Tag Archives: Wylie Stateman

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.

Wylie Stateman talks sound editing on ‘The Hateful Eight’

By Jennifer Walden

Quentin Tarantino’s go-to supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman, of Twenty Four Seven Sound, reveals the secret sauce of the director’s cinematic style: “He is truly an aural enthusiast and very much a sculptor of his cinema through the use of sound and music.”

That applies to dialogue as well, as Tarantino likes to cast actors with interesting voices. “Sound is a major contributor to Quentin’s films and often the secret sauce that makes the meal just gel and come together as a coherent recognizable work,” says the veteran audio pro, who has seven Oscar noms under his belt, including two for Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) and Inglourious Basterds (2008).

Wylie Stateman on the Telluride set for The Hateful Eight.

Stateman, who’s been working with Tarantino since Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), feels it’s been a privilege having the opportunity to explore his vision as a filmmaker since his love for sound and music is such an integral part of his process. “Audio is very different from the other filmmaking aspects,” he explains. “You design a costume and you can hold it up, feel the material and see how it reacts to light. It’s real. Audio is very mysterious — a force that is just truly present in the moment. It’s just a vibration in the room. It’s something that the audience experiences but can’t see and can’t touch. It’s a different kind of art form, and as an audio artist I love working for Quentin because he is so particular and he values the contribution that sound makes to the experience of watching his film.”

In Tarantino’s latest film, The Hateful Eight, distributed by The Weinstein Company, eight ruthless killers become holed up in Minnie’s Haberdashery one fateful Wyoming winter’s day. Bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russel) arrives there with his captured outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and two other travelers — union soldier turned bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and the supposedly new sheriff of Red Rock Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who are trying to escape the encroaching blizzard. Instead of Minnie, they find in the Haberdashery a much shadier cast of characters. As the storm rages outside, the situation inside becomes equally intense.

The seeds for Tarantino’s western were sown during the final phase of post on Django Unchained. After the initial leaked script fiasco, a new shooting script for The Hateful Eight came together the summer of 2014, and around Christmas time that year Tarantino rounded up his troop of main department heads — costume, production design, photography and sound — and headed to Telluride, Colorado, to get geared up for the production process.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

“I was there for Christmas and New Year’s, mainly to participate in the celebration that Quentin creates around the production side of the process. He celebrates the tools, the process and the people,” Stateman says. Minnie’s Haberdashery was being built in the mountains above Telluride, and the finishing touches were being added to the sets.

“It’s an important part of his filming process. Lots of creative decisions are taking shape during those final weeks of pre-production,” says Stateman, who likens the process to the construction of the Rose Bowl parade floats. “People show up the month before the parade to participate in building the floats, and then there are the people who come out on New Year’s Day to watch. I enjoy the float building process.”

Challenges of Location Sound
In addition to shooting in Colorado where weather was often a challenge, Tarantino filmed interior shots at Red Studios in California, in a giant freezer to mimic the cold conditions. That environment added compressor hum to the production track. Also, considering the characters were wearing heavy clothing that obstructed the lav mics, Stateman says they did a substantial amount of work to make the dialogue tracks sound consistent.

“Quentin likes the performances that he works to acquire during production and he wants to use those in the final mix. He doesn’t like to replace the dialogue and so despite all the challenges that the production sound team faces, the post sound team has a mission and a mandate to basically work with and around any of the production issues.”

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Foley
All that dialogue cleaning and EQing didn’t just smooth things out. It resulted in pulling the life out of the track as well. Stateman used Foley to add it back in, spending roughly 200 hours recording Foley at Sony Studios with Foley artist Gary Hecker and his Foley mixer Nerses Gezalyan. “We want to really emphasize the micro details that Quentin goes after with his film editing style and his photography style,” explains Stateman. “In a Quentin Tarantino movie, when somebody flexes a muscle or puts a hand on a weapon, there’s a hyper-reality to the sound and that is acquired by having a really beautifully performed and recorded Foley track.”

From the characters’ unique clothing and boots to their hats, holsters and guns, everything was represented in Foley. Stateman and his team acquired Foley props from far and wide, like hand-forged bits of old metal, old creaky wood, and cast iron pots and metal for the stove. “I’m a very committed Foley enthusiast. I really like to spend time and effort to produce sounds that blend entirely into the film. When Foley is done well, it’s invisible. It just adds this third dimension to the dialogue track. It adds depth and texture. We really beat up the dialogue track to get rid of all the noise and make each line match the line before and after. The Foley brought that three-dimensional feel back to the production dialogue.”

Pristine Foley allowed Stateman to go hyper-real with the soundtrack at any time without bringing in unwanted noise. He could add fine detail, like a sound to highlight an eye blink, without obstructing the dialogue. “And Quentin’s films really benefit from having the ability to just go hyper-real.”

Director Quentin Tarantino: He wanted to use the blizzard as one of the film's voices.The Blizzard
Seeing as how Tarantino likes to cast characters with interesting voices it’s only fitting that the ninth adversary in the film, the blizzard, should have an interesting voice too. Stateman and co-supervising sound editor Harry Cohen called on sound designer Sylvain Lasseur to help craft the storm sounds. “The wind and weather are a very important part of the background texture of the film. Weather plays a very important role, but it’s not always a role that you want to call attention to. It has a progression and it puts pressure on the actors because they can’t leave the Haberdashery,” explains Stateman.

Lasseur brought along his Kyma by Symbolic Sound, an independent sound design workstation that uses its own dedicated processor called a Pacarana. Using a continuum fingerboard to control the Kyma, Lasseur was able to manipulate and morph layers of wind sounds. “We created the weather literally one wind gust, wind whistle and wind wisp at a time. We built the wind to flatter the dialogue and the film edit in a very unique way with the Kyma sampler,” explains Stateman, who explains that the beauty of the Kyma is that it creates interesting instruments out of sound samples.IMG_1995IMG_2021_WS_Tellruide_recording

First they created a guide track around the dialogue, using the pitch and velocity features in Kyma. Then they could model other sounds in and around the guide track. “So let’s say we have a base sound of a blizzard, we could then, very selectively, model wind wisps or rumbles or anything else against it. The Kyma would shape the other samples in time relative to the control track. Once we have them all modeled against each other we can start to pull them apart a little bit so that each element can have its own dynamic moment. It becomes more like a parade and you hear the low, the mid and the high — not on top of each other but offset from each other. The artistry comes in turning samples into instruments.”

Lasseur spent four months creating wind instruments in Kyma and another four months hand shaping the wind around the dialogue and visual action. “We pushed really hard to crack this one particular problem of wind for the film.”

Stateman and his team worked out of the Twenty Four Seven Sound studio located in Topanga Canyon, California, which features a full Dolby Atmos design studio. The Hateful Eight’s 70mm version, known as “the roadshow version” was their primary focus, as that is how Tarantino intended audiences to experience the film.

“The multiplex version is a somewhat downscaled version of the film,” explains Stateman. The final 5.1 mix was handled at Sony Pictures Post in Culver City by re-recording mixers Mike Minkler and Christian Minkler in the Cary Grant Theater.

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