Tag Archives: Twenty Four Seven Sound

Netflix’s Godless offers big skies and big sounds

By Jennifer Walden

One of the great storytelling advantages of non-commercial television is that content creators are not restricted by program lengths or episode numbers. The total number of episodes in a show’s season can be 13 or 10 or less. An episode can run 75 minutes or 33 minutes. This certainly was the case for writer/director/producer Scott Frank when creating his series Godless for Netflix.

Award-winning sound designer, Wylie Stateman, of Twenty Four Seven Sound explains why this worked to their advantage. “Godless at its core is a story-driven ‘big-sky’ Western. The American Western is often as environmentally beautiful as it is emotionally brutal. Scott Frank’s goal for Godless was to create a conflict between good and evil set around a town of mostly female disaster survivors and their complex and intertwined pasts. The Godless series is built like a seven and a half hour feature film.”

Without the constraints of having to squeeze everything into a two-hour film, Frank could make the most of his ensemble of characters and still include the ride-up/ride-away beauty shots that show off the landscape. “That’s where Carlos Rafael Rivera’s terrific orchestral music and elements of atmospheric sound design really came together,” explains Stateman.

Stateman has created sound for several Westerns in his prodigious career. His first was The Long Riders back in 1980. Most recently, he designed and supervised the sound on writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (which earned a 2013 Oscar nom for sound, an MPSE nom and a BAFTA film nom for sound) and The Hateful Eight (nominated for a 2016 Association of Motion Picture Sound Award).

For Godless, Stateman, co-supervisor/re-recording mixer Eric Hoehn and their sound team have already won a 2018 MPSE Award for Sound Editing for their effects and Foley work, as well as a nomination for editing the dialogue and ADR. And don’t be surprised if you see them acknowledged with an Emmy nom this fall.

Capturing authentic sounds: L-R) Jackie Zhou, Wylie Stateman and Eric Hoehn.

Capturing Sounds On Set
Since program length wasn’t a major consideration, Godless takes time to explore the story’s setting and allows the audience to live with the characters in this space that Frank had purpose-built for the show. In New Mexico, Frank had practical sets constructed for the town of La Belle and for Alice Fletcher’s ranch. Stateman, Hoehn and sound team members Jackie Zhou and Leo Marcil camped out at the set locations for a couple weeks, capturing recordings of everything from environmental ambience to gunfire echoes to horse hooves on dirt.

To avoid the craziness that is inherent to a production, the sound team would set up camp in a location where the camera crew was not. This allowed them to capture clean, high-quality recordings at various times of the day. “We would record at sunrise, sunset and the middle of the night — each recording geared toward capturing a range of authentic and ambient sounds,” says Stateman. “Essentially, our goal was to sonically map each location. Our field recordings were wide in terms of channel count, and broad in terms of how we captured the sound of each particular environment. We had multiple independent recording setups, each capable of recording up to eight channels of high bandwidth audio.”

Near the end of the season, there is a big shootout in the town of La Belle, so Stateman and Hoehn wanted to capture the sounds of gunfire and the resulting echoes at that location. They used live rounds, shooting the same caliber of guns used in the show. “We used live rounds to achieve the projectile sounds. A live round sounds very different than a blank round. Blanks just go pop-pop. With live rounds you can literally feel the bullet slicing through the air,” says Stateman.

Eric Hoehn

Recording on location not only supplied the team with a wealth of material to draw from back in the studio, it also gave them an intensive working knowledge of the actual environments. Says Hoehn, “It was helpful to have real-world references when building the textures of the sound design for these various locations and to know firsthand what was happening acoustically, like how the wind was interacting with those structures.”

Stateman notes how quiet and lifeless the location was, particularly at Alice’s ranch. “Part of the sound design’s purpose was to support the desolate dust bowl backdrop. Living there, eating breakfast in the quiet without anybody from the production around was really a wonderful opportunity. In fact, Scott Frank encouraged us to look deep and listen for that feel.”

From Big Skies to Big City
Sound editorial for Godless took place at Light Iron in New York, which is also where the show got its picture editing — by Michelle Tesoro, who was assisted by Hilary Peabody and Charlie Greene. There, Hoehn had a Pro Tools HDX 3 system connected to the picture department’s Avid Media Composer via the Avid Nexis. They could quickly pull in the picture editorial mix, balance out the dialog and add properly leveled sound design, sending that mix back to Tesoro.

“Because there were so many scenes and so much material to get through, we really developed a creative process that centered around rapid prototype mixing,” says Hoehn. “We wanted to get scenes from Michelle and her team as soon as possible and rapidly prototype dialogue mixing and that first layer of sound design. Through the prototyping process, we could start to understand what the really important sounds were for those scenes.”

Using this prototyping audio workflow allowed the sound team to very quickly share concepts with the other creative departments, including the music and VFX teams. This workflow was enhanced through a cloud-based film management/collaboration tool called Pix. Pix let the showrunners, VFX supervisor, composer, sound team and picture team share content and share notes.

“The notes feature in Pix was so important,” explains Hoehn. “Sometimes there were conversations between the director and editor that we could intuitively glean information from, like notes on aesthetic or pace or performance. That created a breadcrumb trail for us to follow while we were prototyping. It was important for us to get as much information as we could so we could be on the same page and have our compass pointed in the right direction when we were doing our first pass prototype.”

Often their first pass prototype was simply refined throughout the post process to become the final sound. “Rarely were we faced with the situation of having to re-cut a whole scene,” he continues. “It was very much in the spirit of the rolling mix and the rolling sound design process.”

Stateman shares an example of how the process worked. “When Michelle first cut a scene, she might cut to a beauty shot that would benefit from wind gusts and/or enhanced VFX and maybe additional dust blowing. We could then rapidly prototype that scene with leveled dialog and sound design before it went to composer Carlos Rafael Rivera. Carlos could hear where/when we were possibly leveraging high-density sound. This insight could influence his musical thinking — if he needed to come in before, on or after the sound effects. Early prototyping informed what became a highly collaborative creative process.”

The Shootout
Another example of the usefulness of Pix was shootout in La Belle in Episode 7. The people of the town position themselves in the windows and doorways of the buildings lining the street, essentially surrounding Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) and his gang. There is a lot of gunfire, much of it bridging action on and off camera, and that needed to be represented well through sound.

Hoehn says they found it best to approach the gun battle like a piece of music by playing with repeated rhythms. Breaking the anticipated rhythm helped to make the audience feel off-guard. They built a sound prototype for the scene and shared it via Pix, which gave the VFX department access to it.

“A lot of what we did with sound helped the visual effects team by allowing them to understand the density of what we were doing with the ambient sounds,” says Hoehn. “If we found that rhythmically it was interesting to have a wind gust go by, we would eventually see a visual effect for that wind going by.”

It was a back-and-forth collaboration. “There are visual rhythms and sound rhythms and the fact that we could prototype scenes early led us to a very efficient way of doing long-form,” says Stateman. “It’s funny that features used to be considered long-form but now ‘long-form’ is this new, time-unrestrained storytelling. It’s like we were making a long-form feature, but one that was seven and a half hours. That’s really the beauty of Netflix. Because the shows aren’t tethered to a theatrical release timeframe, we can make stories that linger a little bit and explore the wider eccentricities of character and the time period. It’s really a wonderful time for this particular type of filmmaking.”

While program length may be less of an issue, production schedule lengths still need to be kept in line. With the help of Pix, editorial was able to post the entire show with one team. “Everyone on our small team understood and could participate in the mission,” says Stateman. Additionally, the sound design rapid prototype mixing process allowed everyone in editorial to carry all their work forward, from day one until the last day. The Pro Tools session that they started with on day one was the same Pro Tools session that they used for print mastering seven months later.

“Our sound design process was built around convenient creative approval and continuous refinement of the complete soundtrack. At the end of the day, the thing that we heard most often was that this was a wonderful and fantastic way to work, and why would we ever do it any other way,” Stateman says.

Creating a long-form feature like Godless in an efficient manner required a fluid, collaborative process. “We enjoyed a great team effort,” says Stateman. “It’s always people over devices. What we’ve come to say is, ‘It’s not the devices. It’s people left to their own devices who will discover really novel ways to solve creative problems.’”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney.

Deepwater Horizon’s immersive mix via Twenty Four Seven Sound

By Jennifer Walden

The Peter Berg-directed film Deepwater Horizon, in theaters now, opens on a black screen with recorded testimony from real-life Deepwater Horizon crew member Mike Williams recounting his experience of the disastrous oil spill that began April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This documentary-style realism moves into a wide, underwater immersive soundscape. The transition sets the music and sound design tone for the entire film,” explains Eric Hoehn, re-recording mixer at Twenty Four Seven Sound in Topanga Canyon, California. “We intentionally developed the immersive mixes to drop the viewer into this world physically, mentally and sonically. That became our mission statement for the Dolby Atmos design on Deepwater Horizon. Dolby empowered us with the tools and technology to take the audience on this tightrope journey between anxiety and real danger. The key is not to push the audience into complete sensory overload.”

eric-and-wylie

L-R: Eric Hoehn and Wylie Stateman.  Photo Credit: Joe Hutshing

The 7.1 mix on Deepwater Horizon was crafted first with sound designer Wylie Stateman and re-recording mixers Mike Prestwood Smith (dialogue/music) and Dror Mohar (sound effects) at Warner Bros in New York City. Then Hoehn mixed the immersive versions, but it wasn’t just a technical upmix. “We spent four weeks mixing the Dolby Atmos version, teasing out sonic story-point details such as the advancing gas pressure, fire and explosions,” Hoehn explains. “We wanted to create a ‘wearable’ experience, where your senses actually become physically involved with the tension and drama of the picture. At times, this movie is very much all over you.”

The setting for Deepwater Horizon is interesting in that the vertical landscape of the 25-story oil rig is more engrossing than the horizontal landscape of the calm sea. This dynamic afforded Hoehn the opportunity to really work with the overhead Atmos environment, making the audience feel as though they’re experiencing the story and not just witnessing it. “The story takes place 40 miles out at sea on a floating oil drilling platform. The challenge was to make this remote setting experiential for the audience,” Hoehn explains. “For visual artists, the frame is the boundary. For us, working in Atmos, the format extends the boundaries into the auditorium. We wanted the audience to feel as if they too were trapped with our characters aboard the Deepwater Horizon. The movement of sound into the theater adds to the sense of disorientation and confusion that they’re viewing on screen, making the story more immediate and disturbing.”

In their artistic approach to the Atmos mix, Stateman and sound effects designers Harry Cohen and Sylvain Lasseur created an additional sound design layer — specific Atmos objects that help to reinforce the visuals by adding depth and weight via sound. For example, during a sequence after a big explosion and blow out, Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) wakes up with a pile of rubble and a broken door on top of him. Twisted metal, confusing announcements and alarms were designed from scratch to become objects that added detail to the space above the audience. “I think it’s one of the most effective Atmos moments in the film. You are waking up with Williams in the aftermath of this intense, destructive sequence. The entire rig is overwhelmed by off-stage explosions, twisting metal, emergency announcements and hissing steam. Things are falling apart above you and around you,” details Hoehn.

Hoehn shares another example: during a scene on the drill deck they created sound design objects to describe the height and scale of the 25-story oil derrick. “We put those sounds into the environment by adding delays and echoes that make it feel like those sounds are pinging around high above you. We wanted the audience to sense the vertical layers of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig,” says Hoehn, who created the delays and echoes using a multichannel delay plug-in called Slapper by The Cargo Cult. “I had separate mix control over the objects and the acoustic echoes applied. I could put the discrete echoes in distinct places in the Atmos environment. It was an agitative design element. It was designed to make the audience feel oriented and at the same time disoriented.”

The additional sounds they created were not an attempt to reimagine the soundtrack, but rather a means of enhancing what was there. “We were deliberate about what we added,” Hoehn explains. “As a team we strived to maximize the advantages of an Atmos theater, which allows us to keep a film mentally, physically and sonically intense. That was the filmmaker’s primary goal.”

The landscape in Deepwater Horizon doesn’t just tower over the audience; it extends under them as well. The underwater scenes were an opportunity to feature the music since these “sequences don’t contain metal banging and explosions. These moments allow the music to give an emotional release,” says Hoehn.

Hoehn explains that the way music exists in Atmos is sort of like a big womb of sound; it surrounds the audience. The underwater visuals depict the catastrophic failure of the blowout preventer — a valve that can close off the well and prevent an uncontrolled flow of oil, and the music punctuates this emotional and pivotal point in the film. It gives a sense of calm that contrasts what’s happening on screen. Sonically, it’s also a contrast to the stressful soundscape happening on-board the rig. Hoehn says, “It’s good for such an intense film and story to have moments where you can find comfort, and I think that is where the music provides such emotional depth. It provides that element of comfort between the moments where your senses are being flooded. We played with dynamic range, going to silence and using the quiet to heighten the anticipation of a big release.”

Hoehn mixed the Atmos version in Twenty Four Seven Sound’s Dolby Atmos lab, which uses an Avid S6 console running Pro Tools 12 and features Meyer Acheron mains and 26 JBL AC28 monitors for the surrounds and overheads. It is an environment designed to provide sonic precision so that when the mixer turns a knob or pushes a fader, the change can instantly be heard. “You can feel your cause-and-effect happen immediately. Sometimes when you’re in a bigger room, you are battling the acoustics of the space. It’s helpful to work under a magnifying glass, particularly on a soundtrack that is as detailed as Deepwater Horizon’s,” says Hoehn.

Hoehn spent a month on the Atmos mix, which served as the basis for the other immersive formats, such as the IMAX 5 and IMAX 12 mixes. “The IMAX versions maintain the integrity of our Atmos design,” says Hoehn, “A lot of care had to be taken in each of the immersive versions to make sure the sound worked in service of the storytelling process.”

Bring On VR
In addition to the theatrical release, Hoehn discussed the prospect of a Deepwater Horizon VR experience. “Working with our friends at Dolby, we’re looking at virtual reality and experimenting with sequences from Deepwater Horizon. We are working to convert the Atmos mix to a headset, virtual sound environment,” says Hoehn. He explains that binaural sound or surround sound in headphones present its own design challenges; it’s not just a direct lift of the 7.1 or Atmos mix.

“Atmos mixing for a theatrical sound pressure environment is different than the sound pressure environment in headphones,” explains Hoehn. “It’s a different sound pressure that you have to design for, and the movement of sounds needs to be that much more precise. Your brain needs to track movement and so maybe you have less objects moving around. Or, you have one sound object hand off to another object and it’s more of a parade of sound. When you’re in a theater, you can have audio coming from different locations and your brain can track it a lot easier because of the fixed acoustical environment of a movie theater. So that’s a really interesting challenge that we are excited to sink our teeth into.”


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