Tag Archives: Deluxe Creative Services

True Detective’s quiet, tense Emmy-nominated sound

By Jennifer Walden

When there’s nothing around, there’s no place to hide. That’s why quiet soundtracks can be the most challenging to create. Every flaw in the dialogue — every hiss, every off-mic head turn, every cloth rustle against the body mic — stands out. Every incidental ambient sound — bugs, birds, cars, airplanes — stands out. Even the noise-reduction processing to remove those flaws can stand out, particularly when there’s a minimalist approach to sound effects and score.

That is the reason why the sound editing and mixing on Season 3 of HBO’s True Detective has been recognized with Emmy nominations. The sound team put together a quiet, tense soundtrack that perfectly matched the tone of the show.

L to R: Micah Loken, Tateum Kohut, Mandell Winter, David Esparza and Greg Orloff.

We reached out to the team at Sony Pictures Post Production Services to talk about the work — supervising sound editor Mandell Winter; sound designer David Esparza, MPSE; dialogue editor Micah Loken; as well as re-recording mixers Tateum Kohut and Greg Orloff (who mixed the show in 5.1 surround on an Avid S6 console at Deluxe Hollywood Stage 5.)

Of all the episodes in Season 3 of True Detective, why did you choose “The Great War and Modern Memory” for award consideration for sound editing?
Mandell Winter: This episode had a little bit of everything. We felt it represented the season pretty well.

David Esparza: It also sets the overall tone of the season.

Why this episode for sound mixing?
Tateum Kohut: The episode had very creative transitions, and it set up the emotion of our main characters. It establishes the three timelines that the season takes place in. Even though it didn’t have the most sound or the most dynamic sound, we chose it because, overall, we were pleased with the soundtrack, as was HBO. We were all pleased with the outcome.

Greg Orloff: We looked at Episode 5 too, “If You Have Ghosts,” which had a great seven-minute set piece with great action and cool transitions. But overall, Episode 1 was more interesting sonically. As an episode, it had great transitions and tension all throughout, right from the beginning.

Let’s talk about the amazing dialogue on this show. How did you get it so clean while still retaining all the quality and character?
Winter: Geoffrey Patterson was our production sound mixer, and he did a great job capturing the tracks. We didn’t do a ton of ADR because our dialogue editor, Micah Loken, was able to do quite a bit with the dialogue edit.

Micah Loken: Both the recordings and acting were great. That’s one of the most crucial steps to a good dialogue edit. The lead actors — Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff — had beautiful and engaging performances and excellent resonance to their voices. Even at a low-level whisper, the character and quality of the voice was always there; it was never too thin. By using the boom, the lav, or a special combination of both, I was able to dig out the timbre while minimizing noise in the recordings.

What helped me most was Mandell and I had the opportunity to watch the first two episodes before we started really digging in, which provided a macro view into the content. Immediately, some things stood out, like the fact that it was wall-to-wall dialogue on each episode, and that became our focus. I noticed that on-set it was hot; the exterior shots were full of bugs and the actors would get dry mouths, which caused them to smack their lips — which is commonly over-accentuated in recordings. It was important to minimize anything that wasn’t dialogue while being mindful to maintain the quality and level of the voice. Plus, the story was so well-written that it became a personal endeavor to bring my A game to the team. After completion, I would hand off the episode to Mandell and our dialogue mixer, Tateum.

Kohut: I agree. Geoffrey Patterson did an amazing job. I know he was faced with some challenges and environmental issues there in northwest Arkansas, especially on the exteriors, but his tracks were superbly recorded.

Mandell and Micah did an awesome job with the prep, so it made my job very pleasurable. Like Micah said, the deep booming voices of our two main actors were just amazing. We didn’t want to go too far with noise reduction in order to preserve that quality, and it did stand out. I did do more d-essing and d-ticking using iZotope RX 7 and FabFilter Pro-Q 2 to knock down some syllables and consonants that were too sharp, just because we had so much close-up, full-frame face dialogue that we didn’t want to distract from the story and the great performances that they were giving. But very little noise reduction was needed due to the well-recorded tracks. So my job was an absolute pleasure on the dialogue side.

Their editing work gave me more time to focus on the creative mixing, like weaving in the music just the way that series creator Nic Pizzolatto and composer T Bone Burnett wanted, and working with Greg Orloff on all these cool transitions.

We’re all very happy with the dialogue on the show and very proud of our work on it.

Loken: One thing that I wanted to remain cognizant of throughout the dialogue edit was making sure that Tateum had a smooth transition from line to line on each of the tracks in Pro Tools. Some lines might have had more intrinsic bug sounds or unwanted ambience but, in general, during the moments of pause, I knew the background ambience of the show was probably going to be fairly mild and sparse.

Mandell, how does your approach to the dialogue on True Detective compare to Deadwood: The Movie, which also earned Emmy nominations this year for sound editing and mixing?
Winter: Amazingly enough, we had the same production sound mixer on both — Geoffrey Patterson. That helps a lot.

We had more time on True Detective than on Deadwood. Deadwood was just “go.” We did the whole film in about five or six weeks. For True Detective, we had 10 days of prep time before we hit a five-day mix. We also had less material to get through on an episode of True Detective within that time frame.

Going back to the mix on the dialogue, how did you get the whispering to sound so clear?
Kohut: It all boils down to how well the dialogue was recorded. We were able to preserve that whispering and get a great balance around it. We didn’t have to force anything through. So, it was well-recorded, well-prepped and it just fit right in.

Let’s talk about the space around the dialogue. What was your approach to world building for “The Great War And Modern Memory?” You’re dealing with three different timelines from three different eras: 1980, 1990, and 2015. What went into the sound of each timeline?
Orloff: It was tough in a way because the different timelines overlapped sometimes. We’d have a transition happening, but with the same dialogue. So the challenge became how to change the environments on each of those cuts. One thing that we did was to make the show as sparse as possible, particularly after the discovery of the body of the young boy Will Purcell (Phoenix Elkin). After that, everything in the town becomes quiet. We tried to take out as many birds and bugs as possible, as though the town had died along with the boy. From that point on, anytime we were in that town in the original timeline, it was dead-quiet. As we went on later, we were able to play different sounds for that location, as though the town is recovering.

The use of sound on True Detective is very restrained. Were the decisions on where to have sound and how much sound happening during editorial? Or were those decisions mostly made on the dub stage when all the elements were together? What were some factors that helped you determine what should play?
Esparza: Editorially, the material was definitely prepared with a minimalistic aesthetic in mind. I’m sure it got paired down even more once it got to the mix stage. The aesthetic of the True Detective series in general tends to be fairly minimalistic and atmospheric, and we continued with that in this third season.

Orloff: That’s purposeful, from the filmmakers on down. It’s all about creating tension. Sometimes the silence helps more to create tension than having a sound would. Between music and sound effects, this show is all about tension. From the very beginning, from the first frame, it starts and it never really lets up. That was our mission all along, to keep that tension. I hope that we achieved that.

That first episode — “The Great War And Modern Memory” — was intense even the first time we played it back, and I’ve seen it numerous times since, and it still elicits the same feeling. That’s the mark of great filmmaking and storytelling and hopefully we helped to support that. The tension starts there and stays throughout the season.

What was the most challenging scene for sound editorial in “The Great War And Modern Memory?” Why?
Winter: I would say it was the opening sequence with the kids riding the bikes.

Esparza: It was a challenge to get the bike spokes ticking and deciding what was going to play and what wasn’t going to play and how it was going to be presented. That scene went through a lot of work on the mix stage, but editorially, that scene took the most time to get right.

What was the most challenging scene to mix in that episode? Why?
Orloff: For the effects side of the mix, the most challenging part was the opening scene. We worked on that longer than any other scene in that episode. That first scene is really setting the tone for the whole season. It was about getting that right.

We had brilliant sound design for the bike spokes ticking that transitions into a watch ticking that transitions into a clock ticking. Even though there’s dialogue that breaks it up, you’re continuing with different transitions of the ticking. We worked on that both editorially and on the mix stage for a long time. And it’s a scene I’m proud of.

Kohut: That first scene sets up the whole season — the flashback, the memories. It was important to the filmmakers that we got that right. It turned out great, and I think it really sets up the rest of the season and the intensity that our actors have.

What are you most proud of in terms of sound this season on True Detective?
Winter: I’m most proud of the team. The entire team elevated each other and brought their A-game all the way around. It all came together this season.

Orloff: I agree. I think this season was something we could all be proud of. I can’t be complimentary enough about the work of Mandell, David and their whole crew. Everyone on the crew was fantastic and we had a great time. It couldn’t have been a better experience.

Esparza: I agree. And I’m very thankful to HBO for giving us the time to do it right and spend the time, like Mandell said. It really was an intense emotional project, and I think that extra time really paid off. We’re all very happy.

Winter: One thing we haven’t talked about was T Bone and his music. It really brought a whole other level to this show. It brought a haunting mood, and he always brings such unique tracks to the stage. When Tateum would mix them in, the whole scene would take on a different mood. The music at times danced that thin line, where you weren’t sure if it was sound design or music. It was very cool.


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

Oscar Watch: The Shape (and sound) of Water

Post production sound mixers Christian Cooke and Brad Zoern, who are nominated (with production mixer Glen Gauthier) for their work on Fox’s The Shape of Water, have sat side-by-side at mixing consoles for nearly a decade. The frequent collaborators, who handle mixing duties at Deluxe Toronto, faced an unusual assignment given that the film’s two lead characters never utter a single word of actual dialogue. In The Shape of Water, which has been nominated for 13 Academy Awards, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is mute and the creature she falls in love with makes undefined sounds. This creative choice placed more than the usual amount of importance on the rest of the soundscape to support the story.

L-R: Nathan Robitaille, J. Miles Dale, Brad Zoern, director Guillermo del Toro, Christian Cooke, Nelson Ferreira, Filip Hosek, Cam McLauchlin, video editor Sidney Wolinsky, Rob Hegedus, Doug Wilkinson.

Cooke, who focused on dialogue and music, and Zoern, who worked with effects, backgrounds and Foley, knew from the start that their work would need to fit into the unique and delicate tone that infused the performances and visuals. Their work began, as always, with pre-dubs followed by three temp mixes of five days each, which allowed for discussion and input from director Guillermo del Toro. It was at the premixes that the mixers got a feel for del Toro’s conception for the film’s soundtrack. “We were more literal at first with some of the sounds,” says Zoern. “He had ideas about blending effects and music. By the time we started on the five-week-long mix, we had a very clear idea about what he was looking for.”

The final mix took place in one of Deluxe Toronto’s five stages, which have identical acoustic qualities and the same Avid Pro Tools-based Harrison MP4D/Avid S6 hybrid console, JBL M2 speakers and Crown amps.

The mixers worked to shape sonic moments that do more than represent “reality,” but create mood and tension. This includes key moments such as the sound of a car’s windshield wipers that build in volume until they take over the track in the form of a metronome-like beat underlining the tension of the moment. One pivotal scene finds Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) paying a visit to Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer). As Strickland speaks, Zelda’s husband Brewster (Martin Roach) watches television. “It was an actual mono track from a real show,” Cooke explains. “It starts out sounding roomy and distant as it would really have sounded. As the scene progresses, it expands, getting more prominent and spreading out around the speakers [for the 5.1 version]. By the end of the scene, the audio from the TV has become something totally different from what it started the scene as and then we melded that seamlessly into Alexandre Desplat’s score.”

Beyond the aesthetic work of building a sound mix, particularly one so fluid and expressionistic, post production mixers must also collaborate on a large number of technical decisions during the mix to ensure the elements have the right amount of emotional punch without calling attention to themselves. Individual sounds, even specific frequencies, vie for audience attention and the mixers orchestrate and layer them.

“It’s raining outside when they come into the room,” Zoern notes about the above scene. “We want to initially hear the sound of the rain to have a context for the scene. You never just want dialogue coming out of nowhere; it needs to live in a space. But then we pull that back to focus on the dialogue, and then the [augmented] audio from the TV gains prominence. During the final mix, Chris and I are always working together, side by side, to meld the hundreds of sounds the editors have built in a way that reflects the story and mood of the film.”

“We’re like an old married couple,” Cooke jokes. “We finish each other’s sentences. But it’s very helpful to have that kind of shorthand in this job. We’re blending so many pieces together and if people notice what we’ve done, we haven’t done our jobs.”

Post vet Russ Robertson returns to Deluxe, joins Encore New York

After a year away, Russ Robertson has returned to Deluxe as SVP of sales at the company’s Encore New York. With scripted original series reaching 455 — a record — in 2016 and more shows delivering in HDR formats, Robertson’s 20 years of post experience will support content creators as they navigate this global, multi-format market. He re-joins Deluxe after a year at Panavision, where he was VP of marketing of camera systems and production services.

Robertson first joined Deluxe in 2002 in Toronto. He spent 14 years as VP of sales in Toronto, Vancouver and New York. He helped establish the New York outpost of Deluxe’s Encore in the process. He began his 20-year post career in sales and services roles at a number of facilities in Toronto.

“I had an amazingly educational year learning about cameras and lenses, but there’s so much happening in post right now — new models, a sea change in workflows with HDR, and so much opportunity to help clients create content for worldwide audiences, I couldn’t stay away.”

Company 3’s Heydar Adel: The role of today’s online editor

Workflows for episodic TV have changed a lot over the last several years, sometimes daily. A role that has gone largely underappreciated in the process is online editor. Senior online editor Heydar Adel is no stranger to the process, having served in that role for over 17 years. While he has only been with Deluxe’s Company 3 in Santa Monica since last year, he is no stranger to Deluxe itself — he held a similar role at the company’s Encore facility for seven years prior to this recent move.

In describing his current role at Company 3, which provides high-end post services to feature film, commercial, music video and television clients, he says, “I primarily do conforming, which is essentially recreating what the picture editors are doing using smaller, more user-friendly files like Avid DNX-36, but with the larger and more robust files that our colorists works with. That could be a camera-original file format like r3d or ArriRaw, or it could be DPX or EXR, depending on the client’s requirements.”

In addition to the actual conforming of the files, he says, the process almost always involves creating some visual effects. “Elaborate effects and CGI work will go to an effects facility, but I do quite a lot of wire and mic removal, reframing, compositing and those kinds of effects. So that can be clean-up, stabilizations, laptop comps, cell phone comps, gunplay — like sparks and smoke — and those types of things.”

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is just one of the shows that Adel lends his talents to.

Adel makes it clear that he’s not changing the story or making creative decisions, “but the level of polish on a show is quite different when I’m done with it than when it first get it.”

Let’s dig in a bit deeper with Adel to find out more about his role and his workflow…

What tools do you use?
I can work in any of the “online” tools, such as Autodesk Flame, which used to be Smoke. We’ve also started doing some work in Blackmagic Resolve, but I’ve worked most often in Avid since it became possible last year to use Avid Symphony for 4K finishing.

Picture editors mostly work in Avid, so that helps with efficiency. We’re finishing a lot of shows for Netflix and Amazon and other companies who want 4K, and now HDR. I’ve found that working in Avid requires a bit less guesswork in recreating some of the effects the picture editor created so I can focus on bigger issues like compositing.

Can you walk us through an average session?
We get the offline edit in whatever format they use — often DNX36 — and all the raw camera footage. Company 3’s data department handles any transcoding that might be required and then we archive everything. My assistant editor puts the entire project online and I watch a split, with the offline version playing back in one monitor and the larger files assembled on a timeline chasing that version. First I check and make sure that there are no discrepancies between the versions and then I start on the bells and whistles.

What determines what effects you do and what gets sent out to a VFX vendor?
Their editorial department prepares lists of work that needs to be done. I’m part of that conversation and I’ll bid specific effects. So I’ll determine it might take two hours to do the shot and they generally pay a certain hourly rate. Some effects shots require many hours. Then they determine whether they want to do it here or send it out based on any number of factors. For the last pilot I worked on, I did 1,200 Avid visual effects shots for one 80-minute piece.

What tools do you use for the effects work, or is it just Avid?
You can do some of the work in the actual online tool — Avid or one of the others. Beyond that I use Adobe After Effects for a lot of compositing and Mocha for tracking. Mocha (now a Boris FX product) is very effective, and the tracking information translates well into the editing tools. I’ve also done some work in Blackmagic Fusion when I’m using Resolve to conform because they talk well to each other.

What monitors do you use?
I use a big 4K UHD monitor (sometimes Sony, sometimes LG) as the primary display, an HD LCD HP DreamColor as a close-up monitor and an HD plasma for comparisons. I use a nice curved Dell monitor for UI, which has a super wide — 21:9 — aspect ratio. Avid and Resolve interfaces are dual monitor set-ups but you can fit the whole thing on this one screen, and I love it.

What are some industry trends you’ve noticed recently?
The speed at which things need to get done — it used to be 8-12 hours to conform and output a show, now maybe four or five and with a lot more visual effects. Of course, the machines are faster but then as the resolution of the files goes up things naturally slow down again. We’re also working with 16-bit files and HDR and that also slows things down. At Company 3 we’re always maneuvering through these technological changes.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Working on shows I like! Recently, because I’m doing more and more, I have a sense of ownership. My job has changed; I’m not just a conform editor. I’ve contributed to it on an artistic level and I’m embracing the shift. So I watch them again and I’m proud of it. I’ve worked on shows I love and have gotten friends to start watching.

Black Sails Season 3

Black Sails

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
Cutnotes is an iPad app I love. When we play out a show with a client, you sync up timecode in the form of a text file. You can input parameters, like that it’s a 23.976 project, and it’s very effective. I really do love Mocha. It lets me do planar tracking in 3D space. It’s the core of most effects I do. And I use After Effects all the time.

Can you name some of those shows you’ve worked on?
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Last Ship, Narcos, Black Sails, and a lot of other shows and pilots.

What social media channels do you follow?
Mostly Instagram. I follow photographers and DPs.

If you listen to music while you work, care to share some of your favorites?
I listen to EDM; ‘90s electronica, like Massive Attack and Chemical Brothers; and Jazz. It’s the best music for VFX comps!

What do you do to de-stress?
I spend a lot of time outdoors with my two little boys!

Agency producer Kitty Snyder heads to Beast, Company 3, Method in Atlanta

Post vet Kitty Snyder has been named director of creative partnerships for the Atlanta branches of Beast, Company 3 and Method Studios, all Deluxe Creative Services companies. Snyder will work with existing clients, establish new ones, and match projects with the right artists and solutions.

She comes to Deluxe Georgia from ad agency Huge Inc., where she was a commercial producer for clients like Airheads Candy. She often brought her projects to Beast, Company 3 and Method for post. She also spent more than a decade at post facility Crawford Media Services collaborating with a large team of artists and the production company now known as Chorus Films. Snyder got her start in the post industry as a coordinating producer and writer for HGTV and GPTV shows, and for various freelance producers.

She is also a singer/songwriter with her band called The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants, and can be seen playing in clubs around Atlanta.

We reached out to Snyder with some questions following her hire:

Why was now the right time to jump back into the post world from the agency
My career has always been highly focused in post production, so the question should actually be, “Why did you jump over to the agency side for a little while?” At the time, I had worked at a post house for almost 10 years, and was a production coordinator before that, so the tangent I took as a producer for agency Huge, Inc, was three-fold: I was ready for a change at that time, they have very impressive work and clients, and I wanted to experience the energy of an agency.

So it was a great move, but I quickly realized that I missed my true passion, which is being around editors, colorists, VFX artists, sound designers and music composers. I like to see the spots come together in the final stages — that’s what gives me the most inspiration. I also enjoy the process of meeting with creatives and clients — those who develop the concept, create the storyboard and want to see their vision brought to life — and then sharing with them the work of my talented colleagues, who not only accomplish that goal, but make it even better than they imagined.
Why these three companies? 
Because I have been in the post business long enough to know who the best of the best is. I know that I will be proud to represent these teams, as both individual artists and as a full-service post solution. And, when I walk in those doors, I feel like I’m home.

Deluxe Atlanta ups senior colorist Billy Gabor to MD

Senior Colorist Billy Gabor has been promoted to managing director of Deluxe Creative Services in Atlanta, which currently is home to local outposts of Company 3, Method, Encore and Beast. The new position serves to further unify the post services of each company under the Creative Services umbrella.

As one of the first colorists at Company 3 in Santa Monica, Gabor has been a key presence within the company since 1998. He helped establish Company 3’s East Coast operations in 2001 by opening and subsequently leading the New York office. In 2011, Gabor relocated to Company 3’s Atlanta outpost to serve as a senior colorist and advise on business development opportunities.

“Billy and I have worked side by side for more than 15 years as he has grown through our ranks. I value his insight and work ethic, and have every confidence that he will be an excellent leader as we expand our business locally in Atlanta and globally through our Creative Services network,” says Stefan Sonnenfeld, CEO, Deluxe Creative Services.