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Category Archives: ADR

The sounds of HBO’s Divorce: Keeping it real

HBO’s Divorce, which stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church, focuses on a long-married couple who just can’t do it anymore. It follows them from divorce through their efforts to move on with their lives, and what that looks like. The show deftly tackles a very difficult subject with a heavy dose of humor mixed in with the pain and angst. The story takes place in various Manhattan locations and a nearby suburb. And as you can imagine the sounds of the neighborhoods vary.

                           
Eric Hirsch                                                              David Briggs

Sound post production for the third season of HBO’s comedy Divorce was completed at Goldcrest Post in New York City. Supervising sound editor David Briggs and re-recording mixer Eric Hirsch worked together to capture the ambiances of upscale Manhattan neighborhoods that serve as the backdrop for the story of the tempestuous breakup between Frances and Robert.

As is often the case with comedy series, the imperative for Divorce’s sound team was to support the narrative by ensuring that the dialogue is crisp and clear, and jokes are properly timed. However, Briggs and Hirsch go far beyond that in developing richly textured soundscapes to achieve a sense of realism often lacking in shows of the genre.

“We use sound to suggest life is happening outside the immediate environment, especially for scenes that are shot on sets,” explains Hirsch. “We work to achieve the right balance, so that the scene doesn’t feel empty but without letting the sound become so prominent that it’s a distraction. It’s meant to work subliminally so that viewers feel that things are happening in suburban New York, while not actually thinking about it.”

Season three of the show introduces several new locations and sound plays a crucial role in capturing their ambience. Parker’s Frances, for example, has moved to Inwood, a hip enclave on the northern tip of Manhattan, and background sound effects help to distinguish it from the woodsy village of Hastings-on-Hudson, where Haden Church’s Robert continues to live. “The challenge was to create separation between those two worlds, so that viewers immediately understand where we are,” explains series producer Mick Aniceto. “Eric and David hit it. They came up with sounds that made sense for each part of the city, from the types of cars you hear on the streets to the conversations and languages that play in the background.”

Meanwhile, Frances’ friend, Diane, (Molly Shannon) has taken up residence in a Manhattan high-rise and it, too, required a specific sonic treatment. “The sounds that filter into a high-rise apartment are much different from those in a street-level structure,” Aniceto notes. “The hum of traffic is more distant, while you hear things like the whirl of helicopters. We had a lot of fun exploring the different sonic environments. To capture the flavor of Hudson-on-Hastings, our executive producer and showrunner came up the idea of adding distant construction sounds to some scenes.”

A few scenes from the new season are set inside a prison. Aniceto says the sound team was able to help breathe life into that environment through the judicious application of very specific sound design. “David Briggs had just come off of Escape at Dannemora, so he was very familiar with the sounds of a prison,” he recalls. “He knew the kind of sounds that you hear in communal areas, not only physical sounds like buzzers and bells, but distant chats among guards and visitors. He helped us come up with amusing bits of background dialogue for the loop group.”

Most of the dialogue came directly from the production tracks, but the sound team hosted several ADR sessions at Goldcrest for crowd scenes. Hirsch points to an episode from the new season that involves a girls basketball team. ADR mixer Krissopher Chevannes recorded groups of voice actors (provided by Dann Fink and Bruce Winant of Loopers Unlimited) to create background dialogue for a scene on a team bus and another that happens during a game.

“During the scene on the bus, the girls are talking normally, but then the action shifts to slo-mo. At that point the sound design goes away and the music drives it,” Hirsch recalls. “When it snaps back to reality, we bring the loop-group crowd back in.”

The emotional depth of Divorce marks it as different from most television comedies, it also creates more interesting opportunities for sound. “The sound portion of the show helps take it over the line and make it real for the audience,” says Aniceto. “Sound is a big priority for Divorce. I get excited by the process and the opportunities it affords to bring scenes to life. So, I surround myself by smart and talented people like Eric and David, who understand how to do that and give the show the perfect feel.”

All three seasons of Divorce are available on HBO Go and HBO Now.

Dialects, guns and Atmos mixing: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

By Jennifer Walden

Being an analyst is supposed to be a relatively safe job. A paper cut is probably the worst job-related injury you’d get… maybe, carpal tunnel. But in Amazon Studios/Paramount’s series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, CIA analyst Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) is hauled away from his desk at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and thrust into an interrogation room in Syria where he’s asked to extract info from a detained suspect. It’s a far cry from a sterile office environment and the cuts endured don’t come from paper.

Benjamin Cook

Four-time Emmy award-winning supervising sound editor Benjamin Cook, MPSE — at 424 Post in Culver City — co-supervised Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan with Jon Wakeham. Their sound editorial team included sound effects editors Hector Gika and David Esparza, MPSE, dialogue editor Tim Tuchrello, music editor Alex Levy, Foley editor Brett Voss, and Foley artists Jeff Wilhoit and Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit.

This is Cook’s second Emmy nomination this season, being nominated also for sound editing on HBO’s Deadwood: The Movie.

Here, Cook talks about the aesthetic approach to sound editing on Jack Ryan and breaks down several scenes from the Emmy-nominated “Pilot” episode in Season 1.

Congratulations on your Emmy nomination for sound editing on Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan! Why did you choose the first episode for award consideration?
Benjamin Cook: It has the most locations, establishes the CIA involvement, and has a big battle scene. It was a good all-around episode. There were a couple other episodes that could have been considered, such as Episode 2 because of the Paris scenes and Episode 6 because it’s super emotional and had incredible loop group and location ambience. But overall, the first episode had a little bit better balance between disciplines.

The series opens up with two young boys in Lebanon, 1983. They’re playing and being kids; it’s innocent. Then the attack happens. How did you use sound to help establish this place and time?
Cook: We sourced a recordist to go out and record material in Syria and Turkey. That was a great resource. We also had one producer who recorded a lot of material while he was in Morocco. Some of that could be used and some of it couldn’t because the dialect is different. There was also some pretty good production material recorded on-set and we tried to use that as much as we could as well. That helped to ground it all in the same place.

The opening sequence ends with explosions and fire, which makes an interesting juxtaposition to the tranquil water scene that follows. What sounds did you use to help blend those two scenes?
Cook: We did a muted effect on the water when we first introduced it and then it opens up to full fidelity. So we were going from the explosions and that concussive blast to a muted, filtered sound of the water and rowing. We tried to get the rhythm of that right. Carlton Cuse (one of the show’s creators) actually rows, so he was pretty particular about that sound. Beyond that, it was filtering the mix and adding design elements that were downplayed and subtle.

The next big scene is in Syria, when Sheikh Al Radwan (Jameel Khoury) comes to visit Sheikh Suleiman (Ali Suliman). How did you use sound to help set the tone of this place and time?
Cook: It was really important that we got the dialects right. Whenever we were in the different townships and different areas, one of the things that the producers were concerned about was authenticity with the language and dialect. There are a lot of regional dialects in Arabic, but we also needed Kurdish, Turkish — Kurmanji, Chechen and Armenian. We had really good loop group, which helped out tremendously. Caitlan McKenna our group leader cast several multi-linguist voice actors who were familiar with the area and could give us a couple different dialects; that really helped to sell location for sure. The voices — probably more than anything else — are what helped to sell the location.

Another interesting juxtaposition of sound was going from the sterile CIA office environment to this dirty, gritty, rattley world of Syria.
Cook: My aesthetic for this show — besides going for the authenticity that the showrunners were after — was trying to get as much detail into the sound as possible (when appropriate). So, even when we’re in the thick of the CIA bullpen there is lots of detail. We did an office record where we set mics around an office and moved papers and chairs and opened desk drawers. This gave the office environment movement and life, even when it is played low.

That location seems sterile when we go to the grittiness of the black-ops site in Yemen with its sand gusts blowing, metal shacks rattling and tents flapping in the wind. You also have off and on screen vehicles and helicopters. Those textures were really helpful in differentiating those two worlds.

Tell me about Jack Ryan’s panic attack at 4:47am. It starts with that distant siren and then an airplane flyover before flashing back to the kid in Syria. What went into building that sequence?
Cook: A lot of that was structured by the picture editor, and we tried to augment what they had done and keep their intention. We changed out a few sounds here and there, but I can’t take credit for that one. Sometimes that’s just the nature of it. They already have an idea of what they want to do in the picture edit and we just augment what they’ve done. We made it wider, spread things out, added more elements to expand the sound more into the surrounds. The show was mixed in Dolby Home Atmos so we created extra tracks to play in the Atmos sound field. The soundtrack still has a lot of detail in the 5.1 and a 7.1 mixes but the Atmos mix sounds really good.

Those street scenes in Syria, as we’re following the bank manager through the city, must have been a great opportunity to work with the Atmos surround field.
Cook: That is one of my favorite scenes in the whole show. The battles are fun but the street scene is a great example of places where you can use Atmos in an interesting way. You can use space to your advantage to build the sound of a location and that helps to tell the story.

At one point, they’re in the little café and we have glass rattles and discrete sounds in the surround field. Then it pans across the street to a donkey pulling a cart and a Vespa zips by. We use all of those elements as opportunities to increase the dynamics of the scene.

Going back to the battles, what were your challenges in designing the shootout near the end of this episode? It’s a really long conflict sequence.
Cook: The biggest challenge was that it was so long and we had to keep it interesting. You start off by building everything, you cut everything, and then you have to decide what to clear out. We wanted to give the different sides — the areas inside and outside — a different feel. We tried to do that as much as possible but the director wanted to take it even farther. We ended up pulling the guns back, perspective-wise, making them even farther than we had. Then we stripped out some to make it less busy. That worked out well. In the end, we had a good compromise and everyone was really happy with how it plays.

The guns were those original recordings or library sounds?
Cook: There were sounds in there that are original recordings, and also some library sounds. I’ve gotten material from sound recordist Charles Maynes — he is my gun guru. I pretty much copy his gun recording setups when I go out and record. I learned everything I know from Charles in terms of gun recording. Watson Wu had a great library that recently came out and there is quite a bit of that in there as well. It was a good mix of original material and library.

We tried to do as much recording as we could, schedule permitting. We outsourced some recording work to a local guy in Syria and Turkey. It was great to have that material, even if it was just to use as a reference for what that place should sound like. Maybe we couldn’t use the whole recording but it gave us an idea of how that location sounds. That’s always helpful.

Locally, for this episode, we did the office shoot. We recorded an MRI machine and Greer’s car. Again, we always try to get as much as we can.

There are so many recordists out there who are a great resource, who are good at recording weapons, like Charles, Watson and Frank Bry (at The Recordist). Frank has incredible gun sounds. I use his libraries all the time. He’s up in Idaho and can capture these great long tails that are totally pristine and clean. The quality is so good. These guys are recording on state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line rigs.

Near the end of the episode, we’re back in Lebanon, 1983, with the boys coming to after the bombing. How did you use sound to help enhance the tone of that scene?
Cook: In the Avid track, they had started with a tinnitus ringing and we enhanced that. We used filtering on the voices and delays to give it more space and add a haunting aspect. When the older boy really wakes up and snaps to we’re playing up the wailing of the younger kid as much as possible. Even when the older boy lifts the burning log off the younger boy’s legs, we really played up the creak of the wood and the fire. You hear the gore of charred wood pulling the skin off his legs. We played those elements up to make a very visceral experience in that last moment.

The music there is very emotional, and so is seeing that young boy in pain. Those kids did a great job and that made it easy for us to take that moment further. We had a really good source track to work with.

What was the most challenging scene for sound editorial? Why?
Cook: Overall, the battle was tough. It was a challenge because it was long and it was a lot of cutting and a lot of material to get together and go through in the mix. We spent a lot of time on that street scene, too. Those two scenes were where we spent the most time for sure.

The opening sequence, with the bombs, there was debate on whether we should hear the bomb sounds in sync with the explosions happening visually. Or, should the sound be delayed? That always comes up. It’s weird when the sound doesn’t match the visual, when in reality you’d hear the sound of an explosion that happen miles away much later than you’d see the explosion happen.

Again, those are the compromises you make. One of the great things about this medium is that it’s so collaborative. No one person does it all… or rarely it’s one person. It does take a village and we had great support from the producers. They were very intentional on sound. They wanted sound to be a big player. Right from the get-go they gave us the tools and support that we needed and that was really appreciated.

What would you want other sound pros to know about your sound work on Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan?
Cook: I’m really big into detail on the editing side, but the mix on this show was great too. It’s unfortunate that the mixers didn’t get an Emmy nomination for mixing. I usually don’t get recognized unless the mixing is really done well.

There’s more to this series than the pilot episode. There are other super good sounding episodes; it’s a great sounding season. I think we did a great job of finding ways of using sound to help tell the story and have it be an immersive experience. There is a lot of sound in it and as a sound person, that’s usually what we want to achieve.

I highly recommend that people listen to the show in Dolby Atmos at home. I’ve been doing Atmos shows now since Black Sails. I did Lost in Space in Atmos, and we’re finishing up Season 2 in Atmos as well. We did Counterpart in Atmos. Atmos for home is here and we’re going to see more and more projects mixed in Atmos. You can play something off your phone in Atmos now. It’s incredible how the technology has changed so much. It’s another tool to help us tell the story. Look at Roma (my favorite mix last year). That film really used Atmos mixing; they really used the sound field and used extreme panning at times. In my honest opinion, it made the film more interesting and brought another level to the story.


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

NBCUni 7.26

ADR, loop groups, ad-libs: Veep‘s Emmy-nominated audio team

By Jennifer Walden

HBO wrapped up its seventh and final season of Veep back in May, so sadly, we had to say goodbye to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ morally flexible and potty-mouthed Selina Meyer. And while Selina’s political career was a bit rocky at times, the series was rock-solid — as evidenced by its 17 Emmy wins and 68 nominations over show’s seven-year run.

For re-recording mixers William Freesh and John W. Cook II, this is their third Emmy nomination for Sound Mixing on Veep. This year, they entered the series finale — Season 7, Episode 7 “Veep” — for award consideration.

L-R: William Freesh, Sue Cahill, John W. Cook, II

Veep post sound editing and mixing was handled at NBCUniversal Studio Post in Los Angeles. In the midst of Emmy fever, we caught up with re-recording mixer Cook (who won a past Emmy for the mix on Scrubs) and Veep supervising sound editor Sue Cahill (winner of two past Emmys for her work on Black Sails).

Here, Cook and Cahill talk about how Veep’s sound has grown over the years, how they made the rapid-fire jokes crystal clear, and the challenges they faced in crafting the series’ final episode — like building the responsive convention crowds, mixing the transitions to and from the TV broadcasts, and cutting that epic three-way argument between Selina, Uncle Jeff and Jonah.

You’ve been with Veep since 2016? How has your approach to the show changed over the years?
John W. Cook II: Yes, we started when the series came to the states (having previously been posted in England with series creator Armando Iannucci).

Sue Cahill: Dave Mandel became the showrunner, starting with Season 5, and that’s when we started.

Cook: When we started mixing the show, production sound mixer Bill MacPherson and I talked a lot about how together we might improve the sound of the show. He made some tweaks, like trying out different body mics and negotiating with our producers to allow for more boom miking. Notwithstanding all the great work Bill did before Season 5, my job got consistently easier over Seasons 5 through 7 because of his well-recorded tracks.

Also, some of our tools have changed in the last three years. We installed the Avid S6 console. This, along with a handful of new plugins, has helped us work a little faster.

Cahill: In the dialogue editing process this season, we started using a tool called Auto-Align Post from Sound Radix. It’s a great tool that allowed us to cut both the boom and the ISO mics for every clip throughout the show and put them in perfect phase. This allowed John the flexibility to mix both together to give it a warmer, richer sound throughout. We lean heavily on the ISO mics, but being able to mix in the boom more helped the overall sound.

Cook: You get a bit more depth. Body mics tend to be more flat, so you have to add a little bit of reverb and a lot of EQing to get it to sound as bright and punchy as the boom mic. When you can mix them together, you get a natural reverb on the sound that gives the dialogue more depth. It makes it feel like it’s in the space more. And it requires a little less EQing on the ISO mic because you’re not relying on it 100%. When the Auto-Align Post technology came out, I was able to use both mics together more often. Before Auto-Align, I would shy away from doing that if it was too much work to make them sound in-phase. The plugin makes it easier to use both, and I find myself using the boom and ISO mics together more often.

The dialogue on the show has always been rapid-fire, and you really want to hear every joke. Any tools or techniques you use to help the dialogue cut through?
Cook: In my chain, I’m using FabFilter Pro-Q 2 a lot, EQing pretty much every single line in the show. FabFilter’s built-in spectrum analyzer helps get at that target EQ that I’m going for, for every single line in the show.

In terms of compression, I’m doing a lot of gain staging. I have five different points in the chain where I use compression. I’m never trying to slam it too much, just trying to tap it at different stages. It’s a music technique that helps the dialogue to never sound squashed. Gain staging allows me to get a little more punch and a little more volume after each stage of compression.

Cahill: On the editing side, it starts with digging through the production mic tracks to find the cleanest sound. The dialogue assembly on this show is huge. It’s 13 tracks wide for each clip, and there are literally thousands of clips. The show is very cutty, and there are tons of overlaps. Weeding through all the material to find the best lav mics, in addition to the boom, really takes time. It’s not necessarily the character’s lav mic that’s the best for a line. They might be speaking more clearly into the mic of the person that is right across from them. So, listening to every mic choice and finding the best lav mics requires a couple days of work before we even start editing.

Also, we do a lot of iZotope RX work in editing before the dialogue reaches John’s hands. That helps to improve intelligibility and clear up the tracks before John works his magic on it.

Is it hard to find alternate production takes due to the amount of ad-libbing on the show? Do you find you do a lot of ADR?
Cahill: Exactly, it’s really hard to find production alts in the show because there is so much improv. So, yeah, it takes extra time to find the cleanest version of the desired lines. There is a significant amount of ADR in the show. In this episode in particular, we had 144 lines of principal ADR. And, we had 250 cues of group. It’s pretty massive.

There must’ve been so much loop group in the “Veep” episode. Every time they’re in the convention center, it’s packed with people!
Cook: There was the larger convention floor to consider, and the people that were 10 to 15 feet away from whatever character was talking on camera. We tried to balance that big space with the immediate space around the characters.

This particular Veep episode has a chaotic vibe. The main location is the nomination convention. There are huge crowds, TV interviews (both in the convention hall and also playing on Selina’s TV in her skybox suite and hotel room) and a big celebration at the end. Editorially, how did you approach the design of this hectic atmosphere?
Cahill: Our sound effects editor Jonathan Golodner had a lot of recordings from prior national conventions. So those recordings are used throughout this episode. It really gives the convention center that authenticity. It gave us the feeling of those enormous crowds. It really helped to sell the space, both when they are on the convention floor and from the skyboxes.

The loop group we talked about was a huge part of the sound design. There were layers and layers of crafted walla. We listened to a lot of footage from past conventions and found that there is always a speaker on the floor giving a speech to ignite the crowd, so we tried to recreate that in loop group. We did some speeches that we played in the background so we would have these swells of the crowd and crowd reactions that gave the crowd some movement so that it didn’t sound static. I felt like it gave it a lot more life.

We recreated chanting in loop group. There was a chant for Tom James (Hugh Laurie), which was part of production. They were saying, “Run Tom Run!” We augmented that with group. We changed the start of that chant from where it was in production. We used the loop group to start that chant sooner.

Cook: The Tom James chant was one instance where we did have production crowd. But most of the time, Sue was building the crowds with the loop group.

Cahill: I used casting director Barbara Harris for loop group, and throughout the season we had so many different crowds and rallies — both interior and exterior — that we built with loop group because there wasn’t enough from production. We had to hit on all the points that they are talking about in the story. Jonah (Timothy Simons) had some fun rallies this season.

Cook: Those moments of Jonah’s were always more of a “call-and-response”-type treatment.

The convention location offered plenty of opportunity for creative mixing. For example, the episode starts with Congressman Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl) addressing the crowd from the podium. The shot cuts to a CBSN TV broadcast of him addressing the crowd. Next the shot cuts to Selina’s skybox, where they’re watching him on TV. Then it’s quickly back to Furlong in the convention hall, then back to the TV broadcast, and back to Selina’s room — all in the span of seconds. Can you tell me about your mix on that sequence?
Cook: It was about deciding on the right reverb for the convention center and the right reverbs for all the loop group and the crowds and how wide to be (how much of the surrounds we used) in the convention space. Cutting to the skybox, all of that sound was mixed to mono, for the most part, and EQ’d a little bit. The producers didn’t want to futz it too much. They wanted to keep the energy, so mixing it to mono was the primary way of dealing with it.

Whenever there was a graphic on the lower third, we talked about treating that sound like it was news footage. But we decided we liked the energy of it being full fidelity for all of those moments we’re on the convention floor.

Another interesting thing was the way that Bill Freesh and I worked together. Bill was handling all of the big cut crowds, and I was handling the loop group on my side. We were trying to walk the line between a general crowd din on the convention floor, where you always felt like it was busy and crowded and huge, along with specific reactions from the loop group reacting to something that Furlong would say, or later in the show, reacting to Selina’s acceptance speech. We always wanted to play reactions to the specifics, but on the convention floor it never seems to get quiet. There was a lot of discussion about that.

Even though we cut from the convention center into the skybox, those considerations about crowd were still in play — whether we were on the convention floor or watching the convention through a TV monitor.

You did an amazing job on all those transitions — from the podium to the TV broadcast to the skybox. It felt very real, very natural.
Cook: Thank you! That was important to us, and certainly important to the producers. All the while, we tried to maintain as much energy as we could. Once we got the sound of it right, we made sure that the volume was kept up enough so that you always felt that energy.

It feels like the backgrounds never stop when they’re in the convention hall. In Selina’s skybox, when someone opens the door to the hallway, you hear the crowd as though the sound is traveling down the hallway. Such a great detail.
Cook and Cahill: Thank you!

For the background TV broadcasts feeding Selina info about the race — like Buddy Calhoun (Matt Oberg) talking about the transgender bathrooms — what was your approach to mixing those in this episode? How did you decide when to really push them forward in the mix and when to pull back?
Cook: We thought about panning. For the most part, our main storyline is in the center. When you have a TV running in the background, you can pan it off to the side a bit. It’s amazing how you can keep the volume up a little more without it getting in the way and masking the primary characters’ dialogue.

It’s also about finding the right EQ so that the TV broadcast isn’t sharing the same EQ bandwidth as the characters in the room.

Compression plays a role too, whether that’s via a plugin or me riding the fader. I can manually do what a side-chained compressor can do by just riding the fader and pulling the sound down when necessary or boosting it when there’s a space between dialogue lines from the main characters. The challenge is that there is constant talking on this show.

Going back to what has changed over the last three years, one of the things that has changed is that we have more time per episode to mix the show. We got more and more time from the first mix to the last mix. We have twice as much time to mix the show.

Even with all the backgrounds happening in Veep, you never miss the dialogue lines. Except, there’s a great argument that happens when Selina tells Jonah he’s going to be vice president. His Uncle Jeff (Peter MacNicol) starts yelling at him, and then Selina joins in. And Jonah is yelling back at them. It’s a great cacophony of insults. Can you tell me about that scene?
Cahill: Those 15 seconds of screen time took us several hours of work in editorial. Dave (Mandel) said he couldn’t understand Selina clearly enough, but he didn’t want to loop the whole argument. Of course, all three characters are overlapped — you can hear all of them on each other’s mics — so how do you just loop Selina?

We started with an extensive production alt search that went back and forth through the cutting room a few times. We decided that we did need to ADR Selina. So we ended up using a combination of mostly ADR for Selina’s side with a little bit of production.

For the other two characters, we wanted to save their production lines, so our dialogue editor Jane Boegel (she’s the best!) did an amazing job using iZotope RX’s De-bleed feature to clear Selina’s voice out of their mics, so we could preserve their performances.

We didn’t loop any of Uncle Jeff, and it was all because of Jane’s work cleaning out Selina. We were able to save all of Uncle Jeff. It’s mostly production for Jonah, but we did have to loop a few words for him. So it was ADR for Selina, all of Uncle Jeff and nearly all of Jonah from set. Then, it was up to John to make it match.

Cook: For me, in moments like those, it’s about trying to get equal volumes for all the characters involved. I tried to make Selina’s yelling and Uncle Jeff’s yelling at the exact same level so the listener’s ear can decide what it wants to focus on rather than my mix telling you what to focus on.

Another great mix sequence was Selina’s nomination for president. There’s a promo video of her talking about horses that’s playing back in the convention hall. There are multiple layers of processing happening — the TV filter, the PA distortion and the convention hall reverb. Can you tell me about the processing on that scene?
Cook: Oftentimes, when I do that PA sound, it’s a little bit of futzing, like rolling off the lows and highs, almost like you would do for a small TV. But then you put a big reverb on it, with some pre-delay on it as well, so you hear it bouncing off the walls. Once you find the right reverb, you’re also hearing it reflecting off the walls a little bit. Sometimes I’ll add a little bit of distortion as well, as if it’s coming out of the PA.

When Selina is backstage talking with Gary (Tony Hale), I rolled off a lot more of the highs on the reverb return on the promo video. Then, in the same way I’d approach levels with a TV in the room, I was riding the level on the promo video to fit around the main characters’ dialogue. I tried to push it in between little breaks in the conversation, pulling it down lower when we needed to focus on the main characters.

What was the most challenging scene for you to mix?
Cook: I would say the Tom James chanting was challenging because we wanted to hear the chant from inside the skybox to the balcony of the skybox and then down on the convention floor. There was a lot of conversation about the microphones from Mike McLintock’s (Matt Walsh) interview. The producers decided that since there was a little bit of bleed in the production already, they wanted Mike’s microphone to be going out to the PA speakers in the convention hall. You hear a big reverb on Tom James as well. Then, the level of all the loop group specifics and chanting — from the ramp up of the chanting from zero to full volume — we negotiated with the producers. That was one of the more challenging scenes.

The acceptance speech was challenging too, because of all of the cutaways. There is that moment with Gary getting arrested by the FBI; we had to decide how much of that we wanted to hear.
There was the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” that played over all the characters’ banter following Selina’s acceptance speech. We had to balance the dialogue with the desire to crank up that track as much as we could.

There were so many great moments this season. How did you decide on the series finale episode, “Veep,” for Emmy consideration for Sound Mixing?
Cook: It was mostly about story. This is the end of a seven-year run (a three-year run for Sue and I), but the fact that every character gets a moment — a wrap-up on their character — makes me nostalgic about this episode in that way.

It also had some great sound challenges that came together nicely, like all the different crowds and the use of loop group. We’ve been using a lot of loop group on the show for the past three years, but this episode had a particularly massive amount of loop group.

The producers were also huge fans of this episode. When I talked to Dave Mandel about which episode we should put up, he recommended this one as well.

Any other thoughts you’d like to add on the sound of Veep?
Cook: I’m going to miss Veep a lot. The people on it, like Dave Mandel, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Morgan Sackett … everyone behind the credenza. They were always working to create an even better show. It was a thrill to be a team member. They always treated us like we were in it together to make something great. It was a pleasure to work with people that recognize and appreciate the time and the heart that we contribute. I’ll miss working with them.

Cahill: I agree with John. On that last playback, no one wanted to leave the stage. Dave brought champagne, and Julia brought chocolates. It was really hard to say goodbye.


Goosing the sound for Allstate’s action-packed ‘Mayhem’ spots

By Jennifer Walden

While there are some commercials you’d rather not hear, there are some you actually want to turn up, like those of Leo Burnett Worldwide’s “Mayhem” campaign for Allstate Insurance.

John Binder

The action-packed and devilishly hilarious ads have been going strong since April 2010. Mayhem (played by actor Dean Winters) is a mischievous guy who goes around breaking things that cut-rate insurance won’t cover. Fond of your patio furniture? Too bad for all that wind! Been meaning to fix that broken front porch step? Too bad the dog walker just hurt himself on it! Parked your car in the driveway and now it’s stolen? Too bad — and the thief hit your mailbox and motorcycle too!

Leo Burnett Worldwide’s go-to for “Mayhem” is award-winning post sound house Another Country, based in Chicago and Detroit. Sound designer/mixer John Binder (partner of Cutters Studios and managing director of Another Country) has worked on every single “Mayhem” spot to date. Here, he talks about his work on the latest batch: Overly Confident Dog Walker, Car Thief and Bunch of Wind. And Binder shares insight on a few of his favorites over the years.

In Overly Confident Dog Walker, Mayhem is walking an overwhelming number of dogs. He can barely see where he’s walking. As he’s going up the front stairs of a house, a brick comes loose, causing Mayhem to fall and hit his head. As Mayhem delivers his message, one of the dogs comes over and licks Mayhem’s injury.

Overly Confident Dog Walker

Sound-wise, what were some of your challenges or unique opportunities for sound on this spot?
A lot of these “Mayhem” spots have the guy put in ridiculous situations. There’s often a lot of noise happening during production, so we have to do a lot of clean up in post using iZotope RX 7. When we can’t get the production dialogue to sound intelligible, we hook up with a studio in New York to record ADR with Dean Winters. For this spot, we had to ADR quite a bit of his dialogue while he is walking the dogs.

For the dog sounds, I have added my dog in there. I recorded his panting (he pants a lot), the dog chain and straining sounds. I also recorded his licking for the end of the spot.

For when Mayhem falls and hits his head, we had a really great sound for him hitting the brick. It was wonderful. But we sent it to the networks, and they felt it was too violent. They said they couldn’t air it because of both the visual and the sound. So, instead of changing the visuals, it was easier to change the sound of his head hitting the brick step. We had to tone it down. It’s neutered.

What’s one sound tool that helped you out on Overly Confident Dog Walker?
In general, there’s often a lot of noise from location in these spots. So we’re cleaning that up. iZotope RX 7 is key!


In Bunch of Wind, Mayhem represents a windy rainstorm. He lifts the patio umbrella and hurls it through the picture window. A massive tree falls on the deck behind him. After Mayhem delivers his message, he knocks over the outdoor patio heater, which smashes on the deck.

Bunch of Wind

Sound-wise, what were some of your challenges or unique opportunities for sound on Bunch of Wind?
What a nightmare for production sound. This one, understandably, was all ADR. We did a lot of Foley work, too, for the destruction to make it feel natural. If I’m doing my job right, then nobody notices what I do. When we’re with Mayhem in the storm, all that sound was replaced. There was nothing from production there. So, the rain, the umbrella flapping, the plate-glass window, the tree and the patio heater, that was all created in post sound.

I had to build up the storm every time we cut to Mayhem. When we see him through the phone, it’s filtered with EQ. As we cut back and forth between on-scene and through the phone, it had to build each time we’re back on him. It had to get more intense.

What are some sound tools that helped you put the ADR into the space on screen?
Sonnox’s Oxford EQ helped on this one. That’s a good plugin. I also used Audio Ease’s Altiverb, which is really good for matching ambiences.


In Car Thief, Mayhem steals cars. He walks up onto a porch, grabs a decorative flagpole and uses it to smash the driver-side window of a car parked in the driveway. Mayhem then hot wires the car and peels out, hitting a motorcycle and mailbox as he flees the scene.

Car Thief

Sound-wise, what were some of your challenges or unique opportunities for sound on Car Thief?
The location sound team did a great job of miking the car window break. When Mayhem puts the wooden flagpole through the car window, they really did that on-set, and the sound team captured it perfectly. It’s amazing. If you hear safety glass break, it’s not like a glass shatter. It has this texture to it. The car window break was the location sound, which I loved. I saved the sound for future reference.

What’s one sound tool that helped you out on Car Thief?
Jeff, the car owner in the spot, is at a sports game. You can hear the stadium announcer behind him. I used Altiverb on the stadium announcer’s line to help bring that out.

What have been your all-time favorite “Mayhem” spots in terms of sound?
I’ve been on this campaign since the start, so I have a few. There’s one called Mayhem is Coming! that was pretty cool. I did a lot of sound design work on the extended key scrape against the car door. Mayhem is in an underground parking garage, and so the key scrape reverberates through that space as he’s walking away.

Deer

Another favorite is Fast Food Trash Bag. The edit of that spot was excellent; the timing was so tight. Just when you think you’ve got the joke, there’s another joke and another. I used the Sound Ideas library for the bear sounds. And for the sound of Mayhem getting dragged under the cars, I can’t remember how I created that, but it’s so good. I had a lot of fun playing perspective on this one.

Often on these spots, the sounds we used were too violent, so we had to tone them down. On the first campaign, there was a spot called Deer. There’s a shot of Mayhem getting hit by a car as he’s standing there on the road like a deer in headlights. I had an excellent sound for that, but it was deemed too violent by the network.


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


Harbor’s Bobby Johanson discusses ADR for TV and film

By Jennifer Walden

A lot of work comes in and out of the ADR department at New York City’s Harbor Picture Company. A lot.

Over the past year alone, ADR mixer Bobby Johanson has been cranking out ADR and loop group for films such as Beauty and the Beast, The Light Between Oceans, Patriots Day, The Girl on the Train, Triple 9, Hail, Caesar! and more.

His expertise goes beyond film though. Johanson also does ADR for series, for shows like Amazon’s Red Oaks and their upcoming series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Netflix’s Master of None, which we will touch on lightly in a bit. First, let’s talk the art of ADR.

According to Johanson, “Last week, I did full days on three different films. Some weeks we record full days, nights and weekends, depending on the season, film festivals, what’s in post, actor availability and everything else that goes on with scheduling. Some sessions will book for two hours out of a day, while another client will want eight hours because of actor availability.”

With so many projects passing through his studio, efficiency is essential, but not at the cost of a job well done. “You have an actor on the stage and the director in the room, and you have to make things efficient,” says Johanson. “You have to play lines back as they are going to be in the show. You want to play the line and hear, ‘Was that ADR?’ Instantly, it’s a whole new world. People have been burned by not so good ADR in the past, and I feel like that compromises the performance. It’s very important for the talent to feel like they’re in good hands, so they forget about the technical side and just focus on their acting.”

Johanson got his start in ADR at New York’s Sound One facility, first as a messenger running reels around, and then moving up to the machine room when there was an opening for Sound One’s new ADR stage. “We didn’t really have anyone teaching us. The job was shown to us once; then we just had to figure out how to thread the dubbers and the projector. Once we got those hung, we would sit in the ADR studio and watch. I picked up a lot of my skills old-school. I’ve learned to incorporate those techniques into current technology and that works well for us.”

Tools
Gear-wise, one staple of his ADR career has been the Soundmaster ADR control system. Johanson calls it an “old-school tool,” probably 25 years old at this point, but he hasn’t found anything faster for recording ADR. “I used it at Sound One, and I used it at Digital Cinema, and now I use it here at Harbor. Until someone can invent another ADR synchronizer, this is the best for me.”

Johanson integrates the Soundmaster system with Avid Pro Tools 12 and works as a two-man team with ADR recordist Mike Rivera. “You can’t beat the efficiency and the attention to detail that you can get with the two-man team.”

Rivera tags the takes and makes minor edits while Johanson focuses on the director and the talent. “Because we are working on a synchronizer, the ADR recordist can do things that you couldn’t do if you were just shooting straight to Pro Tools,” explains Johanson. “We can actually edit on the fly and instantly playback the line in sync. I have the time to get the reverb on it and sweeten it. I can mix the line in because I’m not cutting it or pulling it into the track. That is being done while the system is moving on the pre-roll for a playback.”

For reverb, Johanson chooses an outboard Lexicon PCM80. This puts the controls easily within reach, and he can quickly add or change the reverb on the fly, helping the clean ADR line to sync into the scene. “The reverb unit is pretty old, but it is single-handedly the easiest reverb unit that you can use. There are four room sizes, and then you can adjust the delay of the reverb four times. I have been using this reverb for so many years now that I can match any reverb from any movie or TV show because I know this unit so well.”

Another key piece of gear in his set-up is an outboard Eventide H3000 SE sampler, which Johanson uses to sample the dialogue line they need to replace and play it back over and over for the actor to re-perform. “We offer a variety of ways to do ADR, like using beeps and having the actor perform to picture, but many actors prefer an older method that goes back to ‘looping.’ Back in the day, you would just run a line over and over again and the actor would emulate it. Then we put the select take of that line to picture. It’s a method that 60 percent of our actors who come in here love to do, and I can do that using the sampler.”

He also uses the sampler for playback. By sampling background noise from the scene, he can play that under the ADR line during playback and it helps the ADR to sit in the scene. “I keep the sampler and reverb as outboard gear because I can control them quickly. I’m doing things freestyle and we don’t have to stop the session. We don’t have to stop the system and wait for a playback or wait to do a record pass. Because we are a two-man operation, I can focus on these pieces of gear while Mike is tagging the takes with their cue numbers and managing them in the Pro Tools session for delivery. I can’t find an easier or quicker way to do what I do.”

While Johanson’s set-up may lack the luster of newly minted audio tools, it’s hard to argue with results. It’s not a case of “if it’s not broke then don’t fix it,” but rather a case of “don’t mess with perfection.”

Master of None
The set-up served them well while recording ADR and loop group for Netflix’s Emmy-winning comedy series Master of None. “Kudos to production sound mixer Michael Barosky because there wasn’t too much dialogue that we needed to replace with ADR for Season 2,” says Johanson. “But we did do a lot of loop group — sweetening backgrounds and walla, and things like that.”

For the Italian episodes, they brought in bilingual actors to record Italian language loop group. One scene that stood out for Johanson was the wedding scene in Italy, where the guests start jumping into the swimming pool. “We have a nice-sized ADR stage and so that frees us up to do a lot of movement. We were directing the actors to jump in front of the mic and run by the mic, to give us the effect of people jumping into the pool. That worked quite nicely in the track.”