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The sounds ‘Inside Amy Schumer’

By Jennifer Walden

After four seasons of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, it’s hard to imagine still being shocked by the comic’s particular brand of comedy. Somehow Schumer still manages to make jokes that leave you uncomfortable — jokes that are so, so wrong, but so, so funny that you can’t help but laugh. Like the image-building pop song that Schumer and her three friends belt out karaoke-style in the show opener for episode 407, “Psychopath Test.”

The empowering lyrics, provided by Schumer’s writing team, proclaim, “Just be strong cause haters gonna hate. So falsely accuse a college lacrosse team of rape. Go ahead, girl, you a hero. Selfie sticks bitch take pics at Ground Zero. You’re a perfect 10, between nine and eleven. Never forget, you are beautiful.”

The variety-show approach to the half-hour series only adds fuel to Schumer’s creative fire. There are on-set scripted skits, man-on-the-street interviews, comedy club performances and random music videos like Milk Milk Lemonade — with music created by composers Chris Maxwell and Phil Hernandez of Elegant Too in New York City. The duo also created the catchy music for episode 407’s “You are Beautiful” karaoke song.

Great City Post
Chief audio engineer Ian Stynes at Great City Post in NYC has been handling the show’s sound post since the pilot episode with additional mixing by Jay Culliton. He says that although the show’s budget is not quite what people would expect, everybody involved with Inside Amy Schumer has high expectations for it. “We’re always asking, ‘Is this the best we can do?’ The process can be a little down and dirty sometimes, but working with the producers and editors at Running Man Post is amazing. They’ve really fine tuned things at this point. They’re very good at prepping it for sound post,” Stynes shares.

Stynes and Culliton typically spend four days cleaning, doing the edit, the sound design and pre-mix of an episode using Avid Pro Tools 12. Then Stynes is joined at Great City Post by show creator/executive producer Dan Powell, producer Ryan Cunningham from Running Man, executive producer Kevin Kane, executive producer/head writer Jessi Klein and Amy Schumer for a half-day of final playback and edits. “Amy has been in for almost every mix session this season. She is very hands-on and really fun to work with,” says Stynes.

While the production tracks, provided by sound mixer Matt McLarty, are always well recorded, Stynes admits there was a sketch in episode 408, “Everyone for Themselves,” that was particularly challenging from a production sound standpoint. In the sketch, 16 people are in a Lamaze class voicing their concerns over their kids being assholes. “There was no boom and it’s a wide shot, so there were 16 lav mics, some of which were cutting in and out,” says Stynes, who has years of experience in cutting dialogue for narrative features.

In terms of tools, in addition to Pro Tools, he uses iZotope RX5 for cleaning, Avid’s EQ III for frequency management,and various Waves compressors (including his new favorite — Kramer PIE) to help the scene play smoothly. “You spend a lot of time and effort to put something together and hope that no one will think twice about the fact that you did anything at all with the dialogue edit.”

Another interesting sound-driven scene is Bridget Everett’s closing performance in episode 408. She performs a call-to-action song called “Eat It, Eat It” on stage at a comedy club. She’s singing along live to a backing track. In post, Stynes had tracks with Everett’s handheld mic and boom mics, plus the vocal splits and other stems from the composed tracks. “There were pretty good options to work with in the mix,” says Stynes.

Coming from a music background, Stynes is not shy about diving into the music stems to do different treatments on the vocals, or even significantly altering the tracks. In the first season, for a 1920s-era sketch called “A Porn Star is Born,” Amy and her friend discover cocaine. Stynes says, “Composer Chris Anderson wrote an awesome old-timey song for a montage in it. It came to me split out into 30 tracks of stems because the showrunners wanted to make a part of it sound vintage. I ended up speeding up a whole section and edited in different things. Sometimes the music editing can get pretty complicated on this show.”

The show’s format offers plenty of opportunity on the sound design side as well. Last season, in episode 303, “80s Ladies,” there is a sketch where Schumer is in a bar with her friends and she decides to ride a mechanical bull to look sexy. Instead, she ends up failing, hurting herself badly and not looking sexy at all.

“There can be so many layers that we get to create and mix in. The show is very cinematic at times,” says Stynes. “For this scene there was score, and source music. There were a bunch of production tracks to clean up. There was a DJ in the room that we recorded ADR lines for, so we had to match his production lines. There was bar ambience and background walla. There were sounds for Amy getting knocked about on the bull. We added a whole layer for the mechanical bull speeding up and slowing down. That was a fun scene.”

He recalls another fun sound design scene, from Season 2, “Schumerenka vs. Everett,” in which Schumer and Everett compete in a tennis match. Schumer distracts the judges and fools the commentators into thinking she is better than she is by being a sexy tennis player. “Once again, it can be very similar to working on a full-length narrative feature film. We added in all of the ambiences, reactions for the crowds, the footsteps on the tennis court, the ball and body movements, and so on.”

Jay and Ian at work.

There is no Foley on the show, so footsteps, touches and clothing movements are cut in when necessary from Great City Post’s extensive collection of sound effects, which, luckily for the Schumer team, includes hundreds of farts sounds. “There was a really great skit where a murderer comes into Amy’s house. The thing is, when she gets scared… she farts. So she is unsuccessfully hiding from the murderer in the closet and farting. We spent 20 minutes going through every fart we had in our library, analyzing them, like, ‘Oh no, it should be juicer. It’s a weird way to spend your time,” says Stynes, “but all things considered, it’s not such a bad way to earn your paycheck.”

Post sound editing and mixing is done in Pro Tools 12. Stynes likes the upgrade to this version specifically for the offline bounce feature, which is a real time-saver when generating the significant amount of deliverables that Comedy Central requires. “They want a 5.1 mix, stereo mix, a version without VO fully mixed, bleeped mono, non-bleeped mono, dual mono, all sorts of stems for everything,” says Stynes.

Now instead of spending a half hour on every single split bounce, each bounce only takes a minute. Still, Stynes says, “It takes a few hours to version it out, and bounce it down, and put together all the different deliverables Comedy Central requires for the show.”

“The best part about working on Inside Amy Schumer really is that everyone sincerely wants it to be the best show it can be and do their best to follow through with that sentiment. From the showrunners and producers to the team at Running Man to all the folks here at Great City — right up to the top with Amy Schumer actually coming in to the mix sessions and getting involved. Really, it’s very rewarding and a lot of fun,” Stynes concludes.

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