly challenging because of her signature leather riding boots. “We wanted to have an interesting sound for her boots, and the production footsteps were just useless. So we did a lot of experimenting on the Foley stage,” says Austin, who worked with Foley artists Laura Macias and Sharon Michaels to find the right sound. All the post sound work — sound editorial, Foley, ADR, loop group, and final mix was handled at Westwind Media in Burbank, under the guidance of post producer Cindy Kerber.
Austin and dialog editor Sean Massey made every effort to save production dialog when possible and to keep the total ADR to a minimum. Still, the newsroom environment and several busy street scenes proved challenging, especially when the characters were engaged in confidential whispers. Fortunately, “the set mixer Joe Foglia was terrific,” says Austin. “He captured some great tracks despite all these issues, and for that we’re very thankful!”
The newsroom acts as another character in Good Girls Revolt. It has its own life and energy. Austin and sound effects editor Steve Urban built rich backgrounds with tactile sounds, like typewriters clacking and dinging, the sound of rotary phones with whirring dials and bell-style ringers, the sound of papers shuffling and pencils scratching. They pulled effects from Austin’s personal sound library, from commercial sound libraries like Sound Ideas, and had the Foley artists create an array of period-appropriate sounds.
Loop group coordinator Julie Falls researched and recorded walla that contained period appropriate colloquialisms, which Austin used to add even more depth and texture to the backgrounds. The lively backgrounds helped to hide some dialogue flaws and helped to blend in the ADR. “Executive producer/series creator Dana Calvo actually worked in an environment like this and so she had very definite ideas about how it would sound, particularly the relentlessness of the newsroom,” explains Austin. “Dana had strong ideas about the newsroom being a character in itself. We followed her guide and wanted to support the scenes and communicate what the girls were going through — how they’re trying to break through this male-dominated barrier.”
Austin and Urban also used the backgrounds to reinforce the difference between the hectic state of “the pit” and the more mellow writers’ area. Austin says, “The girls’ area, the pit, sounds a little more shrill. We pitched up the phone’s a little bit, and made it feel more chaotic. The men’s raised area feels less strident. This was subtle, but I think it helps to set the tone that these girls were ‘in the pit’ so to speak.”
The busy backgrounds posed their own challenge too. When the characters are quiet, the room still had to feel frenetic but it couldn’t swallow up their lines. “That was a delicate balance. You have characters who are talking low and you have this energy that you try to create on the set. That’s always a dance you have to figure out,” says Austin. “The whole anarchy of the newsroom was key to the story. It creates a good contrast for some of the other scenes where the characters’ private lives were explored.”
The heartbeat of the newsroom is the teletype machines that fire off stories, which in turn set the newsroom in motion. Austin reports the teletype sound they used was captured from a working teletype machine they actually had on set. “They had an authentic teletype from that period, so we recorded that and augmented it with other sounds. Since that was a key motif in the show, we actually sweetened the teletype with other sounds, like machine guns for example, to give it a boost every now and then when it was a key element in the scene.”
Austin and Urban also built rich backgrounds for the exterior city shots. In the series opener, archival footage of New York City circa 1969 paints the picture of a rumbling city, moved by diesel-powered buses and trains, and hulking cars. That footage cuts to shots of war protestors and police lining the sidewalk. Their discontented shouts break through the city’s continuous din. “We did a lot of texturing with loop group for the protestors,” says Austin. He’s worked on several period projects over years, and has amassed a collection of old vehicle recordings that they used to build the street sounds on Good Girls Revolt. “I’ve collected a ton of NYC sounds over the years. New York in that time definitely has a different sound than it does today. It’s very distinct. We wanted to sell New York of that time.”
Good Girls Revolt is a dialogue-driven show but it did provide Austin with several opportunities to use subjective sound design to pull the audience into a character’s experience. The most fun scene for Austin was in Episode 5 “The Year-Ender” in which several newsroom researchers consume LSD at a party. As the scene progresses, the characters’ perspectives become warped. Austin notes they created an altered state by slowing down and pitching down sections of the loop group using Revoice Pro by Synchro Arts. They also used Avid’s D-Verb to distort and diffuse selected sounds.
“We got subjective by smearing different elements at different times. The regular sound would disappear and the music would dominate for a while and then that would smear out,” describes Austin. They also used breathing sounds to draw in the viewer. “This one character, Diane (Hannah Barefoot), has a bad experience. She’s crawling along the hallway and we hear her breathing while the rest of the sound slurs out in the background. We build up to her freaking out and falling down the stairs.”
Austin and Urban did their design and preliminary sound treatments in Pro Tools 12 and then handed it off to sound effects re-recording mixer Derek Marcil, who polished the final sound. Marcil was joined by dialog/music re-recording mixer David Raines on Stage 1 at Westwind. Together they mixed the series in 5.1 on an Avid ICON D-Control console. “Everyone on the show was very supportive, and we had a lot of creative freedom to do our thing,” concludes Austin.