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Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse: sound editors talk ‘magical realism’

By Randi Altman

Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t your ordinary Spider-Man movie, from its story to its look to its sound. The filmmakers took a familiar story and turned it on its head a bit, letting audiences know that Spider-Man isn’t just one guy wearing that mask… or even a guy, or even from this dimension.

The film focuses on Miles Morales, a teenager from Brooklyn, struggling with all things teenager while also dealing with the added stress of being Spider-Man.

Geoff Rubay

Audio played a huge role in this story, and we recently reached out to Sony supervising sound editors Geoff Rubay and Curt Schulkey to dig in a bit deeper. The duo recently won an MPSE Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing — Feature Animation… industry peers recognizing the work that went into creating the sound for this stylized world.

Let’s find out more about the sound process on Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

What do you think is the most important element of this film’s sound?
Curt Schulkey: It is fun, it is bold, it has style and it has attitude. It has energy. We did everything we could to make the sound as stylistic and surprising as the imagery. We did that while supporting the story and the characters, which are the real stars of the movie. We had the opportunity to work with some incredibly creative filmmakers, and we did our best to surprise and delight them. We hope that audiences like it too.

Geoff Rubay: For me, it’s the fusion of the real and the fantastic. Right from the beginning, the filmmakers made it clear that it should feel believable — grounded — while staying true to the fantastic nature of the visuals. We did not hold back on the fantastic side, but we paid close attention to the story and made sure we were supporting that and not just making things sound awesome.

Curt Schulkey

How early did your team get involved in the film?
Rubay: We started on an SFX pre-design phase in late February for about a month. The goal was to create sounds for the picture editors and animators to work with. We ended up doing what amounted to a temp mix of some key sequences. The “Super Collider” was explored. We only worked on the first sequence for the collider, but the idea was that material could be recycled by the picture department and used in the early temp mixes until the final visuals arrived.

Justin Thompson, the production designer, was very generous with his time and resources early on. He spent several hours showing us work-in-progress visuals and concept art so that we would know where visuals would eventually wind up. This was invaluable. We were able to work on sounds long before we saw them as part of the movie. In the temp mix phase, we had to hold back or de-emphasize some of those elements because they were not relevant yet. In some cases, the sounds would not work at all with the storyboards or un-lit animation that was in the cut. Only when the final lit animation showed up would those sounds make sense.

Schulkey: I came onto the film in May, about 9.5 months before completion. We were neck-deep in following changes throughout our work. We were involved in the creation of sounds from the very first studio screening, through previews and temp mixes, right on to the end of the final mix. This sometimes gave us the opportunity to create sounds in advance of the images, or to influence the development of imagery and timing. Because they were so involved in building the movie, the directors did not always have time to discuss their needs with us, so we would speculate on what kinds of sounds they might need or want for events that they were molding visually. As Geoff said, the time that Justin Thompson spent with us was invaluable. The temp-mix process often gave us the opportunity to audition creations for the directors/producers.

What sort of direction did you receive from the directors?
Schulkey: Luckily, because of our previous experiences with producers Chris Miller and Phil Lord and editor Bob Fisher, we had a pretty good idea of their tastes and sensitivities, so our first attempts were usually pointed in the right direction. The three directors — Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman — also provided input, so we were rich with direction.

As with all movies, we had hundreds of side discussions with the directors along the way about details, nuances, timing and so on. I think that the most important overall direction we got from the filmmakers was related to the dynamic arc of the movie. They wanted the soundtrack to be forceful but not so much that it hurt. They wanted it to breathe — quiet in some spots, loud in others, and they wanted it to be fun. So, we had to figure out what “fun” sounds like.

Rubay: This will sound strange, but we never did a spotting session for the movie. We just started our work and got feedback when we showed sequences or did temp mixes. Phil called when we started the pre-design phase and gave us general notes about tone and direction. He made it clear he did not want us to hold back, but he wanted to keep the film grounded. He explained the importance of the various levels of technology of different characters.

Peni Parker is from the 31st century, so her robot sidekick needed to sound futuristic. Scorpion is a pile of rusty metal. Prowler’s tech is appropriated from his surroundings and possibly with some help from Kingpin. We discussed the sound of previous Spider-Man movies and asked how much we needed to stay true to established sounds from those films. The direction was “not at all unless it makes sense.” We endeavored to make Peter Parker’s web-slings sound like the previous films. After that, we just “went for it.”

How was working on a film like this different than working on something live-action? Did it allow you more leeway?
Schulkey: In a live-action film, most or all of the imagery is shot before we begin working. Many aspects of the sound are already stamped in. On this film, we had a lot more creative involvement. At the start, a good percentage of the movie was still in storyboards, so if we expanded or contracted the timing of an event, the animators might adjust their work to fit the sounds. As the visual elements developed, we began creating layers of sound to support them.

For me, one of the best parts of an animated film’s soundtrack is that no sounds are imposed by the real world, as is often the case in live-action productions. In live-action, if a dialogue scene is shot on a city street in Brooklyn, there is a lot of uninteresting traffic noise built into the dialogue recordings.

Very few directors (or actors) want to lose the spontaneity of the original performance by re-recording dialogue in a studio, so we tweak, clean and process the dialogue to lessen unwanted noise, sometimes diminishing the quality of the recording. We sometimes make compromises with sound effects and music to support a not-so-ideal dialogue track. In an animated film, we don’t have that problem. Sound effects and ambiences can shine without getting in the way. This film has very quiet moments, which feel very natural and organic. That’s a pleasure to have in the movie.

Rubay: Everything Curt said! You have quite a bit of freedom because there is no “production track.” On the flip side, every sound that is added is just that — added. You have to be aware of that; more is not always better.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an animated film with a unique visual style. At times, we played the effects straight, as we might in a live-action picture, to ground it. Other times, we stripped away any notion of “reality.” Sometimes we would do both in the same scene as we cut from one angle to the next. Chris and Phil have always welcomed hard right angle turns, snapping sounds off on a cut or mixing and matching styles in close proximity. They like to do whatever supports the story and directs the audience. Often, we use sound to make your eye notice one thing or look away from another. Other times, we expand the frame, adding sounds outside of what you can see to further enhance the image.

There are many characters in the film. Can you talk about helping to create personality for each?
Rubay: There was a lot of effort made to differentiate the various “spider people” from each other. Whether it was through their web-slings or inherent technology, we were directed to give as much individual personality as possible to each character. Since that directive was baked in from the beginning, every department had it in mind. We paid attention to every visual cue. For example, Miles wears a particular pair of shoes — Nike Air Jordan 1s. My son, Alec Rubay, who was the Foley supervisor, is a real sneakerhead. He tracked down those shoes — very rare — and we recorded them, capturing every sound we could. When you hear Miles’s shoes squeak, you are hearing the correct shoes. Those shoes sound very specific. We applied that mentality wherever possible.

Schulkey: We took the opportunity to exploit the fact that some characters are from different universes in making their sound signatures different from one another. Spider-Ham is from a cartoon universe, so many of the sounds he makes are cartoon sounds. Sniffles, punches, swishes and other movements have a cartoon sensibility. Peni Parker, the anime character, is in a different sync than the rest of the cast, and her voice is somewhat more dynamic. We experimented with making Spider-Man Noir sound like he was coming from an old movie soundtrack, but that became obnoxious, so we abandoned the idea. Nicolas Cage was quite capable of conveying that aspect of the character without our help.

Because we wanted to ground characters in the real world, a lot of effort was put into attaching their voices to their images. Sync, of course, is essential, as is breathing. Characters in most animated films don’t do much breathing, but we added a lot of breaths, efforts and little stutters to add realism. That had to be done carefully. We had a very special, stellar cast and we wanted to maintain the integrity of their performances. I think that effort shows up nicely in some of the more intimate, personal scenes.

To create the unique look of this movie, the production sometimes chose to animate sections of the film “on twos.” That means that mouth movements change every other frame rather than every frame, so sync can be harder than usual to pinpoint. I worked closely with director Bob Persichetti to get dialogue to look in its best sync, doing careful reviews and special adjustments, as needed, on all dialogue in the film.

The main character in this Spider-Man thread is Miles Morales, a brilliant African-American/Puerto Rican Brooklyn teenager trying to find his way in his multi-cultural world. We took special care to show his Puerto Rican background with added Spanish-language dialogue from Miles and his friends. That required dialect coaches, special record sessions and thorough review.

The group ADR required a different level of care than most films. We created voices for crowds, onlookers and the normal “general” wash of voices for New York City. Our group voices covered many very specific characters and were cast in detail by our group leader, Caitlin McKenna. We took a very realistic approach to crowd activity. It had to be subtler than most live-action films to capture the dry nonchalance of Miles Morales’s New York.

Would you describe the sounds as realistic? Fantastical? Both?
Schulkey: The sounds are fantastically realistic. For my money, I don’t want the sounds in my movie to seem fantastical. I see our job as creating an illusion for the audience — the illusion that they are hearing what they are seeing, and that what they are seeing is real. This is an animated film, where nothing is actually real, but has its own reality. The sounds need to live in the world we are watching. When something fantastical happens in the movie’s reality, we had to support that illusion, and we sometimes got to do fun stuff. I don’t mean to say that all sounds had to be realistic.

For example, we surmised that an actual supercollider firing up below the streets of Brooklyn would sound like 10,000 computer fans. Instead, we put together sounds that supported the story we were telling. The ambiences were as authentic as possible, including subway tunnels, Brooklyn streets and school hallways. Foley here was a great tool for giving reality to animated images. When Miles walks into the cemetery at night, you hear his footsteps on snow and sidewalk, gentle cloth movements and other subtle touches. This adds to a sense that he’s a real kid in a real city. Other times, we were in the Spider-Verse and our imagination drove the work.

Rubay: The visuals led the way, and we did whatever they required. There are some crazy things in this movie. The supercollider is based on a real thing so we started there. But supercolliders don’t act as they are depicted in the movie. In reality, they sound like a giant industrial site, fans and motors, but nothing so distinct or dramatic, so we followed the visuals.

Spider-sense is a kind of magical realism that supports, informs, warns, communicates, etc. There is no realistic basis for any of that, so we went with directions about feelings. Some early words of direction were “warm,” “organic,” “internal” and “magical.” Because there are no real sounds for those words, we created sounds that conveyed the emotional feelings of those ideas to the audience.

The portals that allow spider-people to move between dimensions are another example. Again, there was no real-world event to link to. We saw the visuals and assumed it should be a pretty big deal, real “force of nature” stuff. However, it couldn’t simply be big. We took big, energetic sounds and glued them onto what we were seeing. Of course, sometimes people are talking at the same time, so we shifted the frequency center of the moment to clear for the dialog. As music is almost always playing, we had to look for opportunities within the spaces it left.

 

Can you talk about working on the action scenes?
Rubay: For me, when the action starts, the sound had to be really specific. There is dialogue for sure. The music is often active. The guiding philosophy for me at that point is not “Keep adding until there is nothing left to add,” rather, it’s, “We’re done when there is nothing left to strip out.” Busy action scene? Broom the backgrounds away. Usually, we don’t even cut BG’s in a busy action scene, but, if we do, we do so with a skeptical eye. How can we make it more specific? Also, I keep a keen eye on “scale.” One wrong, small detail sound, no matter how cool or interesting, will get the broom if it throws off the scale. Sometimes everything might be sounding nice and big; impressive but not loud, just big, and then some small detail creeps in and spoils it. I am constantly looking out for that.

The “Prowler Chase” scene was a fun exploration. There are times where the music takes over and runs; we pull out every sound we can. Other times, the sound effects blow over everything. It is a matter of give and take. There is a truck/car/prowler motorcycle crash that turns into a suspended slo-mo moment. We had to decide which sounds to play where and when. Its stripped-down nature made it among my favorite moments in the picture.

Can you talk about the multiple universes?
Rubay: The multiverse presented many challenges. It usually manifested itself as a portal or something we move between. The portals were energetic and powerful. The multiverse “place” was something that we used as a quiet place. We used it to provide contrast because, usually, there was big action on either side.

A side effect of the multiple universes interacting was a buildup or collision/overlap. When universes collide or overlap, matter from each tries to occupy the same space. Visually, this created some very interesting moments. We referred to the multi-colored prismatic-looking stuff as “Picasso” moments. The supporting sound needed to convey “force of nature” and “hard edges,” but couldn’t be explosive, loud or gritty. Ultimately, it was a very multi-layered sound event: some “real” sounds teamed with extreme synthesis. I think it worked.

Schulkey: Some of the characters in the movie are transported from another dimension into the dimension of the movie, but their bodies rebel, and from time to time their molecules try to jump back to their native dimension, causing “glitching.” We developed, with a combination of plug-ins, blending, editing and panning, a signature sound that served to signal glitching throughout the movie, and was individually applied for each iteration.

What stands out in your mind as the most challenging scenes audio wise?
Rubay: There is a very quiet moment between Miles and his dad when dad is on one side of the door and Miles is on the other. It’s a very quiet, tender one-way conversation. When a movie gets that quiet every sound counts. Every detail has to be perfect.

What about the Dolby Atmos mix? How did that enhance the film? Can you give a scene or two as an example?
Schulkey: This film was a native Atmos mix, meaning that the primary final mix was directly in the Atmos format, as opposed to making a 7.1 mix and then going back to re-mix sections using the Atmos format.

The native Atmos mix allowed us a lot more sonic room in the theater. This is an extremely complex and busy mix, heavily driven by dialogue. By moving the score out into the side and surround speakers — away from the center speaker — we were able to make the dialogue clearer and still have a very rich and exciting score. Sonic movement is much more effective in this format. When we panned sounds around the room, it felt more natural than in other formats.

Rubay: Atmos is fantastic. Being able to move sounds vertically creates so much space, so much interest, that might otherwise not be there. Also, the level and frequency response of the surround channels makes a huge difference.

You guys used Avid Pro Tools for editing, can you mention some other favorite tools you employed on this film?
Schulkey : The Delete key and the Undo key.

Rubay: Pitch ‘n’ Time, Envy, Reverbs by Exponential Audio, Recording rigs and microphones of all sorts.

What haven’t I asked that’s important?
Our crew! Just in case anyone thinks this can be done by two people, it can’t.
– re-recording mixers Michael Semanick and Tony Lamberti
– sound designer John Pospisil
– dialogue editors James Morioka and Matthew Taylor
– sound effects editors David Werntz, Kip Smedley, Andy Sisul, Chris Aud, Donald Flick, Benjamin Cook, Mike Reagan and Ando Johnson
– Foley mixer Randy Singer
– Foley artists Gary Hecker, Michael Broomberg and Rick Owens

Efilm’s Natasha Leonnet: Grading Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

By Randi Altman

Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not your typical Spider-Man film… in so many ways. The most obvious is the movie’s look, which was designed to make the viewer feel they are walking inside a comic book. This tale, which blends CGI with 2D hand-drawn animation and comic book textures, focuses on a Brooklyn teen who is bitten by a radioactive spider on the subway and soon develops special powers.

Natasha Leonnet

When he meets Peter Parker, he realizes he’s not alone in the Spider-Verse. It was co-directed by Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr. and Rodney Rothman and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the pair behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie.

Efilm senior colorist Natasha Leonnet provided the color finish for the film, which was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category. We reached out to find out more.

How early were you brought on the film?
I had worked on Angry Birds with visual effects supervisor Danny Dimian, which is how I was brought onto the film. It was a few months before we started color correction. Also, there was no LUT for the film. They used the ACES workflow, developed by The Academy and Efilm’s VP of technology, Joachim “JZ” Zell.

Can you talk about the kind of look they were after and what it took to achieve that look?
They wanted to achieve a comic book look. You look at the edges of characters or objects in comic books and you actually see aspects of the color printing from the beginning of comic book printing — the CMYK dyes wouldn’t all be the same line — it creates a layered look along with the comic book dots and expression lines on faces, as if you’re drawing a comic book.

For example, if someone gets hurt you put actual slashes on their face. For me it was a huge education about the comic book art form. Justin Thompson, the art director, in particular is so knowledgeable about the history of comic books. I was so inspired I just bought my first comic book. Also, with the overall look, the light is painting color everywhere the way it does in life.

You worked closely Justin, VFX supervisor Danny Dimian and art director Dean Gordon What was that process like?
They were incredible. It was usually a group of us working together during the color sessions — a real exercise in collaboration. They were all so open to each other’s opinions and constantly discussing every change in order to make certain that the change best served the film. There was no idea that was more important than another idea. Everyone listened to each other’s ideas.

Had you worked on an animated film previously? What are the challenges and benefits of working with animation?
I’ve been lucky enough to do all of Blue Sky Studios’ color finishes so far, except for the first Ice Age. One of the special aspects of working on animated films is that you’re often working with people who are fine-art painters. As a result, they bring in a different background and way of analyzing the images. That’s really special. They often focus on the interplay of different hues.

In the case of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, they also wanted to bring a certain naturalism to the color experience. With this particular film, they made very bold choices with their use of color finishing. They used an aspect of color correctors that are used to shift all of the hues and colors; that’s usually reserved for music videos. They completely embraced it. They were basically using color finishing to augment the story and refine their hues, especially time of day and progression of the day or night. They used it as their extra lighting step.

Can you talk about your typical process? Did that differ because of the animated content?
My process actually does not differ when I’m color finishing animated content. Continuity is always at the forefront, even in animation. I use the color corrector as a creative tool on every project.

How would you describe the look of the film?
The film embodies the vivid and magical colors that I always observed in childhood but never saw reflected on the screen. The film is very color intense. It’s as if you’re stepping inside a comic book illustrator’s mind. It’s a mind-meld with how they’re imagining things.

What system did you use for color and why?
I used Resolve on this project, as it was the system that the clients were most familiar with.

Any favorite parts of the process?
My favorite part is from start to finish. It was all magical on this film.

What was your path to being a colorist?
My parents loved going to the cinema. They didn’t believe in babysitters, so they took me to everything. They were big fans of the French new wave movement and films that offered unconventional ways of depicting the human experience. As a result, I got to see some pretty unusual films. I got to see how passionate my parents were about these films and their stories and unusual way of telling them, and it sparked something in me. I think I can give my parents full credit for my career.

I studied non-narrative experimental filmmaking in college even though ultimately my real passion was narrative film. I started as a runner in the Czech Republic, which is where I’d made my thesis film for my BA degree. From there I worked my way up and met a colorist (Biggi Klier) who really inspired me. I was hooked and lucky enough to study with her and another mentor of mine in Munich, Germany.

How do you prefer a director and DP describe a look?
Every single person I’ve worked with works differently, and that’s what makes it so fun and exciting, but also challenging. Every person communicates about color differently and our vocabulary for color is so limited, therein lies the challenge.

Where do you find inspiration?
From both the natural world and the world of films. I live in a place that faces east, and I get up every morning to watch the sunrise and the color palette is always different. It’s beautiful and inspiring. The winter palettes in particular are gorgeous, with reds and oranges that don’t exist in summer sunrises.

BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee

By Iain Blair

Spike Lee has been on a roll recently. Last time we sat down for a talk, he’d just finished Chi-Raq, an impassioned rap reworking of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” which was set against a backdrop of Chicago gang violence. Since then, he’s directed various TV, documentary and video projects. And now his latest film BlacKkKlansman has been nominated for a host of Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing,  Best Original Score and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Adam Driver).

Set in the early 1970s, the unlikely-but-true story details the exploits of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream. The film also stars Topher Grace as David Duke.

Behind the scenes, Lee reteamed with co-writer Kevin Willmott, longtime editor Barry Alexander Brown and composer Terence Blanchard, along with up-and-coming DP Chayse Irvin. I spoke with the always-entertaining Lee, who first burst onto the scene back in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It, about making the film, his workflow and the Oscars.

Is it true Jordan Peele turned you onto this story?
Yeah, he called me out of the blue and gave me possibly the greatest six-word pitch in film history — “Black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan.” I couldn’t resist it, not with that pitch.

Didn’t you think, “Wait, this is all too unbelievable, too Hollywood?”
Well, my first question was, “Is this actually true? Or is it a Dave Chappelle skit?” Jordan assured me it’s a true story and that Ron wrote a book about it. He sent me a script, and that’s where we began, but Kevin Willmott and I then totally rewrote it so we could include all the stuff like Charlottesville at the end.

Iain Blair and Spike Lee

Did you immediately decide to juxtapose the story’s period racial hatred with all the ripped-from-the-headlines news footage?
Pretty much, as the Charlottesville rally happened August 11, 2017 and we didn’t start shooting this until mid-September, so we could include all that. And then there was the terrible synagogue massacre, and all the pipe bombs. Hate crimes are really skyrocketing under this president.

Fair to say, it’s not just a film about America, though, but about what’s happening everywhere — the rise of neo-Nazism, racism, xenophobia and so on in Europe and other places?
I’m so glad you said that, as I’ve had to correct several people who want to just focus on America, as if this is just happening here. No, no, no! Look at the recent presidential elections in Brazil. This guy — oh my God! This is a global phenomenon, and the common denominator is fear. You fire up your base with fear tactics, and pinpoint your enemy — the bogeyman, the scapegoat — and today that is immigrants.

What were the main challenges in pulling it all together?
Any time you do a film, it’s so hard and challenging. I’ve been doing this for decades now, and it ain’t getting any easier. You have to tell the story the best way you can, given the time and money you have, and it has to be a team effort. I had a great team with me, and any time you do a period piece you have added challenges to get it looking right.

You assembled a great cast. What did John David Washington and Adam Driver bring to the main roles?
They brought the weight, the hammer! They had to do their thing and bring their characters head-to-head, so it’s like a great heavyweight fight, with neither one backing down. It’s like Inside Man with Denzel and Clive Owen.

It’s the first time you’ve worked with the Canadian DP Chayse Irvin, who mainly shot shorts before this. Can you talk about how you collaborated with him?
He’s young and innovative, and he shot a lot of Beyonce’s Lemonade long-form video. What we wanted to do was shoot on film, not digital. I talked about all the ‘70s films I grew up with, like French Connection and Dog Day Afternoon. So that was the look I was after. It had to match the period, but not be too nostalgic. While we wanted to make a period film, I also wanted it to feel and look contemporary, and really connect that era with the world we live in now. He really nailed it. Then my great editor, Barry Alexander Brown, came up with all the split-screen stuff, which is also very ‘70s and really captured that era.

How tough was the shoot?
Every shoot’s tough. It’s part of the job. But I love shooting, and we used a mix of practical locations and sets in Brooklyn and other places that doubled for Colorado Springs.

Where did you post?
Same as always, in Brooklyn, at my 40 Acres and a Mule office.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, because post is when you finally sit down and actually make your film. It’s a lot more relaxing than the shoot — and a lot of it is just me and the editor and the Avid. You’re shaping and molding it and finding your way, cutting and adding stuff, flopping scenes, and it never really follows the shooting script. It becomes its own thing in post.

Talk about editing with Barry Alexander Brown, the Brit who’s cut so many of your films. What were the big editing challenges?
The big one was finding the right balance between the humor and the very serious subject matter. They’re two very different tones, and then the humor comes from the premise, which is absurd in itself. It’s organic to the characters and the situations.

Talk about the importance of sound and music, and Terence Blanchard’s spare score that blends funk with classical.
He’s done a lot of my films, and has never been nominated for an Oscar — and he should have been. He’s a truly great composer, trumpeter and bandleader, and a big part of what I do in post. I try to give him some pointers that aren’t restrictive, and then let him do his thing. I always put as much as emphasis on sound and music as I do on the acting, editing and cinematography. It’s hugely important, and once we have the score, we have a film.

I had a great sound team. Phil Stockton, who began with me back on School Daze, was the sound designer. David Boulton, Mike Russo and Howard London did the ADR mix, and my longtime mixer Tommy Fleischman was on it. We did it all at C5 in New York. We spent a long time on the mix, building it all up.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
At Company 3 with colorist Tom Poole, who’s so good. It’s very important but I’m in and out, as I know Tom and the DP are going to get the look I want.

Spike Lee on set.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
Here’s the thing. You try to do the best you can, and I can’t predict what the reaction will be. I made the film I wanted to make, and then I put it out in the world. It’s all about timing. This was made at the right time and was made with a lot of urgency. It’s a crazy world and it’s getting crazier by the minute.

How important are industry awards and nomination to you? 
They’re very important in that they bring more attention, more awareness to a film like this. One of the blessings from the strong critical response to this has been a resurgence in looking at my earlier films again, some of which may have been overlooked, like Bamboozled and Summer of Sam.

Do you see progress in Hollywood in terms of diversity and inclusion?
There’s been movement, maybe not as fast as I’d like, but it’s slowly happening, so that’s good.

What’s next?
We just finished the second season of She’s Gotta Have It for Netflix, and I have some movie things cooking. I’m pretty busy.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Patrick J. Don Vito on editing Green Book

By Randi Altman

Universal Pictures’ Green Book tells the tale of an African-American piano virtuoso and his white driver. Based on a true story, this unlikely pair must navigate the Deep South in 1962 for a concert tour during a time most places to eat and sleep were segregated.

This unlikely pairing of the well-educated and sophisticated Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and the blue-collar Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) ends up teaching both men a lesson in understanding and acceptance, and turns into a life-long friendship.

L-R: Viggo Mortensen, Patrick Don Vito and Peter Farrelly

The film was nominated for five Golden Globes and won three: Best Screenplay, Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture. The work of the film’s editor, Patrick J. Don Vito, has also been noticed, receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing, in addition to an ACE Eddie nomination in the Best Edited Feature Film (Comedy) category.

We recently spoke to Don Vito, who had previously collaborated with the film’s director, Peter Farrelly, known for unapologetic comedy films such as There’s Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber and Hall Pass. Don Vito, whose resume includes other comedies such as Walk of Shame and My Life in Ruins, really enjoyed walking the line between comedy and drama in this film, which he says made for a fun but challenging edit.

Let’s find out more…

How early did you get involved in Green Book?
I got the script back in August of 2017, expressed a lot of interest to Pete and got hired! The movie started shooting right after Thanksgiving, and I began a few days before that. We set up shop in New Orleans, near where they were shooting.

So you were keeping up with camera?
Yes, I would get dailies every day and try to keep up with the footage. I’d cut during the week when Pete was shooting and he would come in on the weekend to look at cuts. We would discuss ideas, and I’d show him alternate cuts. We did that throughout the shoot, and when we were done shooting, we went to Ojai, where Pete lives, and cut there for six weeks. We then came back to Los Angeles to finish — we set up rooms at EPS-Cineworks.

So you were not on set but you were near set.
Yes. I popped in like the first day of shooting and said hello. I don’t think I ever went to the set again.

Do you prefer it that way?
I’m an editor. I like to tell the story. The set is a lot of sitting around, waiting and planning; you shoot for a couple minutes, then you stop and wait. I like to keep working, and in the cutting room it never stops. You’re always trying new things, looking at different takes and seeing what you can create out of something. It’s that process of always being engaged that I like. Every minute I spend on the set, I feel like I am falling behind. It’s different if you’re directing the film. I’ve directed some shorts, and that is fun because you are always busy and engaged.

Were there times when you realized a scene was close, but still needed something additional?
Yes, every once in a while something would come up and I’d say, “It would be great if we had an insert of this so I can bridge these shots together.” Or I’d say, “If there is time, can you get a shot of this?”

They had a second unit go out and get a bunch of insert shots to fill in gaps — driving shots and various things that we needed. That happened out of our discussions and asking, “What if we did that?”

How do you approach editing? Do you watch everything up front and then build selects?
Usually, but It depends on the scene and how I feel that day. I’ll watch everything and get a feel for what the scene is about and what I have available, and I’ll try to keep that in my head. Once the scenes are placed in the bin, it’s easier for me to visually remember where things are.

I’ll break down selects. Then if a scene is for some reason particularly difficult or causing me problems, I may jump around. I may start at the end of a scene and work backwards, or start in the middle and work out from there. It depends. I like switching it up and making my brain work a little differently each time. I try different tricks to kind of keep it fresh for me in my head.

What would an example of a trick be? Are there any scenes within the film that you can point to?
When Tony Lip’s wife, Delores, is reading the letter to her family and the guys are playing poker in the background — that scene was a little long. We had the entire letter being read on camera in the original cut. Then we went back to the table in the kitchen where the guys are playing poker and talking about Tony’s letters. “They’re not bad. You know? Oh, we had an artsy family.”

Originally, the joke was when the female family member says, “I want a letter,” and her husband answers, “Yeah, as soon as you make a meal.” That used to be in the middle of the scene. What I did was have Tony’s wife start the letter then cut over to the table and she’s now off-camera. You’re hearing her continue to read the letter while we are watching the guys play poker. Then we go back for the end of Delores reading the letter and the joke. It became a much better scene, and thanks to the joke it punched you right out into the next scene.

Essentially, it was just a little reorder, which we do once in a while. One thing I try to do with comedy is look at it as a mathematical equation. Say you have three jokes in a scene. You have A, B and C jokes. A is the funniest, B is not as funny and C is the least funny. You may have an idea of what the funniest joke is, but you don’t necessarily know which one it is until you play it for people. Once you have some screenings you know. You don’t want to end a scene on a B or C joke. You want to end on an A joke. So you can try to either remove a joke or try to reorder the scene so that it ends on the A joke. You want to build it from funny, funnier to funniest.

L-R: Patrick Don Vito and Mahershala Ali

This is such a serious topic, but the film’s got funny moments as well. How did you walk that line?
That was probably the most difficult thing about it. You don’t want the jokes to seem like a joke. You want them to come out of a scene naturally — out of the drama, characters or the emotion of the scene. There were a lot of options as far as jokes. At first I cut everything in to see what was working and what seemed too jokey. You start eliminating things that take it to a different type of comedy and you try to keep it more real. That was always the mantra from Pete: “Let’s keep it real. All the comedy needs to come out of the scenes and not seem like it’s too much of a joke.”

Had you worked with Pete before?
Yes, a couple of times. I worked on Movie 43 with him, which was a very different kind of comedy. I also worked on a pilot for him a few years ago called Cuckoo, which was a remake of a British series. It didn’t get picked up.

Do you find that you tend to get pigeonholed as an editor? You are either a comedy editor or an action editor, etc.?
I think that happens to everyone. Absolutely, and it can be tough. Even with this movie, the studio asked for a reference list of people. I think that was because they looked at my resume and saw a lot of comedies.

The movie I did right before this, but isn’t out yet, is a drama called Three Christs. It has some comedic elements but it’s pretty much a drama. I think that gave me a better chance at Green Book. It’s directed by Jon Avnet and stars Peter Dinklage, Richard Gere, Walton Goggins, Bradley Whitford and Julianna Margulies. It’s a true story, also from the ’60s, about a psychiatrist who has three patients who all think they’re Jesus Christ. He decides to put them in a room together while they are in a psych ward to see what happens. Will they give up their delusions? Will they fight over it? I’ve known Jon Avnet since I was an assistant editor on Up Close and Personal in 1996.

Ok, let’s turn to tools. You use Avid Media Composer. Do you have any tips or tricks that you would like to share?
It’s not a trick, but when I start a movie I have one of the assistants set up Script Sync, which is really helpful for when you’re in the room with the director and the producers and want to quickly get to different line readings.

Basically, you put the clips on the script itself and you can click on a line and hear every single line reading of that line. I know editors sometimes take every single line reading of dialogue and cut them next to each other in a sequence. I prefer to use Scrypt Sync and make select rolls.

Speaking of assistants, how did you work with yours on Green Book?
Petra Demas was my first assistant, and she was great. She would help organize my room, and when I needed help I could throw her a scene. So she would help me cut scenes now and again when she wasn’t busy.

I had another great assistant named Bart Breve’. He did all the Script Sync work and helped out with dailies with Petra. They would keep me up-to-date with footage to make sure I always had something to work on. Bart was a local in New Orleans, so when I came back to LA, we hired Aleigh Lewis who handled all the visual effects — there are over 400 in the movie.

You assume because it’s a period piece there will be some visual effects, but that’s a lot of shots.
Absolutely. Aleigh helped keep all the visual effects organized. I relied on her to organize the visual effects and show me the new ones as they came in, so I could give notes. Pixel Magic did the visual effects, including the piano playing.

I was wondering about that!
Mahershala Ali is a good actor, but that’s virtuoso piano playing! He did take lessons for a few months from the composer Kris Bowers, who played the piano in the movie. Mahershala learned where to put his hands and how to sit like a classical pianist. Kris would play the music and they’d shoot that, then Mahershala would sit and he would play. Then we’d combine the two into a take. It was mostly head replacement kind of stuff.

What were some of the other VFX shots?
A ton of them were getting rid of modern things in the shots… modern cars, signs, cameras on buildings … that kind of thing. On top of that, the car they were in had a tear in the roof inside the car and it’s supposed to be a brand new 1962 Cadillac. About 85% of the car scenes are visual effects shots. There is an amazing bridge shot where the Cadillacs are leaving NY on the George Washington Bridge. In that shot the blacktop and all the cars are CGI. Pixel Magic took a modern stock shot and created that. It’s pretty impressive.

Fotokem, who processed dailies for us and provided the color correction, even did a few visual effects. When we saw the film in such high resolution during the color correction, we noticed modern elements in some shots that we missed and needed to remove. They took care of that.

Were most of the driving shot greenscreen?
No. It was almost all practical. We drove in and around New Orleans. The only ones that were green screened were when they’re driving in the snow, and still some of them are practical because we actually did get some snow just outside of New Orleans. It started snowing, so they got the camera crew together and went out and shot. Who knew it was going to snow in New Orleans?!

Editor Wyatt Smith talks Mary Poppins Returns, Marvel Universe

By Amy Leland

Wyatt Smith’s career as an editor is the kind that makes for a great story. His unintended path began with an unusual opportunity to work with Mariah Carey and a chance meeting with director Rob Marshall. He has since collaborated on big musicals and action films with Marshall, which opened the door to superhero movies. His latest project — in which he was reunited with Marshall — saw him editing a big musical with a title character who is, in her own Disney way, also a superhero.

Smith’s resume is impressive: Doctor Strange, Into the Woods, 300: Rise of an Empire, Thor: The Dark World, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. When I had a chance to talk with him about Mary Poppins Returns, I first had to ask him how his fascinating journey began.

Wyatt Smith at the Mary Poppins Returns premiere.

Can you talk about what led you to editing?
Some things just happen unexpectedly. Opportunities arise and you just have to hear the knock and not be afraid to open the door. When they were building the now-closed Sony Music Studios in New York City, I knew a lot about computers. Avid was first coming in, and there were all these video engineers who weren’t as savvy with Macs and things like that because they were used to linear, old-school tape editing. I worked in the maintenance department at the studio, servicing online editing suites, as well as setting up their first Avid Media Composer and giving people some tutorials on how to use that.

Then a very odd circumstance came up — they were working on a Mariah Carey concert video and needed an additional editor to work at her house at night (she was working during the day with another editor). My father is in the music business and had ties to Mariah — we had met before — so they thought it would be a comfortable situation. It came out of nowhere, and while I certainly knew, technically, how to edit, creatively I had no idea.

That was my first opportunity to edit, and I never went back to anything else. That was the day. That was it. I started to edit music videos and concerts and little music documentaries. Years and years later that led me to work with Rob Marshall on a music project.

The Tony Bennett American Classic special?
Exactly. I had known the Bennett family and worked with them since Tony Bennett’s “Unplugged.” When Rob was brought on to direct an NBC special celebrating Tony’s career, he wanted to bring his whole film team with him, but the TV network and the Bennett family wanted somebody who knew the music world, and that style of deadline, which is quite different from film.

I was brought in to interview with Rob, and we had a wonderful experience making that show. When it was done, he said, “Next time I make a film, I want you to come along.” To be completely honest, I didn’t believe him. I thought it was very kind of him, and he is a very nice man, but I was like, yeah, sure. In 2008, I think it was the Friday before they started shooting Nine, he called and said, “You gotta get to London.” I immediately quit my job and got on a plane.

I’m guessing the music world was a heavy influence on you, but were you drawn toward movies as well?
I have always been a movie junkie. At an early age, I saw a lot of the big epics, including David Lean’s films — Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India — which just transported me to another place and another culture. I loved that.

That was back in the early VHS days, and I had just about every Bond film that had been released. I watched them obsessively. In high school, my closest friend worked in a video rental store, so we constantly had movies. It was always a huge thing for me, but never in my life did I dream of pursuing it. The language of film was never anything I studied or thought about until I was kind of thrust into it.

What was it like coming into this film with Rob Marshall, after so many years of working with him? Do your collaborations now feel different from when you first started working together?
The most important part is trust. When I first met Rob, aside from just not having any confidence, I didn’t remotely know what I was doing. We all know that when you have your actors and your sets if something’s not quite right that’s the time to bring it up. But 12 years ago, the thought of me going to Rob and saying, “I don’t know if that really works, maybe you should grab a shot like…” I’d never, ever. But over the years we’ve developed that trust. I’m still very cautious with things like that, but I now know I can talk to him. And if he has a question, he’ll call me to set and say, “Quickly put this together,” or, “Stay here and watch this with me,” and he’ll explain to me exactly what he’s going for.

Then, once we reach post, unquestionably that relationship changes. We used to cut everything from scratch and start re-watching all the material and rebuilding the film again. Now we can work through existing cuts because I kind of know his intentions. It’s easier for me to see in the scene work what he’s going for, and that only comes from collaborating. Now I’m able to get the movie that’s in his head on screen a lot faster.

Mary Poppins Returns

You were working with complex animations and effects, and also combining those with elaborate choreography and live action. Was there more preplanning for this than you might normally have done?
I wasn’t really involved in the preplanning. I came in about a month before shooting to mostly to catch up with the schedules of the second unit, because I’m always going to work closely with them. I also went through all the storyboards and worked with visual effects and caught up on their look development. We did have a previz team, but we only really needed to previz two of the sequences in the film — the underwater bath time and the balloon sequence.

While previz gives you methodology, shot count, rough lenses and things, it’s missing the real emotion of the story because it is a video game and often cut like a music video. This is no disrespect to previz editors — they’re very good — but I always want to come in and do a pass before we start shooting because I find the timings are very different.

Doctor Strange

Take a film like Marvel’s Doctor Strange. So much of it had been prevized to figure out how to do it. When I came into the Doctor Strange previz cuts early on, they were exciting, psychedelic, wild and really imaginative, but I was losing actors. I found that something that was running at four minutes wasn’t representing any of the dialogue or the emotional content of the actors. So I asked them to give me stills of close-ups to cut them in. After putting in the dialogue, that four-minute sequence becomes seven minutes and you realize it’s too long. Before we go shoot it, how do we make it something that’s more manageable for the ultimate film?

Were you on set during most of the filming?
There were days where Rob would pull me onto set, and then days or weeks where I wouldn’t even see him. I did the traditional assembly process. Even the film I’m cutting right now, which has a very short schedule, four days after they were done shooting I had a cut of the film. It’s the only way for me to know that it’s working. It’s not a great cut, but I know that the movie’s all there. And, most importantly, I need to know, barring the last day of shooting, that I’ve seen every single frame of every take before they wrap. I need the confidence of knowing where it’s all going. I don’t want to discover any of that with a director in post.

On a project this complex, I imagine you must work with multiple assistants?
When I worked on the second Thor movie, The Dark World, I had a friend who was my first assistant, Meagan Costello. She has worked on many Marvel films. When Doctor Strange came up — I think it was almost a year before shooting that I got the call from the director saying I was in —within five seconds, I called Meagan because of her experience, her personality and her incredible skill set. Toward the end of Doctor Strange, when the schedule for Poppins was starting to lock in, she said, “I’ve always wanted to live in New York, and I’ve always wanted to work in a music hall.” I said, “We can make that happen.”

Thor: The Dark World

She is great at running the cutting room, taking care of all of my little, and many, prima donna bugaboos — how things are set up and working, technically, cutting in surround, having the right types of monitors, etc. What’s also important is having someone spiritually and emotionally connected into the film… someone I can talk to and trust.

We had two second assistant editors on Mary Poppins once we were in post — two in the US and two in London. It’s always interesting when you have two different teams. I try to keep as much consistency as I can, so we had Meagan all the way through London and New York. For second assistants in London, we had Gemma Bourne, Ben Renton and Tom Lane. Here in the states we had Alexander Johnson and Christa Haley. Christa is my first assistant on the film I’m currently doing for Focus Features, called Harriet.

On huge films like these, so much of the assistant editor’s time is dealing with the vast deliveries for the studio, the needs of a huge sound and music team as well as a lot of visual effects. In the end, we had about 1,300 hundred visual effect shots. That means a lot of turnovers, screenings and quality control so that nothing is ever coming in or going out without being meticulously watched and listened to.

The first assistant runs the cutting room and the stuff I shouldn’t be thinking about. It’s not stuff I would do well either. I want to be solely focusing on the edit, and when I’m lost in the movie, that’s the greatest thing. Having a strong editorial team allows me to be in a place where I’m not thinking about anything but the cut.

Mary Poppins Returns

That’s always good to hear. Most editors I talk to also care about making sure their assistants are getting opportunities.
When I started out, I had assistants in the room with me. It was very much film-style — the assistant was in the room helping me out with the director and the producers every day. If I had to run out of the room, the assistant could step in.

Unfortunately, the way the world has evolved, with digital post, the assistant editor and editor positions have diverged massively. The skill sets are very different. I don’t think I could do a first assistant editor’s job, but I know they could do my job. Also, the extra level of material keeps them very busy, so they’re not with me in the room. That makes for a much harder path, and that bothers me. I don’t quite know how to fix that yet, but I want to.

This industry started with apprentices, and it was very guild-like. Assistants were very hands on with the editor, so it was very natural to become an editor. Right now, that jump is a little tricky, and I wish I knew how to fix it.

Even if the assistants cut something together for you, it doesn’t necessarily evolve into them getting to work with a director or producer. With Poppins, there’s certainly a scene or two in the film that I asked Meagan to put together for that purpose. Rob works very closely in the cutting room each day, along with John DeLuca, our producer and choreographer. I was wondering if there would be that moment when maybe they’d split off, like, “Oh, go with Meagan and work on this, while I work on this with Rob.” But those opportunities never really arose. It’s hard to figure out how to get that door open.

Do you have any advice for editors who are just starting out?
I love the material I’m working on, and that’s the most important part. Even if something’s not for you, your job is not to make it what you want it to be. The job is to figure out who the audience is and how you make it great for them. There’s an audience for everything, you just have to tap into who that audience is.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.

Color grading The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos’ historical comedy, The Favourite, has become an awards show darling. In addition to winning 10 British Independent Film Awards, it also dominated the BAFTA nominations with 12 nods, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography for Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC, who scored an ASC Award nom as well.

Final picture post on the black comedy was completed by Goldcrest Post in London using DaVinci Resolve Studio. The Century Fox film’s DI was overseen by Goldcrest producer Jonathan Collard, with senior colorist Rob Pizzey providing the grade. He was assisted by Maria Chamberlain, while Russell White completed the online edit.

The film stars Olivia Colman (who one a Golden Globe for her role), Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

Lensed by Ryan, The Favourite was shot on a mixture of Kodak 500T 5219 and 200T 5207 film stocks with Timothy Jones of Digital Film Bureau scanning the 35mm film negative for the grade at Goldcrest. To capture the full dynamic range of modern film stock, the 2K ARRI scanner was set to 2.5 density range with drama scanning beginning once the edit was locked.

According to colorist Pizzey, once scanned almost everything seen on-screen exposure-wise is what came straight out of the camera. “Robbie did such an amazing job; there were only a handful of shots where I had to tweak the film grain back a little bit.

“In some respects, grading on film can be harder,” he continues. “It does take a lot more balancing because of variations in the scanning process and film stocks. Conversely, with digital capture you have a pretty good balance to begin with, if you start with the CDL values from the digital rushes process.”

Rob Pizzey

He says the way the director worked was very interesting. “Basically, we kept the images very natural and didn’t rely on too many secondaries. Instead, we focused on manipulating the palette using primary color correction to achieve an organic, naturalistic look. It sounds easy, but in truth, it is quite difficult. We started early testing on some of the dailies, a mix of interior and exterior shots, both day and night, to get an idea of where the director and DP wanted to go. We then pushed on with that into the DI.”

DP Ryan wasn’t able to attend the grade, so it was just Pizzey and the director.

“There was a lot of colorization going on in the bottom end of the picture, whether it’s in the shadows and deep blacks or playing with the highlights to create something that looked interesting,” says Pizzey. “We were ultimately still creating a look, it is just a lot more subtle, which is where the challenge lies.”

Most of the film was shot relying on available light only. “There was hardly any artificial lighting used at all during principal photography,” he reports. “The candlelit scenes at night relied solely on the candles themselves and, as you can imagine, there were a lot of candles. The blacks in those scenes are really inky.”

The night scenes were especially tough to complete, with Pizzey relying on Resolve’s primary grading toolset. “Those scenes are very rich and very warm, so we automatically backed off the warmth and tried to dial it down by adding some desaturation. However, it just didn’t look right,” he explains. “We then stripped the grade back and tried to stay as close to what had come out of the camera as we could, with only a few subtle tweaks here and there.”

Looking to embrace the contrast of the film stock, everything about the grade was all very natural and subtle. “For the first couple of weeks everything was about the primaries, and it was only toward the end of the DI that we began to use window shapes and keys on shots that we couldn’t otherwise get to work using primaries alone.

“There was one scene in particular where Yorgos and Robbie had to go back and shoot it five weeks later. Coming into the grade, there were a number of notable differences between the trees, moving from winter into spring, which meant the trees were beginning to bud.”

The Favourite is in theaters now.

ACE celebrates editing with 69th Eddie Award noms

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) has announced the nominations for its 69th Annual ACE Eddie Awards, which recognize outstanding editing in 11 categories of film, television and documentaries.

Winners will be revealed during ACE’s annual black-tie awards ceremony on February 1.  ACE president, Stephen Rivkin, ACE, will host. Final ballots open January 11 and close on January 21.   

Here are the nominees:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC):

BlacKkKlansman

Barry Alexander Brown 

Tom Cross, ACE

Bohemian Rhapsody

John Ottman, ACE 

First Man

Tom Cross, ACE

Roma

Alfonso Cuarón & Adam Gough 

A Star is Born

Jay Cassidy, ACE

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY):

Crazy Rich Asians

Myron Kerstein

Deadpool 2

Craig Alpert, ACE, Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir and Dirk Westervelt

The Favourite

Yorgos Mavropsaridis, ACE

Green Book

Patrick J. Don Vito

Vice

Hank Corwin, ACE 

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:

Incredibles 2

Stephen Schaffer, ACE

Isle of Dogs

Andrew Weisblum, ACE, Ralph Foster and  Edward Bursch

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Robert Fisher, Jr.

 

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE):

Free Solo

Bob Eisenhardt, ACE

Carla Gutierrez

RBG

Carla Gutierrez

Three Identical Strangers

Michael Harte

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Jeff Malmberg & Aaron Wickenden, ACE

 

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (NON-THEATRICAL):

A Final Cut for Orson: 40 Years in the Making

Martin Singer

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

Greg Finton, ACE and Poppy Das, ACE

Wild Wild Country, Part 3

Neil Meiklejohn

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

Joe Beshenkovsky, ACE 

 

BEST EDITED COMEDY SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:

Atlanta: Teddy Perkins

Atlanta: “Alligator Man”

Isaac Hagy

Atlanta: “Teddy Perkins”

Kyle Reiter

The Good Place: “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By” 

Eric Kissack

Portlandia: “Rose Route” 

Jordan Kim, Ali Greer, Heather Capps & Stacy Moon

 

BEST EDITED COMEDY SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:

Barry: “Make Your Mark” 

Jeff Buchanan

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Insecure: “Obsessed-Like”

Nena Erb, ACE 

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: “Simone”

Kate Sanford, ACE

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: “We’re Going to the Catskills!”

Tim Streeto, ACE

 

BEST EDITED DRAMA SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION

The Americans: “Start”

Daniel Valverde 

Better Call Saul: “Something Stupid”

Skip Macdonald, ACE 

Better Call Saul: “Winner”

Chris McCaleb 

Killing Eve: “Nice Face”

Gary Dollner, ACE

 

BEST EDITED DRAMA SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION:

Bodyguard: “Episode 1”

Steve Singleton

Ozark

Homecoming: “Redwood”

Rosanne Tan

Ozark: “One Way Out”

Cindy Mollo, ACE & Heather Goodwin Floyd 

Westworld: “The Passenger”

Andrew Seklir, ACE, Anna Hauger and Mako Kamitsuna

 

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE FOR TELEVISION:

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story: “A Random Killing”

Emily Greene

Escape at Dannemora: “Better Days”

Malcolm Jamieson & Geoffrey Richman ACE 

Sharp Objects: “Milk”

Véronique Barbe, Dominique Champagne, Justin Lachance, Maxime Lahaie, Émile Vallée and Jai M. Vee

 

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:

Anthony Bourdain – Parts Unknown: “West Virginia”

Hunter Gross, ACE

Deadliest Catch: “Storm Surge”

Rob Butler, ACE

Naked & Afraid: “Fire and Fury”

Molly Shock, ACE and Jnani Butler

 

Director Peter Farrelly gets serious with Green Book

By Iain Blair

Director, producer and writer Peter Farrelly is best known for the classic comedies he made with his brother Bob: Dumb and Dumber; There’s Something About Mary; Shallow Hal; Me, Myself & Irene; The Three Stooges; and Fever Pitch. But for all their over-the-top, raunchy and boundary-pushing comedy, those movies were always sweet-natured at heart.

Peter Farrelly

Now Farrelly has taken his gift for heartfelt comedy and put his stamp on a very different kind of film, Green Book, a racially charged feel-good drama inspired by a true friendship that transcended race, class and the 1962 Mason-Dixon line.

Starring Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortensen and Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, it tells the fact-based story of the ultimate odd couple: Tony Lip, a bouncer from The Bronx and Dr. Don Shirley, a world-class black pianist. Lip is hired to drive and protect the worldly and sophisticated Shirley during a 1962 concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, where they must rely on the titular “Green Book” — a travel guide to safe lodging, dining and business options for African-Americans during the segregation era.

Set against the backdrop of a country grappling with the valor and volatility of the civil rights movement, the two men are confronted with racism and danger as they challenge long-held assumptions, push past their seemingly insurmountable differences and embrace their shared humanity.

The film also features Linda Cardellini as Tony Vallelonga’s wife, Dolores, along with Dimiter D. Marinov and Mike Hatton as two-thirds of The Don Shirley Trio. The film was co-written by Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie and reunites Farrelly with editor Patrick J. Don Vito, with whom he worked on the Movie 43 segment “The Pitch.” Farrelly also collaborated for the first-time with cinematographer Sean Porter (read our interview with him), production designer Tim Galvin and composer Kris Bowers.

I spoke with Farrelly about making the film, his workflow and the upcoming awards season. After its Toronto People’s Choice win and Golden Globe nominations (Best Director, Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor for Mortensen, Best Supporting Actor for Ali), Green Book looks like a very strong Oscar contender.

You told me years ago that you’d love to do a more dramatic film at some point. Was this a big stretch for you?
Not so much, to be honest. People have said to me, “It must have been hard,” but the hardest film I ever made was The Three Stooges… for a bunch of reasons. True, this was a bit of a departure for me in terms of tone, and I definitely didn’t want it to get too jokey — I tend to get jokey so it could easily have gone like that.  But right from the start we were very clear that the comedy would come naturally from the characters and how they interacted and spoke and moved, and so on, not from jokes.

So a lot of the comedy is quite nuanced, and in the scene where Tony starts talking about “the orphans” and Don explains that it’s actually about the opera Orpheus, Viggo has this great reaction and look that wasn’t in the script, and it’s much funnier than any joke we could have made there.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
A drama about race and race relations set in a time when it was very fraught, with light moments and a hopeful, uplifting ending.

It has some very timely themes. Was that part of the appeal?
Absolutely. I knew that it would resonate today, although I wish it didn’t. What really hooked me was their common ground. They really are this odd couple who couldn’t be more different — an uneducated, somewhat racist Italian bouncer, and this refined, highly educated, highly cultured doctor and classically trained pianist. They end up spending all this time together in a car on tour, and teach each other so much along the way. And at the end, you know they’ll be friends for life.

Obviously, casting the right lead actors was crucial. What did Viggo and Mahershala bring to the roles?
Well, for a start they’re two of the greatest actors in the world, and when we were shooting this I felt like an observer. Usually, I can see a lot of the actor in the role, but they both disappeared totally into these characters — but not in some method-y way where they were staying in character all the time, on and off the set. They just became these people, and Viggo couldn’t be less like Tony Lip in real life, and the same with Mahershala and Don. They both worked so hard behind the scenes, and I got a call from Steven Spielberg when he first saw it, and he told me, “This is the best buddy movie since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and he’s right.

It’s a road picture, but didn’t you end up shooting it all in and around New Orleans?
Yes, we did everything there apart from one day in northern New Jersey to get the fall foliage, and a day of exteriors in New York City with Viggo for all the street scenes. Louisiana has everything, from rolling hills to flats. We also found all the venues and clubs they play in, along with mansions and different looks that could double for places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, as well as Carolinas and the Deep South.

We shot for just 35 days, and Louisiana has great and very experienced crews, so we were able to work pretty fast. Then for scenes like Carnegie Hall, we used CGI in post, done by Pixel Magic, and we were also amazingly lucky when it came to the snow scenes set in Maryland at the end. We were all ready to use fake snow when it actually started snowing and sticking. We got a good three, four inches, which they told us hadn’t happened in a decade or two down there.

Where did you post?
We did most of the editing at my home in Ojai, and the sound at Fotokem, where we also did the DI with colorist Walter Volpatto.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. My favorite part of filmmaking is the editing. Writing is the hardest part, pulling the script together. And I always have fun on the shoot, but you’re always having to make sure you don’t screw up the script. So when you get to the edit and post, all the hard work is done in that sense, and you have the joy of watching the movie find its shape as you cut and add in the sound and music.

What were the big editing challenges, given there’s such a mix of comedy and drama?
Finding that balance was the key, but this film actually came together so easily in the edit compared with some of the movies I’ve done. I’ll never forget seeing the first assembly of There’s Something About Mary, which I thought was so bad it made me want to vomit! But this just flowed, and Patrick did a beautiful job.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film.
It was a huge part of the film and we had a really amazing pianist and composer in Kris Bowers, who worked a lot with Mahershala to make his performance as a musician as authentic as possible. And it wasn’t just the piano playing — Mahershala told me right at the start, “I want to know just how a pianist sits at the piano, how he moves.” So he was totally committed to all the details of the role. Then there’s all the radio music, and I didn’t want to use all the obvious, usual stuff for the period, so we searched out other great, but lesser-known songs. We had great music supervisors, Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval, and a great sound team.

We’re already heading into the awards season. How important are awards to you and this film?
Very important. I love the buzz about it because that gets people out to see it. When we first tested it, we got 100%, and the studio didn’t quite believe it. So we tested again, with “a tougher” audience, and got 98%. But it’s a small film. Everyone took pay cuts to make it, as the budget was so low, but I’m very proud of the way it turned out.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Ren Klyce: Mixing the score for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

By Jennifer Walden

There are space battles and epic music, foreign planets with unique and lively biomes, blasters, lightsabers, a universe at war and a force that connects it all. Over the course of eight “Episodes” and through numerous spin-off series and games, fans of Star Wars have become well acquainted with its characteristic sound.

Creating the world, sonically, is certainly a feat, but bringing those sounds together is a challenge of equal measure. Shaping the soundtrack involves sacrifice and egoless judgment calls that include making tough decisions in service of the story.

Ren Klyce

Skywalker Sound’s Ren Klyce was co-supervising sound editor, sound designer and a re-recording mixer on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. He not only helped to create the film’s sounds but he also had a hand in shaping the final soundtrack. As re-recording mixer of the music, Klyce got a new perspective on the film’s story.

He’s earned two Oscar nominations for his work on the Rian Johnson-directed The Last Jedi — one for sound editing and another for sound mixing. We reached out to Klyce to ask about his role as a re-recording mixer, what it was like to work with John Williams’ Oscar-nominated score, and what it took for the team to craft The Last Jedi’s soundtrack.

You had all the Skywalker-created effects, the score and all the dialog coming together for the final mix. How did you bring clarity to what could have been be a chaotic soundtrack?
Mostly, it’s by forcing ourselves to potentially get rid of a lot of our hard work for the sake of the story. Getting rid of one’s work can be difficult for anyone, but it’s the necessary step in many instances. When you initially premix sound for a film, there are so many elements and often times we have everything prepared just in case they’re asked for. In the case of Star Wars, we didn’t know what director Rian Johnson might want and not want. So we had everything at the ready in either case.

On Star Wars, we ended up doing a blaze pass where we played everything from the beginning to the end of a reel all at once. We could clearly see that it was a colossal mess in one scene, but not so bad in another. It was like getting a 20-minute Cliff Notes of where we were going to need to spend some time.

Then it comes down to having really skilled mixers like David Parker (dialog) and Michael Semanick (sound effects), whose skill-sets include understanding storytelling. They understand what their role is about — which is making decisions as to what should stay, what should go, what should be loud or quiet, or what should be turned off completely. With sound effects, Michael is very good at this. He can quickly see the forest for the trees. He’ll say, “Let’s get rid of this. These elements can go, or the background sounds aren’t needed here.” And that’s how we started shaping the mix.

After doing the blaze pass, we will then go through and listen to just the music by itself. John Williams tells his story through music and by underscoring particular scenes. A lot of the process is learning what all the bits and pieces are and then weighing them up against each other. We might decide that the music in a particular scene tells the story best.

That is how we would start and then we worked together as a team to continue shaping the mix into a rough piece. Rian would then come in and give his thoughts to add more sound here or less music there, thus shaping the soundtrack.

After creating all of those effects, did you wish you were the one to mix them? Or, are you happy mixing music?
For me personally, it’s a really great experience to listen to and be responsible for the music because I’ve learned so much about the power of the music and what’s important. If it were the other way around, I might be a little more overly focused on the sound effects. I feel like we have a good dynamic. Michael Semanick has such great instincts. In fact, Rian described Michael as being an incredible storyteller, and he really is.

Mixing the music for me is a wonderful way to get a better scope of the entire soundtrack. By not touching the sound effects on the stage, those faders aren’t so precious. Instead, the movie itself and the soundtrack takes precedence instead of the bits and pieces that make it up.

What was the trickiest scene to mix in terms of music?
I think that would have to be the ski speeder sequence on the salt planet of Crait. That was very difficult because there was a lot of dodging and burning in the mix. In other words, Rian wanted to have loud music and then the music would have to dive down to expose a dialogue line, and then jump right back up again for more excitement and then dive down to make way for another dialogue line. Then boom, some sound effects would come in and the Millennium Falcon would zoom by. Then the Star Wars theme would take over and then it had to come down for the dialogue. So we worked that sequence quite a bit.

Our picture editor Bob Ducsay really guided us through the shape of that sequence. What was so great about having the picture editor present was that he was so intimate with the rhythm of the dialogue and his picture cutting. He knew where all of the story points were supposed to be, what motivated a look to the left and so on. Bob would say something like, “When we see Rose here, we really need to make sure we hear her musical theme, but then when we cut away, we need to hear the action.”

Were you working with John Williams’ music stems? Did you feel bad about pulling things out of his score? How do you dissect the score?
Working with John is obviously an incredible experience, and on this film I was lucky enough to work with Shawn Murphy as well, who is really one of my heroes and I’ve known him for years. He is the one who records the orchestra for John Williams and balances everything. Not only does he record the orchestra, but Shawn is a true collaborator with John as well. It’s incredible the way they communicate.

John is really mixing his own soundtrack when he’s up there on the podium conducting, and he’s making initial choices as to which instruments are louder than others — how loud the woodwinds play, how loud the brass plays, how loud the percussion is and how loud the strings are. He’s really shaping it. Between Williams and Murphy, they work on intonation, tuning and performance. They go through and record and then do pickups for this measure and that measure to make sure that everything is as good as it can be.

I actually got to witness John Williams do this incredible thing — which was during the recording of the score for the Crait scene. There was this one section where the brass was playing and John (who knows every single person’s name in that orchestra) called out to three people by name and said something like, “Mark, on bar 63, from beat two to beat six, can you not play please. I just want a little more clarity with two instruments instead of three. Thank you.” So they backed up and did a pick-up on that bar and that gentleman dropped out for those few beats. It was amazing.

In the end, it really is John who is creating that mix. Then, editorially, there would be moments where we had to change things. Ramiro Belgardt, another trusted confidant of John Williams, was our music editor. Once the music is recorded and premixed, it was up to Ramiro to keep it as close to what John intended throughout all of the picture changes.

A scene would be tightened or opened up, and the music isn’t going to be re-performed. That would be impossible to do, so it has to be edited or stretched or looped or truncated. Ramiro had the difficult job of making the music seem exactly how it was on the day it was performed. But in truth, if you look at his Pro Tools session, you’ll see all of these splices and edits that he did to make everything function properly.

Does a particular scene stick out?
There was one scene where Rey ignites the lightsaber for the very first time on Jedi Island, and there we did change the balance within the music. She’s on the cliff by the ocean and Luke is watching her as she’s swinging the lightsaber. Right when she ignites the lightsaber, her theme comes in, which is this beautiful piano melody. The problem was when they mixed the piano they didn’t have a really loud lightsaber sound going with it. We were really struggling because we couldn’t get that piano melody to speak right there. I asked Ramiro if there was any way to get that piano separately because I would love it if we could hear that theme come in just as strong as that lightsaber. Those are the types of little tiny things that we would do, but those are few and far between. For the most part, the score is how John and Shawn intended the mix to be.

It was also wonderful having Ramiro there as John’s spokesperson. He knew all of the subtle little sacred moments that Williams had written in the score. He pointed them out and I was able to push those and feature those.

Was Rian observing the sessions?
Rian attended every single scoring session and knew the music intricately. He was really excited for the music and wanted it to breathe. Rian’s knowledge of the music helped guide us.

Where did they perform and record the score?
This was recorded at the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage on the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City, California.

Are there any Easter eggs in terms of the score?
During the casino sequence there’s a beautiful piece of music that plays throughout, which is something like an homage that John Williams wrote, going back to the Cantina song that he wrote for the original Star Wars.

So, the Easter egg comes as the Fathiers are wreaking havoc in the casino and we cut to the inside of a confectionery shop. There’s an abrupt edit where all the music stops and you hear this sort of lounge piano that’s playing, like a piece of source music. That lounge piano is actually John Williams playing “The Long Goodbye,” which is the score that he wrote for the film The Long Goodbye. Rian is a huge fan of that score and he somehow managed to get John Williams to put that into the Star Wars film. It’s a wonderful little Easter egg.

John Williams is, in so many ways, the closest thing we have to Beethoven or Brahms in our time. When you’re in his presence — he’s 85 years old now — it’s humbling. He still writes all of his manuscripts by hand.

On that day that John sat down and played “The Long Goodbye” piano piece, Rian was so excited that he pulled out his iPhone and filmed the whole thing. John said, “Only for you, Rian, do I do this.” It was a very special moment.

The other part of the Easter egg is that John’s brother Donald Williams is a timpanist in the orchestra. So what’s cool is you hear John playing the piano and the very next sound is the timpani, played by his brother. So you have these two brothers and they do a miniature solo next to each other. So those are some of the fun little details.

John Williams earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Music Score for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
It’s an incredible score. One of the fortunate things that occurred on this film was that Rian and producer Ram Bergman wanted to give John Williams as much time as possible so they started him really early. I think he had a year to compose, which was great. He could take his time and really work diligently through each sequence. When you listen to just the score, you can hear all of the little subtle nuances that John composed.

For example, Rose stuns Finn and she’s dragging him on this little cart and they’re having this conversation. If you listen to just the music through there, the way that John has scored every single little emotional beat in that sequence is amazing. With all the effects and dialogue, you’re not really noticing the musical details. You hear two people arguing and then agreeing. They hate each other and now they like each other. But when you deconstruct it, you hear the music supporting each one of those moments. Williams does things like that throughout the entire film. Every single moment has all these subtle musical details. All the scenes with Snoke in his lair have these ominous, dark musical choir phrases for example. It’s phenomenal.

The moments where the choice was made to remove the score completely, was that a hard sell for the director? Or, was he game to let go of the score in those effects-driven moments?
No, it wasn’t too difficult. There was one scene that we did revert on though. It was on Crait, and Rian wanted to get rid of the whole big music sequence when Leia sees that the First Order is approaching and they have to shut the giant door. There was originally a piece of music, and that was when the crystal foxes were introduced. So we got rid of the music there. Then we watched the film and Rian asked us to put that music back.

A lot of the music edits were crafted in the offline edit, and those were done by music editor Joseph Bonn. Joe would craft those moments ahead of time and test them. So a lot of that was decided before it got to my hands.

But on the stage, we were still experimenting. Ramiro would suggest trying to lose a cue and we’d mute it from the sequence. That was a fun part of collaborating with everyone. It’s a live experiment. I would say that on this film most of the music editorial choices were decided before we got to the final mix. Joe Bonn spent months and months crafting the music guide, which helped immensely.

What is one audio tool that you could not have lived without on the mix? Why?
Without a doubt, it’s our Avid Pro Tools editing software. All the departments —dialog, Foley, effects and music were using Pro Tools. That is absolutely hands-down the one tool that we are addicted to. At this point, not having Pro Tools is like not having a hammer.

But you used a console for the final mix, yes?
Yes. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was not an in-the-box mix. We mixed it on a Neve DFC Gemini console in the traditional manner. It was not a live Pro Tools mix. We mixed it through the DFC console, which had its own EQ, dynamics processing, panning, reverb sends/returns, AUX sends/returns and LFE sends/returns.

The pre-pre-mixing was done in Pro Tools. Then, looking at the sound effects for example, that was shaped roughly in the offline edit room, and then that would go to the mix stage. Michael Semanick would pre-mix the effects through the Neve DFC in a traditional premixing format that we would record to 9.1 pre-dubs and objects. A similar process was done with the dialogue. So that was done with the console.


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

Michael Semanick: Mixing SFX, Foley for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

By Jennifer Walden

Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Michael Semanick from Skywalker Sound mixed the sound effects, Foley and backgrounds on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has earned an Oscar nomination for Sound Mixing.

Technically, this is not Semanick’s first experience with the Star Wars franchise — he’s credited as an additional mixer on Rogue One — but on The Last Jedi he was a key figure in fine-tuning the film’s soundtrack. He worked alongside re-recording mixers Ren Klyce and David Parker, and with director Rian Johnson, to craft a soundtrack that was bold and dynamic. (Look for next week’s Star Wars story, in which re-recording mixer Ren Klyce talks about his approach to mixing John Williams’ score.)

Michael Semanick

Recently, Semanick shared his story of what went into mixing the sound effects on The Last Jedi. He mixed at Skywalker in Nicasio, California, on the Kurosawa Stage.

You had all of these amazing elements — Skywalker’s effects, John Williams’ score and the dialogue. How did you bring clarity to what could potentially be a chaotic soundtrack?
Yes, there are a lot of elements that come in, and you have to balance these things. It’s easy on a film like this to get bombastic and assault the audience, but that’s one of the things that Rian didn’t want to do. He wanted to create dynamics in the track and get really quiet so that when it does get loud it’s not overly loud.

So when creating that I have to look at all of the elements coming in and see what we’re trying to do in each specific scene. I ask myself, “What’s this scene about? What’s this storyline? What’s the music doing here? Is that the thread that takes us to the next scene or to the next place? What are the sound effects? Do we need to hear these background sounds, or do we need just the hard effects?”

Essentially, it’s me trying to figure out how many frequencies are available and how much dialogue has to come through so the audience doesn’t lose the thread of the story. It’s about deciding when it’s right to feature the sound effects or take the score down to feature a big explosion and then bring the score back up.

It’s always a balancing act, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and throw it all in there. I might need a line of dialogue to come through, so the backgrounds go. I don’t want to distract the audience. There is so much happening visually in the film that you can’t put sound on everything. Otherwise, the audience wouldn’t know what to focus on. At least that’s my approach to it.

How did you work with the director?
As we mixed the film with Rian, we found what types of sounds defined the film and what types of moments defined the film in terms of sound. For example, by the time you reach the scene when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) jumps to hyperspace into the First Order’s fleet, everything goes really quiet. The sound there doesn’t go completely out — it feels like it goes out, but there’s sound. As soon as the music peaks, I bring in a low space tone. Well, if there was a tone in space, I imagine that is what it would sound like. So there is sound constantly through that scene, but the quietness goes on for a long time.

One of the great things about that scene was that it was always designed that way. While I noted how great that scene was, I didn’t really get it until I saw it with an audience. They became the soundtrack, reacting with gasps. I was at a screening in Seattle, and when we hit that scene and you could hear that the people were just stunned, and one guy in the audience went, “Yeah!”

There are other areas in the film where we go extremely quiet or take the sound out completely. For example, when Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) first force-connect, the sound goes out completely… you only hear a little bit of their breathing. There’s one time when the force connection catches them off guard — when Kylo had just gotten done working out and Rey was walking somewhere — we took the sound completely out while she was still moving.

Rian loved it because when we were working on that scene we were trying to get something different. We used to have sound there, all the way through the scene. Then Rian said, “What happens if you just start taking some of the sounds out?” So, I started pulling sounds out and sure enough, when I got the sound all the way out — no music, no sounds, no backgrounds, no nothing — Rian was like, “That’s it! That just draws you in.” And it does. It pulls you into their moment. They’re pulled together even though they don’t want to be. Then we slowly brought it back in with their breathing, a little echo and a little footstep here or there. Having those types of dynamics worked into the film helped the scene at the end.

Rian shot and cut the picture so we could have these moments of quiet. It was already set up, visually and story-wise, to allow that to happen. When Rey goes into the mirror cave, it’s so quiet. You hear all the footsteps and the reverbs and reflections in there. The film lent itself to that.

What was the trickiest scene to mix in terms of the effects?
The moment Kylo Ren and Rey touch hands via the force connection. That was a real challenge. They’re together in the force connection, but they weren’t together physically. We were cutting back and forth from her place to Kylo Ren’s place. We were hearing her campfire and her rain. It was a very delicate balance between that and the music. We could have had the rain really loud and the music blasting, but Rian wanted the rain and fire to peel away as their hands were getting closer. It was so quiet and when they did touch there was just a bit of a low-end thump. Having a big sound there just didn’t have the intimacy that the scene demanded. It can be so hard to get the balance right to where the audience is feeling the same thing as the characters. The audience is going, “No, oh no.” You know what’s going to come, but we wanted to add that extra tension to it sonically. For me, that was one of the hardest scenes to get.

What about the action scenes?
They are tough because they take time to mix. You have to decide what you want to play. For example, when the ships are exploding as they’re trying to get away before Holdo rams her ship into the First Order’s, you have all of that stuff falling from the ceiling. We had to pick our moments. There’s all of this fire in the background and TIE fighters flying around, and you can’t hear them all or it will be a jumbled mess. I can mix those scenes pretty well because I just follow the story point. We need to hear this to go with that. We have to have a sound of falling down, so let’s put that in.

Is there a scene you had fun with?
The fight in Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) room, between Rey and Kylo Ren. That was really fun because it was like wham-bam, and you have the lightsaber flying around. In those moments, like when Rey throws the lightsaber, we drop the sound out for a split second so when Kylo turns it on it’s even more powerful.

That scene was the most fun, but the trickiest one was that force-touch scene. We went over it a hundred different ways, to just get it to feel like we were with them. For me, if the sound calls too much attention to itself, it’s pulling you out of the story, and that’s bad mixing. I wanted the audience to lean in and feel those hands about to connect. When you take the sound out and the music out, then it’s just two hands coming together slowly. It was about finding that balance to make the audience feel like they’re in that moment, in that little hut, and they’re about to touch and see into each other’s souls, so to speak. That was a challenge, but it was fun because when you get it, and you see the audience react, everyone feels good about that scene. I feel like I did something right.

What was one audio tool that you couldn’t live without on this mix?
For me, it was the AMS Neve DFC Gemini console. All the sounds came into that. The console was like an instrument that I played. I could bring any sound in from any direction, and I could EQ it and manipulate it. I could put reverb on it. I could give the director what he wanted. My editors were cutting the sound, but I had to have that console to EQ and balance the sounds. Sometimes it was about EQing frequencies out to make a sound fit better with other sounds. You have to find room for the sounds.

I could move around on it very quickly. I had Rian sitting behind me saying, “What if you roll back and adjust this or try that.” I could ease those faders up and down and hit it just right. I know how to use it so well that I could hear stuff ahead of what I was doing.

The Neve DFC was invaluable. I could take all the different sound formats and sample rates and it all came through the console, and in one place. It could blend all those sources together; it’s a mixing bowl. It brought all the sounds together so they could all talk to each other. Then I manipulated them and sent them out and that was the soundtrack — all driven by the director, of course.

Can you talk about working with the sound editor?
The editors are my right-hand people. They can shift things and move things and give me another sound. Maybe I need one with more mid-range because the one in there isn’t quite reading. We had a lot of that. Trying to get those explosions to work and to come through John Williams’ score, sometimes we needed something with more low-end and more thump or more crack. There was a handoff in some scenes.

On The Last Jedi, I had sound effects editor Jon Borland with me on the stage. Bonnie Wild had started the project and had prepped a lot of the sounds for several reels — her and Jon and Ren Klyce, who oversaw the whole thing. But Jon was my go-to person on the stage. He did a great job. It was a bit of a daunting task, but Jon is young and wants to learn and gave it everything he had. I love that.

What format was the main mix?
Everything was done in Atmos natively, then we downmixed to 7.1 and 5.1 and all the other formats. We were very diligent about having the downmixed versions match the Atmos mix the best that they could.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I’m so glad that Rian chose me to be part of the mix. This film was a lot of fun and a real collaborative effort. Rian is the one who really set that tone. He wanted to hear our ideas and see what we could do. He wasn’t sold on one thing. If something wasn’t working, he would try things out until it did. It was literally sorting out frequencies and getting transitions to work just right. Rian was collaborative, and that creates a room of collaboration. We wanted a great track for the audience to enjoy… a track that went with Rian’s picture.


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