Tag Archives: audio post production

The A-List: The sound of La La Land

By Jennifer Walden

Director/writer Damien Chazelle’s musical La La Land has landed an incredible 14 Oscar nominations — not to mention fresh BAFTA wins for Best Film, Best Cinematography, Original Music and Best Leading Actress, in addition to many, many other accolades.

The story follows aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) who meets the talented-but-struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) at a dinner club, where he’s just been fired from his gig of plinking out classic Christmas tunes for indifferent diners. Mia throws out a compliment as Sebastian approaches, but he just breezes right past, ignoring her completely. Their paths cross again at a Los Angeles pool party, and this time Mia makes a lasting impression on Sebastian. They eventually fall in love, but their life together is complicated by the realities of making their own dreams happen.

Sounds of the City
La La Land is a love story but it’s also a love letter to Los Angeles, says supervising sound editor Ai-Ling Lee, who shares an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Editing on the film with co-supervising sound editor Mildred Iatrou Morgan. One of Chazelle’s initial directives was to have the cityscape sound active and full of life. “He gave me film references, like Boogie Nights and Mean Streets, even though the latter was a New York film. He liked the amount of sound coming out from the city, but wanted a more romantic approach to the soundscape on La La Land. He likes the idea of the city always being bustling,” says Lee.

Mildred Iatrou Morgan and Ai-Ling Lee. Photo Credit:JW Harlackeruse

In addition to La La Land’s musical numbers, director Chazelle wanted to add musical moments throughout the film, some obvious, like the car radios in the opening traffic jam, and some more subtle. Lee explains, “You always hear music coming from different sources in the city, like music coming out of a car going by or mariachi music coming from down the hallway of Sebastian’s apartment building.” The culturally diverse incidental music, traffic sounds, helicopters, and local LA birds, like mourning doves, populate the city soundscape and create a distinct Los Angeles vibe.

For Lee’s sound editorial and sound design, she worked in a suite at EPS-Cineworks in Burbank — the same facility where the picture editor and composer were working. “Damien and Tom Cross [film editor] were cutting the picture there, and Justin Hurwitz the composer were right next door to them, and I was right across the hall from them. It was a very collaborative environment so it was easy to bring someone over to review a scene or sounds. I could pop over there to see them if I had any questions,” says Lee, who was able to design sound against the final music tracks. That was key to helping those two sound elements gel into one cohesive soundtrack.

Bursting Into Song
Director Chazelle’s other initial concern for sound was the music, particularly how the spoken dialogue would transitions into the studio recorded songs. That’s where supervising sound editor Morgan got to flex her dialogue editing muscles. “Milly [Morgan] knows this style of ADR, having worked on musicals before,” says Lee. “Damien wanted the dialogue to seamlessly transition into a musical moment. He didn’t want it to feel like suddenly we’re playing a pre-recorded song. He liked to have things sound more natural, with realistic grounded sounds, to help blend the music into the scene,” says Lee.

To achieve a smooth dialogue transition, Morgan recorded ADR for every line that led into a song to ensure she had a good transition between production dialogue and studio recorded dialogue, which would transition more cleanly into the studio-recorded music. “I cued that way for La La Land, but I ended up not having to use a lot of that. The studio recorded vocals and the production sound were beautifully recorded using the same mics in both cases. They were matching very well and I was able to go with the more emotional, natural sounding songs that were sung on-set in some cases,” says Morgan, who worked from her suite at 20th Century Fox studios along with ADR editor Galen Goodpaster.

Mia’s audition song, “The Fools Who Dream,” was one track that Morgan and the director were most concerned about. As Mia gives her impromptu audition she goes from speaking softly to suddenly singing, and then she starts singing louder. That would have been difficult to recreate in post because her performance on-set — captured by production mixer Steven Morrow, was so beautiful and emotional. The trouble was there were creaking noises on the track. Morgan explains, “As Mia starts singing, the camera moves in on her. It moves through the office and through the desk. It was a breakaway desk and they broke it apart so that the camera could move through it. That created all the creaking I heard on the track.”

Morgan was able to save the live performance by editing in clean ambience between words, and finding alternate takes that weren’t ruined by the creaking noise. She used Elastic Audio inside Pro Tools, as well as the Pro Tools TCE tool (time compression/expansion tool) to help tweak the alt takes into place. “I had to go through all of the outtakes, word by word, syllable by syllable, and find ones that fit in with the singing, and didn’t have creaks on it, and fit in terms of sync. It was very painstaking. It took me a couple of days to do it but it was a very rewarding result. That took a lot of time but it was so worth it because that was a really important moment in the movie,” says Morgan.

Reality Steps In
Not all on-set song performances could be used in the final track, so putting the pre-recorded songs in the space helped to make the transition into musical moments feel more realistic. Precisely crafted backgrounds, made with sounds that fit the tone of the impending song, gradually step aside as the music takes over. But not all of the real-world sounds go away completely. Foley helped to ground a song into the reality on screen by marrying it to the space. For example, Mia’s roommates invite her to a party in a song called “Someone In the Crowd.” Diegetic sounds, such as the hairdryer, the paper fan flicking open, occasional footsteps, and clothing rustles helped the pre-recorded song fit naturally into the scene. Additionally, Morgan notes that production mixer Morrow “did an excellent job of miking the actors with body mics and boom mics, even during the musical numbers that were sung to playback, like ‘Someone In the Crowd,’ just in case there was something to capture that we could use. There were a couple of little vocalizations that we were able to use in the number.”

Foley also played a significant role in the tap dance song “A Lovely Night.” Originally performed as a soft shoe dance number, director Chazelle decided to change it to a tap dance number in post. Lee reveals, “We couldn’t use the production sound since there was music playback in the scene for the actors to perform to. So, we had to fully recreate everything with the sound. Damien had a great idea to try to replace the soft shoe sound with tap shoes. It was an excellent idea because the tap sound plays so much better with the dance music than the soft shoe sound does.”

Lee enlisted Mandy Moore, the dance choreographer on the film, and several dancers to re-record the Foley on that scene. Working with Foley artist Dan O’Connell, of One Step Up located on The Jane Russell Foley Stage at 20th Century Fox Studios, they tried various weights of tap shoes on different floor surfaces before narrowing it down to the classic “Fred and Ginger” sound that Chazelle was looking for. “Even though they are dancing on asphalt, we ended up using a wooden floor surface on the Foley stage. Damien was very precise about playing up a step here and playing up a scuff there, because it plays better against the music. It was really important to have the taps done to the rhythm of the song as opposed to being in sync with picture. It fools your brain. Once you have everything in rhythm with the music, the rest flows like butter,” says Lee. She cut the tap dance Foley to picture according to Chazelle’s tastes, and then invited Moore to listen to the mix to make sure that the tap dance routine was realistic from a dancer’s point of view.

Inside the Design
One of Lee’s favorite scenes to design was the opening sequence of the film, which starts with the sound of a traffic jam on a Los Angeles freeway. The sound begins in mono with a long horn honk over a black and white Cinemascope logo. As the picture widens and the logo transitions into color, Lee widens the horn honk into stereo and then into the surrounds. From that, the sound builds to a few horns and cars idling. Morgan recorded a radio announcer to establish the location as Los Angeles. The 1812 Overture plays through a car radio, and the sound becomes futzed as the camera pans to the next car in the traffic jam. With each car the camera passes the radio station changes. “This is Los Angeles and it is a mixed cultural city. Damien wanted to make sure there was a wide variety of music styles, so Justin [Hurwitz] gave me a bunch of different music choices, an eclectic selection to choose from,” says Lee. She added radio tuning sounds, car idling sounds, and Foley of tapping on the steering wheel to ground the scene in reality. “We made sure that the sound builds but doesn’t overpower the first musical number. The first trumpet hit comes through this traffic soundscape, and gradually the real city sounds give way to the first song, ‘Another Day of Sun.’”

One scene that stood out for Morgan was after Mia’s play, when she’s in her dressing room feeling sad that the theater was mostly empty for her performance. Not even Sebastian showed up. As she’s sitting there, we hear two men from the audience disparaging her and her play. Initially, Chazelle and his assistant recorded a scratch track for that off-stage exchange, but he asked Morgan to reshoot it with actors. “He wanted it to sound very naturalistic, so we spent some time finding just the right actors who didn’t sound like actors. They sound like regular people,” says Morgan.

She had the actors improvise their lines on why they hated the play, how superficial it was and how pretentious it was. Following some instruction from Chazelle, they cut the scene together. “We screened it and it was too mean, so we had to tone it back a little,” shares Morgan. “That was fun because I don’t always get to do that, to create an ADR scene from scratch. Damien is meticulous. He knows what he wants and he knows what he doesn’t want. But in this case, he didn’t know exactly what they should say. He had an idea. So I do my version and he gave me ideas and it went back and forth. That was a big challenge for me but a very enjoyable one.”

The Mix
In addition to sound editing, Lee also mixed the final soundtrack with re-recording mixer Andy Nelson at Fox Studios in Los Angeles. She and Nelson share an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Mixing on La La Land. Lee says, “Andy and I had made a film together before, called Wild, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. So it made sense for me to do both the sound design and to mix the effects. Andy mixed the music and dialogue. And Jason Ruder was the music editor.”

From design to mix, Chazelle’s goal was to have La La Land sound natural — as though it was completely natural for these people to burst into song as they went through their lives. “He wanted to make sure it sounded fluid. With all the work we did, we wanted to make the film sound natural. The sound editing isn’t in your face. When you watch the movie as a whole, it should feel seamless. The sound shouldn’t take you out of the experience and the music shouldn’t stand apart from the sound. The music shouldn’t sound like a studio recording,” concludes Lee. “That was what we were trying to achieve, this invisible interaction of music and sound that ultimately serves the experience.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.

Alvaro Rodríguez

Behind the Title: Histeria Music’s chief audio engineer Alvaro Rodríguez

NAME: Alvaro Rodríguez

COMPANY: Histeria Music (@histeriamusic)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Miami’s Histeria Music is a music production and audio post company. Since its foundation in 2003 we have focused on supporting our clients’ communication needs with powerful music and sound that convey a strong message and create a bond with the audience. We offer full audio post production, music production, and sound design services for advertising, film, TV, radio, video games and the corporate world.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
CEO/ Chief Audio Engineer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As an audio post engineer, I work on 5.1 and stereo mixing, ADR and voiceover recordings, voiceover castings and talent direction, music search and editing, dialogue cleanup, remote recording via ISDN and/or Source Connect and sound design.

Studio A

Studio A

As the owner and founder of the studio, I take care of a ton of things. I make sure our final productions are of the highest quality possible, and handle client services, PR, bookkeeping, social media and marketing. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else!

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Some people might think that I just sit behind a console, pushing buttons trying to make things sound pretty. In reality, I do much more than that. I advise creative and copywriters on changes in scripts that might help better fit whatever project we are recording. I also direct talent using creative vocabulary to ensure that their delivery is adequate and their performance hits that emotion we are trying to achieve. I get to sound design, edit and move audio clips around on my DAW, almost as if I were composing a piece of music, adding my own sound to the creative process.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Sound design! I love it when I get a video from any of our clients that has no sound whatsoever, not even a scratch recording of a voiceover. This gives me the opportunity to add my signature sound and be as creative as possible and help tell a story. I also love working on radio spots. Since there is no video to support the audio, I usually get to be a bigger part of the creative process once we start putting together the spots. Everything from the way the talent is recorded to the sounds and the way phrases and words are edited together is something I’ll never get tired of doing.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Sales. It’s tricky because as the owner when you succeed, it’s the best feeling in the world, but it can be very frustrating and overwhelming sometimes.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
During work it has to be that moment you get the email saying the spots have been approved and are ready for traffic. On a personal level, it’s when I take my nine-year old to soccer practice, usually around 6pm

Studio B

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Wow, I have no idea how to answer this question. I can’t see myself doing anything else, really, although I’ll add that I am an avid home brewer and enjoy the craft quite a bit.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
Ever since I was a kid I had this fascination with things that make sounds. I was always drawn to a guitar or simply buckets I could smack and make some sort of a rhythmic pattern. After high school, I went to college and started studying business administration, only to follow in my dad and brother’s steps. Not to anyone’s surprise I quit after the second semester and ended up doing a bit of soul searching. Long story short, I ended up attending Full Sail University where I graduated in the Recording Arts program back in 2000

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
This year started with a great and fun project for us. We are recording ADR for the Netflix series Bloodline. We are also currently working on the audio post and film scoring of a short film called Andante based on a story from Argentinian author Julio Cortazar.

Also worth mentioning is that we recently concluded the audio post for seasons one and two of the MTV show Ridículos, which is the Spanish and Portuguese language adaptations of the original English version of Ridiculousness that currently airs in Latin America and Brazil.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
The first project I ever did for the advertising industry. I was 23 and a recent graduate of Full Sail. All the stars and planets aligned and a campaign for Budweiser — both for the general and US Hispanic markets — landed in my lap. This came from Del Rivero Messianu DDB (currently known as ALMA DDB, Ad Age’s 2017 multicultural agency of the year).

I was living with my parents at the time and had a small home studio in the garage. No Pro Tools, no Digi Beta, just good-old Cool Edit and a VHS player (yes, I manually pressed play on the VHS and Cool Edit to sync my music to picture). Long story short, I ended up writing and producing the music for that TV spot. This led to me unavoidably opening the doors of Histeria Music to the public in 2003.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
iZotope’s RX Post Production Suite, Telos Zephyr Xstream ISDN box and Source Connect. I also use the FabFilter Pro-Q 2 quite a bit.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I live in Miami and the beach is my backyard, so I find myself relaxing for hours at the beach on weekends. I love to spend time with my family during my son’s soccer practices and games. When I am really stressed and need to be alone, I tend to brew some crafty beers at home. Great hobby!

Netflix's Stranger Things

AES LA Section & SMPTE Hollywood: Stranger Things sound

By Mel Lambert

The most recent joint AES/SMPTE meeting at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City showcased the talents of the post production crew that worked on the recent Netflix series Stranger Things at Technicolor’s facilities in Hollywood.

Over 160 attendees came to hear how supervising sound editor Brad North, sound designer Craig Henighan, sound effects editor Jordan Wilby, music editor David Klotz and dialog/music re-recording mixer Joe Barnett worked their magic on last year’s eight-episode Season One (Sadly, effects re-recording mixer Adam Jenkins was unable to attend the gathering.) Stranger Things, from co-creators Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer, is scheduled to return in mid-year for Season 2.

L-R: Jordan Wilby, Brad North, Craig Henighan, Joe Barnett, David Klotz and Mel Lambert. Photo Credit: Steve Harvey.

Attendees heard how the crew developed each show’s unique 5.1-channel soundtrack, from editorial through re-recording — including an ‘80s-style, synth-based music score, from Austin-based composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, that is key to the show’s look and feel — courtesy of a full-range surround sound playback system supplied by Dolby Labs.

“We drew our inspiration — subconsciously, at least — from sci-fi films like Alien, The Thing and Predator,” Henighan explained. The designer also revealed how he developed a characteristic sound for the monster that appears in key scenes. “The basic sound is that of a seal,” he said. “But it wasn’t as simple as just using a seal vocal, although it did provide a hook — an identifiable sound around which I could center the rest of the monster sounds. It’s fantastic to take what is normally known as a nice, light, fun-loving sound and use it in a terrifying way!” Tim Prebble, a New Zealand-based sound designer, and owner of sound effects company Hiss and A Roar, offers a range of libraries, including SD003 Seal Vocals|Hiss and A Roar.

Gear used includes Avid Pro Tools DAWs — everybody works in the box — and Avid 64-fader, dual-operator S6 console at the Technicolor Seward Stage. The composers use Apple Logic Pro to record and edit their AAF-format music files.


Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.

 

Jon Hamm

Audio post for Jon Hamm’s H&R Block spots goes to Eleven

If you watch broadcast television at all, you’ve likely seen the ubiquitous H&R Block spots featuring actor Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame. The campaign out of Fallon Worldwide features eight spots — all take place either on a film set or a studio backlot, and all feature Hamm in costume for a part. Whether he’s breaking character dressed in traditional Roman garb to talk about how H&R Block can help with your taxes, or chatting up a zombie during a lunch break, he’s handsome, funny and on point: use H&R Block for your tax needs. Simon McQuoid from Imperial Woodpecker directed.

Studio C /Katya Jeff Payne

Jeff Payne

The campaign’s audio post was completed at Eleven in Santa Monica. Eleven founder Jeff Payne worked the spots. “As well as mixing, I created sound design for all of the spots. The objective was to make the sound design feel very realistic and to enhance the scenes in a natural way, rather than a sound design way. For example, on the spot titled Donuts the scene was set on a studio back lot with a lot of extras moving around, so it was important to create that feel without distracting from the dialogue, which was very subtle and quiet. On the spot titled Switch, there was a very energetic music track and fast cutting scenes, but again it needed support with realistic sounds that gave all the scenes more movement.”

Payne says the major challenge for all the spots was to make the dialogue feel seamless. “There were many different angle shots with different microphones that needed to be evened out so that the dialogue sounded smooth.”

In terms of tools, all editing and mixing was done with Avid’s Pro Tools HDX system and S6 console. Sound design was done through Soundminer software.

Jordan Meltzer was assistant mixer on the campaign, and Melissa Elston executive produced for Eleven. Arcade provided the edit, Timber the VFX and post and color was via MPC.

Behind the Title: Stir Post Audio sound designer/mixer Nick Bozzone

NAME: Nick Bozzone

COMPANY: Chicago’s Stir Post Audio (@STIRpost)

DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY:
Stir Post Audio is comprised of engineers, mixers, sound designers and producers, who transform audio mixes into what we call “sonic power shots.”

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Sound Designer/Mixer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As a post sound professional, there are many different disciplines of audio that I use on a day-to-day basis — voiceover recording/mic techniques (ADR included), creative sound designing, voiceover and music editing, 5.1 and stereo broadcast (LKFS) mixing, as well as providing a positive (and fun) voice in the room.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The term sound designer envelops more than simply spotting stock sound effects to picture, it’s an opportunity to be as creative as my mind allows. It’s a chance at making a sonic signature —a signature that, most of the time, is associated with the product itself. I have been very fortunate through my career so far to have worked on these types of commercial campaigns and short films… projects that have allowed me to stretch my sonic imagination.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My favorite part of the job is when its time to mix. Mixing can be just as creative, if not more so, as sound design. There are a lot of technical aspects to mixing heavy-hitting commercials. Most of the time there are a bunch of very dynamic elements going on at the same time. The finesse of a great mix is the ability to take all of these things, bring them all together and have them all sitting in their own spot.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
It may be my least favorite part, but it’s a necessary evil… archiving!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
During work, it’s when the whole room gives my mix a thumbs up. During the weekend, it’s definitely around sunset. For whatever reason, no matter how tired I am, around sunset is when my body kicks into its second wind and I become a night owl (or at least I used to be one before my daughter was born five months ago).

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That was told to me when I entered college, and I took that quote to heart. Originally, I thought that I wanted to be a creative writer and then I had an interest in being a hypnotherapist. Both were interesting to me, but neither one was holding my interest for very long. Thankfully, I took an introductory class in Pro Tools. That one class showed me that there could be a future in sound. You never know where you’ll get your inspiration.

Nick creating sounds for Mist Twst.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Many projects that come through our doors require quite a bit of strategy with regard to the intention or emotion of the project. I worked on the re-branding campaign for Pepsi’s Sierra Mist, which changed its name to Mist Twst.

There were a lot of very specific sound design elements I created in that session. The intention was to not just make an everyday run-of-the-mill soda commercial; we wanted it to feel crisp, clean and natural like the drink. So, we went to the store and bought a bunch of different fruits and vegetables, and recorded ourselves cutting, squeezing, and dropping them into a fizzy glass of Mist Twst. We even recorded ourselves opening soda cans at different speeds and pouring soda into glasses with and without ice.

I also worked on a really fun 5 Gum radio campaign that won a Radio Mercury Award. The concept was a “truth or dare” commercial geared toward people streaming music with headphones on. It allows the listener to choose whether to play along with listening to the left headphone for a truth, or the right headphone to do a dare.

We did campaign for Aleve with beautiful film showing a grandfather on an outing with his granddaughter at an amusement park and suddenly he throws his back out. The entire park grinds to a halt as a result — visually and audio-wise. There was a lot of sound design involved in this process, and was a very fun and creative experience.

Kerrygold

For a recent package of TV spots for Kerrygold, the Irish dairy group, created by Energy BBDO. my main goal for “Made for this Moment” was to let the gentile music track and great lyrics have center stage and breathe, as if they were their own character in the story. My approach to the sound design was to fill out each scene with subtle sound design elements that are almost felt and not heard… nothing poking through further than anything else, and nothing competing with the music, only enhancing the overall mood.”

Focusing on sound bars at CES 2017

By Tim Hoogenakker

My day job is as a re-recording mixer and sound editor working on long-form projects, so when I attended this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I honed in on the leading trends in home audio playback. It was important for me to see what the manufacturers are planning regarding multi-channel audio reproduction for the home. From the look of it, sound bars seem to be leading the charge. My focus was primarily with immersive sound bars, single-box audio components capable of playing Dolby Atmos and DTS:X as close as they can in their original format.

Klipsch TheaterBar

Klipsch Theaterbar

Now I must admit, I’ve kicked and screamed about sound bars in the past, audibly rolling my eyes at the concept. We audio mixers are used to working in perfect discrete surround environments, but I wanted to keep an open mind. Whether we as sound professionals like it or not, this is where the consumer product technology is headed. That and I didn’t see quite the same glitz and glam over discrete surround speaker systems at CES.

Here are some basic details with immersive sound bars in general:

1. In addition to the front channels, they often have up-firing drivers on the left and right edges (normally on the top and sides) that are intended to reflect onto the walls and the ceiling of the room. This is to replicate the immersiveness as much as possible. Sure this isn’t exact replication, but I’ll certainly give manufacturers praise for their creativity.
2. Because of the required reflectivity, the walls have to be of a flat enough surface to reflect the signal, yet still balanced so that it doesn’t sound like you’re sitting in the middle of your shower.
3. There is definitely a sweet spot in the seating position when listening to sound bars. If you move off-axis, you may experience somewhat of a wash sitting near the sides, but considering what they’re trying to replicate, it’s an interesting take.
4. They usually have an auto-tuning microphone system for calculating the room for the closest accuracy.
5. I’m convinced that there’s a conspiracy by the manufacturers to make each and every sound bar, in physical appearance, resemble the enigmatic Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey…as if literally someone just knocked it over.

Yamaha YSP5600

My first real immersive sound bar experience happened last year with the Yamaha YSP-5600, which comes loaded with 40 (yes 40!) drivers. It’s a very meaty 26-pound sound bar with a height of 8.5 inches and width of 3.6 feet. I heard a few projects that I had mixed in Dolby Atmos played back on this system. Granted, even when correctly tuned it’s not going to sound the same as my dubbing stage or with dedicated home theater speakers, but knowing this I was pleasantly surprised. A few eyebrows were raised for sure. It was fun playing demo titles for friends, watching them turn around and look for surround speakers that weren’t there.

A number of the sound bars displayed at CES bring me to my next point, which honestly is a bit of a complaint. Many were very thin in physical design, often labeled as “ultra-thin,” which to me means very small drivers, which tells me that there’s an elevated frequency crossover line for the subwoofer(s). Sure, I understand that they need to look sleek so they can sell and be acceptable for room aesthetics, but I’m an audio nerd. I WANT those low- to mid-frequencies carried through from the drivers, don’t just jam ALL the low- and mid-frequencies to the sub. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out as these products reach market during the year.

Sony HTST 5000

Besides immersive audio, most of these sound bars will play from a huge variety of sources, formats and specs, such as Blu-ray, Blu-ray UHD, DVD, DVD-Audio, streaming via network and USB, as well as connections for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 4K pass-through.

Some of these sound bars — like many things at CES 2017 — are supported with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. So, instead of fighting over the remote control, you and your family can now confuse Alexa with arguments over controlling your audio between “Game of Thrones” and Paw Patrol.

Finally, I probably won’t be installing a sound bar on my dub stage for reference anytime soon, but I do feel that professionally it’s very important for me to know the pros and the cons — and the quirks — so we can be aware how our audio mixes will translate through these systems. And considering that many major studios and content creators are becoming increasingly ready to make immersive formats their default deliverable standard, especially now with Dolby Vision, I’d say it’s a necessary responsibility.

Looking forward to seeing what NAB has up its sleeve on this as well.

Here are some of the more notable soundbars debuted:

LG SJ9

Sony HT-ST5000: This sound bar is compatible with Google Home. They say it works well with ceilings as high as 17 feet. It’s not DTS:X-capable yet, but Sony said that will happen by the end of the year.LG SJ9: The LG SJ9 sound bar is currently noted by LG as “4K high resolution audio” (which is an impossible statement). It’s possible that they mean it’ll pass through a 4K signal, but the LG folks couldn’t clarify. That snafu aside, it has a very wide dimensionality, which helps for stereo imaging. It will be Dolby Vision/HDR-capable via a future firmware upgrade.

The Klipsch “Theaterbar”: This another eyebrow raiser. It’ll release in Q4 of 2017. There’s no information on the web yet, but they’re showcasing this at CES.

Pioneer Elite FS-EB70: There’s no information on the web yet, but they were showcasing this at CES.

Onkyo SBT-A500 Network: Also no information but it was shown at CES.


Formosa Group re-recording mixer and sound editor Tim Hoogenakker has over 20 years of experience in audio post for music, features and documentaries, television and home entertainment formats. He had stints at Prince’s Paisley Park Studios and POP Sound before joining Formosa.

Stranger Things

Upcoming AES LA meeting features Netflix’s Stranger Things sound team

On January 31, the AES LA Section monthly meeting will showcase the sound editorial and re-recording of the Netflix series Stranger Things. Attendees will hear first-hand how the sound team creates the 5.1-channel soundtrack, including the eerie music that is key to the show’s look and feel. A second season from the Duffer Brothers is scheduled to start later this year, with its haunting ’80s-style, synth-based musical score.

For those of you not familiar with the show, it’s set in Indiana in 1983 and focuses on a 12-year-old boy gone missing and the resulting search for him by the police chief and his friends.

The editorial team for Stranger Things is headed up by supervising sound editor Brad North, who works closely with sound designer Craig Henighan, sound effects editor Jordan Wilby and music editor David Klotz. The re-recording crew, working at the Technicolor Seward stage, is Joe Barnett, who handles dialogue and music, and Adam Jenkins, who handles sound effects.

“We drew our inspiration — subconsciously, at least — from such sci-fi films as Alien, The Thing and Predator,” Henighan recalls. Part sci-fi, part horror and part family drama, Stranger Things is often considered an homage to 80’s movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET.

The joint AES/SMPTE January meeting, which will be held at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City on Tuesday, January 31, is open to both AES and SMPTE members and non-members.

Panelists will include Adam Jenkins, Jordan Wilby, Joe Barnett, David Klotz, Brad North and Craig Henighan.

Patriots Day

Augmenting Patriots Day‘s sound with archival audio

By Jennifer Walden

Fresh off the theatrical release of his dramatized disaster film Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg brings another current event to the big screen with Patriots Day. The film recounts the Boston Marathon bombing by combining Berg’s cinematic footage with FBI-supplied archival material from the actual bombing and investigation.

Once again, Berg chose to partner with Technicolor’s supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Dror Mohar, who contributed to the soundtrack of Berg’s Deepwater Horizon (2016) and Lone Survivor (2013).  He earned an MPSE award nomination for sound editing on the latter.

According to Mohar, Berg’s intention for Patriots Day was not to make a film about tragedy and terrorism, but rather to tell the story of a community’s courage in the face of this disaster. “This was personal for Peter [Berg]. His conviction about not exploiting or sensationalizing any of it was in every choice he made,” says Mohar. “He was vigilant about the cinematic attributes never compromising the authenticity and integrity of the story of the events and the people who were there — the law enforcement, victims and civilians. Peter wanted to evolve and explore the sound continuously. My compass throughout was to create a soundtrack that was as immersive as it was genuine.”

From a sound design perspective, Mohar was conscious of keeping the qualities and character of the sounds in check — favoring raw, visceral sounds over treated or polished ones. He avoided oversized “Hollywood” treatments. For example, Mohar notes the Watertown shootout sequence. The lead-up to the firefight was inspired by a source audio recording of the Watertown shootout captured by a neighbor on a handheld camera.

“Two things grabbed my attention — the density of the firefight, which sounded like Chinese New Year, and the sound of wind chimes from a nearby home,” he explains. “Within what sounded like war and chaos, there was a sweet sound that referenced home, family, porch… This shootout is happening in a residential area, in the middle of everyday life. Throughout the film, I wanted to maintain the balance between emotional and visceral sounds. Working closely with picture editors Colby Parker Jr. and Gabriel Fleming, we experimented with sound design that aligned directly with the dramatic effect of the visuals versus designs that counteracted the drama and created an experience that was less comfortable but ultimately more emotional.”

Tension was another important aspect of the design. The bombing disrupted life, and not just the lives of those immediately or physically affected by the bombing. Mohar wanted the sound to express those wider implications. “When the city is hit, it affects everyone. Something in that time period is just not the same. I used a variety of recordings of calls to prayer and crowds of people from all over the world to create soundscapes that you could expect to hear in a city but not in Boston. I incorporated these in different times throughout the film. They aren’t in your face, but used subtly.”

Patriots DayThe Mix
On the mix, he and re-recording mixer Mike Prestwood-Smith chose a realistic approach to their sonic treatments.

Prestwood-Smith notes that for an event as recent and close to the heart as the Boston Marathon bombing, the goal was to have respect for the people who were involved — to make Patriots Day feel real and not sensationalized in any sense. “We wanted it to feel believable, like you are witnessing it, rather than entertaining people. We want to be entertaining, engaging and dramatic, but ultimately we don’t want this to feel gratuitous, as though we are using these events to our advantage. That’s a tight rope to tread, not just for sound but for everything, like the shooting and the performances. All of it.”

Mohar reinforces the idea of enabling the audience to feel the events of the bombing first-hand through sound. “When we experience an event that shocks us, like a car crash, or in this case, an act of terror, the way we experience time is different. You assess what’s right there in front of you and what is truly important. I wanted to leverage this characteristic in the soundtrack to represent what it would be like to be there in real time, objectively, and to create a singular experience.”

Archival Footage
Mohar and Prestwood-Smith had access to enormous amounts of archival material from the FBI, which was strategically used throughout the soundtrack. In the first two reels, up to and including the bombing, Prestwood-Smith explains that picture editors Fleming and Parker Jr. intercut between the dramatized footage and the archived footage “literally within seconds of each other. Whole scenes became a dance between the original footage and the footage that Peter shot. In many cases, you’re not aware of the difference between the two and I think that is a very clever and articulate thing they accomplished. The sound had to adhere to that and it had to make you feel like you were never really shifting from one thing to the other.”

It was not a simple task to transition from the Hollywood-quality sound of the dramatized footage to sound captured on iPhones and low-resolution cameras. Prestwood-Smith notes that he and Mohar were constantly evolving the qualities of the sounds and mix treatments so all elements would integrate seamlessly. “We needed to keep a balance between these very different sound sources and make them feel coherently part of one story rather than shifting too much between them all. That was probably the most complex part of the soundtrack.”

Berg’s approach to perspective — showing the event from a reporter’s point of view as opposed to a spectator’s point of view — helped the sound team interweave the archival material and fictionalized material. For example, Prestwood-Smith reports the crowd sounds were 90 percent archival material, played from the perspective of different communication sources, like TV broadcasts, police radio transmissions and in-ear exchanges from production crews on the scene. “These real source sounds are mixed with the actors’ dialogue to create a thread that always keeps the story together as we alternate through archival and dramatized picture edits.”

While intercutting various source materials for the marathon and bombing sequences, Mohar and Prestwood-Smith worked shot by shot, determining for each whether to highlight an archival sound, carry the sound across from the previous shot or go with another specific sound altogether, regardless of whether it was one they created or one that was from the original captured audio.

“There would be archival footage with screaming on it that would go across to another shot and connect the archive footage to the dramatized, or sometimes not. We literally worked inch-by-inch to make it feel like it all belonged in one place,” explains Prestwood-Smith. “We did it very boldly. We embraced it rather than disguised it. Part of what makes the soundtrack so dynamic is that we allow each shot to speak in its genuine way. In the earlier reels, where there is more of the archival footage, the dynamics of it really shift dramatically.”

Patriots Day is not meant to be a clinical representation of the event. It is not a documentary. By dramatizing the Boston Marathon bombing, Berg delivers a human story on an emotional level. He uses music to help articulate the feeling of a scene and guide the audience through the story emotionally.

“On an emotional level, the music did an enormous amount of heavy lifting because so much of the sound work was really there to give the film a sense of captured reality and truth,” says Prestwood-Smith. “The music is one of the few things that allows the audience to see the film — the event — slightly differently. It adds more emotion where we want it to but without ever tipping the balance too far.”

The Score
Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross had a definitive role for each cue. Their music helps the audience decompress for certain moments before being thrust right back into the action. “Their compositions were so intentional and so full of character and attitude. It’s not generic,” says Mohar. “Each cue feels like a call to action. The tracks have eyes and mouths and teeth. It’s very intentional. The music is not just an emotional element; it’s part of the sound design and sound overall. The sound and music work together to contribute equally to this film.”

The way that we go back and forth between the archival footage and the dramatized footage was the same way we went from designed audio to source audio, from music to musical, from sound effects to sound effective,” he continues. “On each scene, we decided to either blur the line between music and effects, between archival sound and designed sound, or to have a hard line between each.”

To complement the music, Mohar experimented with rhythmic patterns of sounds to reinforce the level of intensity of certain scenes. “I brought in mechanical keyboards of various types, ages and material, and recorded different typing rhythms on them. These sounds were used in many of the Black Falcon terminal scenes. I used softer sounding keyboards with slower tempos when I wanted the level of tension to be lower, and then accelerated them into faster tempos with harsher sounding keyboards as the drama in the terminal increased,” he says. “By using modest, organic sounds I could create a subliminal sense of tension. I treated the recordings with a combination of plug-ins, delays, reverbs and EQs to create sounds that were not assertive.”

Dialogue
In terms of dialogue, the challenge was to get the archive material and the dramatized material to live in the same space emotionally and technically, says Prestwood-Smith. “There were scenes where Mark Wahlberg’s character is asking for ambulances or giving specific orders and playing underneath that dialogue is real, archival footage of people who have just been hurt by these explosions talking on their phones. Getting those two things to feel integrated was a complex thing to do. The objective was to make the sound believable. ‘Is this something I can believe?’ That was the focus.”

Prestwood-Smith used a combination of Avid and FabFilter plug-ins for EQ and dynamics, and created reverbs using Exponential Audio’s PhoenixVerb and Audio Ease’s Altiverb.

Staying in The Box
From sound editorial through to the final mix, Mohar and Prestwood-Smith chose to keep the film in Pro Tools. Staying in the box offered the best workflow solution for Patriots Day. Mohar designed and mixed for the first phase of the film at his studio at Technicolor’s Tribeca West location in Los Angeles, a satellite of Technicolor at Paramount’s main sound facility while Prestwood-Smith worked out of his own mix room in London. The two collaborated remotely, sharing their work back and forth, continuously developing the mix to match the changing picture edit. “We were on a very accelerated schedule, and they were cutting the film all the way through mastering. Having everything in the box meant that we could constantly evolve the soundtrack,” says Prestwood-Smith.

7.1 Surround Mix
Mohar and Prestwood-Smith met up for the final 7.1 surround mix at 424 Post in Hollywood and mixed the immersive versions at Technicolor Hollywood.

While some mix teams prefer to split the soundtrack, with one mixer on music and dialogue and the other handling sound effects and Foley, Mohar and Prestwood-Smith have a much more fluid approach. There is no line drawn across the board; they share the tracks equally.

“Mike has great taste and instincts; he doesn’t operate like a mixer. He operates like a filmmaker and I look to him to make the final decisions and direct the shape of the soundtrack,” explain Mohar. “The best thing about working with Mike is that it’s truly collaborative, no part of the mix belonged to just one person. Anything was up for grabs and the sound as a whole belonged to the story. It makes the mix more unified, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio pro and writer. 

Cory Melious

Behind the Title: Heard City senior sound designer/mixer Cory Melious

NAME: Cory Melious

COMPANY: Heard City (@heardcity)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are an audio post production company.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Sound Designer/Mixer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I provide final mastering of the audio soundtrack for commercials, TV shows and movies. I combine the production audio recorded on set (typically dialog), narration, music (whether it’s an original composition or artist) and sound effects (often created by me) into one 5.1 surround soundtrack that plays on both TV and Internet.

Heard City

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think most people without a production background think the sound of a spot just “is.” They don’t really think about how or why it happens. Once I start explaining the sonic layers we combine to make up the final mix they are really surprised.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The part that really excites me is the fact that each spot offers its own unique challenge. I take raw audio elements and tweak and mold them into a mix. Working with the agency creatives, we’re able to develop a mix that helps tell the story being presented in the spot. In that respect I feel like my job changes day in and day out and feels fresh every day.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Working late! There are a lot of late hours in creative jobs.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I really like finishing a job. It’s that feeling of accomplishment when, after a few hours, I’m able to take some pretty rough-sounding dialog and manipulate that into a smooth-sounding final mix. It’s also when the clients we work with are happy during the final stages of their project.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS?
Avid Pro Tools, Izotope RX, Waves Mercury, Altiverb and Revibe.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
One of my many hobbies is making furniture. My dad is a carpenter and taught me how to build at a very young age. If I never had the opportunity to come to New York and make a career here, I’d probably be building and making furniture near my hometown of Seneca Castle, New York.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION? HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I think this profession chose me. When I was a kid I was really into electronics and sound. I was both the drummer and the front of house sound mixer for my high school band. Mixing from behind the speakers definitely presents some challenges! I went on to college to pursue a career in music recording, but when I got an internship in New York at a premier post studio, I truly fell in love with creating sound for picture.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Recently, I’ve worked on Chobani, Google, Microsoft, and Budweiser. I also did a film called The Discovery for Netflix.

The Discovery for Netflix.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’d probably have to say Chobani. That was a challenging campaign because the athletes featured in it were very busy. In order to capture the voiceover properly I was sent to Orlando and Los Angeles to supervise the narration recording and make sure it was suitable for broadcast. The spots ran during the Olympics, so they had to be top notch.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
iPhone, iPad and depth finder. I love boating and can’t imagine navigating these waters without knowing the depth!

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m on the basics — Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. I dabble with SnapChat occasionally and will even open up Twitter once in a while to see what’s trending. I’m a fan of photography and nature, so I follow a bunch of outdoor Instagramers.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I joke with my friends that all of my hobbies are those of retired folks — sailing, golfing, fly fishing, masterful dog training, skiing, biking, etc. I joke that I’m practicing for retirement. I think hobbies that force me to relax and get out of NYC are really good for me.

The A-List: Jackie and Neruda director Pablo Larraín

By Iain Blair

Chilean director Pablo Larraín has been hailed as one of the most ambitious, iconoclastic, daring — and important — political filmmakers of his generation thanks to such films as No, a drama about the 1988 plebiscite that brought an end to the Pinochet era; Tony Manero, about a man obsessed with John Travolta’s disco dancing character from Saturday Night Fever; and The Club, a drama about disgraced priests.

iain-and-pablo

Writer Iain Blair and director Pablo Larraín.

He’s also one of the hardest-working directors in the business, with two major releases out before Christmas. First up is Fox’s Jackie, about one of the greatest icons of the 20th Century. It stars Natalie Portman as first lady Jackie Kennedy and is set in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. That’s followed by Neruda, which focuses on the life of Pablo Neruda, one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. Neruda is Chile’s Oscar submission, and Jackie, Larrain’s first English-language film, is also getting a lot of Oscar and awards season buzz.

I talked to Larraín about making the films and his workflow.

Why make back-to-back films?
I never planned it this way. I was going to make Neruda, and then we had to push it six months for a lot of reasons. My last film, The Club, won an award at Berlin, and Darren Aronofsky headed up the jury and asked me to direct Jackie, which he produced. So I ended up doing Jackie right after Neruda.

So what does a Chilean director shooting in Paris bring to such an iconic American subject?
The view of an outsider, maybe. We were doing a lot of post on Neruda in Paris, and the film was mainly made and cut there at Film Factory. Natalie was also living there, so it all came together organically. We built all the interiors there — the White House and so on.

Jackie

Neither film is your run-of-the-mill biopic. Can you talk about Jackie, which has a lot of time compression, random memories and flashbacks?
I don’t like normal biopics. They’re very tricky to do, I think. More than anything we wanted to find and discover the specific sensibility that was Jackie and examine all the events that happened after the assassination. It was also about capturing specific emotions and showing her strengths and weaknesses, and all the paradoxes and controversies that surrounded her. So we approached it from fiction. Good biopics aren’t really biographical; they just try to capture a sense of the person more through atmosphere and emotions than a linear plot and structure.

You must have done a lot of research?
Extensive — looking at newsreels, interviews, reading books. Before all that, I had a very superficial idea of her as this person who was mainly concerned about clothes and style and furniture. But as I researched her character, I discovered just what an incredible woman she was. And for me, it’s also the story of a mother.

Jackie

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
The biggest challenge for me was, of course, making my first film in English. It wasn’t easy to do. My other biggest challenge was making a film about a woman. In my films, the main characters have always been men, so that was the biggest one for me to deal with and understand.

Do you like the post process?
I love it — and more and more, the editing. It’s just so beautiful when you sit with the editor, and every scene you’ve shot is now cut in that first cut. Then you go, “Alright, where do we go now, to really shape the film?” You start moving scenes around and playing with the narrative. I think it was Truffaut who said that when you shoot, you have to fight with the script, and then when you edit, you have to fight with the shoot, and it’s so true. I’ve learned over the years to really embrace post and editing.

You worked with editor Sebastián Sepúlveda on Jackie. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He began cutting while we were shooting, and when we wrapped we finished cutting it at Primo Solido, in Santiago, Chile. We did all the pre-mixes there too.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but as with any period piece the VFX play a big role.
Absolutely, and Garage, a VFX company in Santiago, did about 80 percent of them. They did a great job. We also used Mikros and Digital District in Paris. I like working with visual effects when I have to, but I’m not really a greenscreen guy (laughs). Both films were fun to do in terms of the effects work, and you can’t tell that they’re visual effects — all the backgrounds and so on are very photorealistic, and I love that illusion… that magic. Then there’s a lot of work erasing all the modern things and doing all the cleanup. It’s the kind of post work that’s most successful when no one notices it. (Check out our interview with Jackie editor Sebastián Sepúlveda.)

Neruda

Neruda

Let’s talk about Neruda, which is also not a typical biopic, but more of “policier” thriller.
Yes, it’s less about Neruda himself and more about what we call the “Nerudian world.” It’s about what he created and what happened when he went into hiding when the political situation changed in Chile. We created this fictional detective who’s hunting him as a way of exploring his life.

Along with Jackie, he was a real person. Did you feel an extra responsibility in making two films about such icons?
Yes, of course, but if you think about it too much it can just paralyze you. You’re trying to capture a sense of the person, their world, and we shot Neruda in Chile, Buenos Aires and a little bit in Paris.

What did you shoot the films on?
We shot Jackie on film and on Super 16, and Neruda on Red. I still love shooting on film more than digital, but we had a great experience with the Red cameras and we used some old Soviet anamorphic lenses from the ‘60s that I found in LA about eight years ago. We got a beautiful look with them. Then we did all the editing in Paris with Hervé Schneid but with a little help at the end from Sebastián Sepúlveda to finish it in time for its Cannes debut. We changed quite a few things — especially the music.

Neruda

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in both of the films?
Well, film is an audio-visual medium, so sound is half the movie. It triggers mood, emotion, atmosphere, so it’s crucial to the image you’re looking at, and I spend a lot of time working on the music and sound with my team — I love that part of post too. When I work with my editors, I always ask them to cut to sound and work with sound as well, even if they don’t like to work that way.

How is the movie industry in Chile?
I think it’s healthy, and people are always challenging themselves, especially the younger generation. It’s full of great documentaries — and people who’ve never worked with film, only digital. It’s exciting.

What’s next?
I don’t quite know, but I’m developing several projects. It’s whatever happens first.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.