By Jennifer Walden
Netflix’s The Defenders combines the stories of four different Marvel shows already on the streaming service: Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. In the new show, the previously independent superheroes find themselves all wanting to battle the same foe —a cultish organization called The Hand, which plans to destroy New York City. Putting their differences aside, the superheroes band together to protect their beloved city.
Supervising sound editor Lauren Stephens, who works at Technicolor at Paramount, has earned two Emmy nominations for her sound editing work on Daredevil. And she supervised the sound for each of the aforementioned Marvel series, with the exception of Jessica Jones. So when it came to designing The Defenders she was very conscious of maintaining the specific sonic characteristics they had already established.
“We were dedicated to preserving the palette of each of the previous Marvel characters’ neighborhoods and sound effects,” she explains. “In The Defenders, we wanted viewers of the individual series to recognize the sound of Luke’s Harlem and Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen, for example. In addition, we kept continuity for all of the fight material and design work established in the previous four series. I can’t think of another series besides Better Call Saul that borrows directly from its predecessors’ sound work.”
But it wasn’t all borrowed material. Eventually, Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Iron Fist (Finn Jones) and Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) come together to fight The Hand’s leader Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver). “We experience new locations, and new fighting techniques and styles,” says Stephens. “Not to mention that half the city gets destroyed by The Hand. We haven’t had that happen in the previous series.”
Even though these Netflix/Marvel series are based on superheroes, the sound isn’t overly sci-fi. It’s as though the superheroes have more practical superhuman abilities. Stephens says their fight sounds are all real punches and impacts, with some design elements added only when needed, such as when Iron Fist’s iron fist is activated. “At the heart of our punches, for instance, is the sound of a real fist striking a side of beef,” she says. “It sounds like you’d expect, and then we amp it up when we mix. We record a ton of cloth movement and bodies scraping and sliding and tumbling in Foley. Those elements connect us to the humans on-screen.”
Since most of the violence plays out in hand-to-hand combat, it takes a lot of editing to make those fight scenes, and it involves contributions from several sound departments. Stephens has her hard effects team — led by sound designer Jordon Wilby (who has worked on all the Netflix/Marvel series) cut sound effects for every single punch, grab, flip, throw and land. In addition, they cut metal shings and whooshes, impacts and drops for weapons, crashes and bumps into walls and furniture, and all the gunshot material.
Stephens then has the Technicolor Foley team — Foley artists Zane Bruce and Lindsay Pepper and mixer Antony Zeller —cover all the footsteps, cloth “scuffle,” wall bumps, body falls and grabs. Additionally, she has dialogue editor Christian Buenaventura clean up any dialogue that occurs within or around the fight scenes. With group ADR, they replace every grunt and effort for each individual in the fight so that they have ultimate control over every element during the mix.
Stephens finds Gallery’s SpotStudio to be very helpful for cueing all the group ADR. “I shoot a lot of group ADR for the fights and to help create the right populated feel for NYC. SpotStudio is a slick program that interfaces well with Avid’s Pro Tools. It grabs timecode location of ADR cues and can then output that to many word processing programs. Personally, I use FileMaker Pro. I can make great cuesheets that are easy to format and use for engineers and talent.”
All that effort results in fight scenes that feel “relentless and painful,” says Stephens. “I want them to have movement, tons of detail and a wide range of dynamics. I want the fights to sound great wherever our fans are listening.”
The most challenging fight in The Defenders happens in the season finale, when the superheroes fight The Hand in the sublevels of a building. “That underground fight was the toughest simply because it was endless and shot with a 360-degree turn. I focused on what was on-screen and continued those sounds just until the action passed out of frame. This kept our tracks from getting too cluttered but still gives us the right idea that 60 people are going at it,” concludes Stephens