Tag Archives: supervising sound editor

Wylie Stateman on Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood‘s Oscar nod for sound

By Beth Marchant

To director Quentin Tarantino, sound and music are primal forces in the creation of his idiosyncratic films. Often using his personal music collection to jumpstart his initial writing process and later to set a film’s tone in the opening credits, Tarantino always gives his images a deep, multi-sensory well to swim in. According to his music supervisor Mary Ramos, his bold use of music is as much a character as each film’s set of quirky protagonists.

Wylie Stateman – Credit: Andrea Resnick

Less showy than those memorable and often nostalgic set-piece songs, the sound design that holds them together is just as critically important to Tarantino’s aesthetic. In Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood it even replaces the traditional composed score. That’s one of many reasons why the film’s supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman, a long-time Tarantino collaborator, relished his latest Oscar-nominated project with the director (he previously received nominations for Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds and has a lifetime total of nine Oscar nominations).

Before joining team Tarantino, Stateman sound designed some of the most iconic films of the ‘80s and ‘90s, including Tron, Footloose, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (among 15 films he made with John Hughes), Born on the Fourth of July and Jerry Maguire. He also worked for many years with Oliver Stone, winning a BAFTA for his sound work on JFK. He went on to cofound the Topanga, California-based sound studio Twentyfourseven.

We talked to Stateman about how he interpreted Tarantino’s sound vision for his latest film — about a star having trouble evolving to new roles in Hollywood and his stuntman — revealing just how closely the soundtrack is connected to every camera move and cut.

How does Tarantino’s style as a director influence the way you approach the sound design?
I believe that sound is a very important department within the process of making any film. And so, when I met Quentin many years ago, I was meeting him under the guise that he wanted help and he wanted somebody who could focus their time, experience and attention on this very specific department called sound.

I’ve been very fortunate, especially on Quentin’s films, to also have a great production sound mixer and great rerecording mixers. We have both sides of the process in really tremendously skilled hands and tremendously experienced hands. Mark Ulano, our production sound mixer, won an Oscar for Titanic. He knows how to deal with dialogue. He knows how to deal with a complex set, a set where there are a lot of moving parts.

On the other side of that, we have Mike Minkler doing the final re-recording mixing. Mike, who I worked with on JFK, is tremendously skilled with multiple Oscars to his credit. He’s just an amazing creative in terms of re-recording mixing.

The role that I like to play as  supervising sound editor and designer, is how to speak to the filmmaker in terms of sound. For this film, we realized we could drive the soundtrack without a composer by using the chosen songs and KHJ radio, and select these bits and pieces from the shows of infamous DJ “Humble Harve,” or from the clips of all the other DJs on KHJ radio who really defined 1969 in Los Angeles.

And as the film shows, most people heard them over the car radio in car-centric LA.
The DJs were powerful messengers of popular culture. They were powerful messengers of what was happening in the minds and in the streets and in popular culture of that time. That was Quentin’s idea. When he wrote the script, he had written into it all of the KHJ radio segments, and he listens a lot, and he’s a real student of the filmmaking process and a real master.

On the student side, he’s constantly learning and he’s constantly looking and he’s constantly listening. On the master side, he then applies that to the characters that he wants to develop and those situations that he’s looking to be at the base and basis of his story. So, basically, Quentin comes to me for a better understanding of his intention in terms of sound, and he has a tremendous understanding to begin with. That’s what makes it so exciting.

When talking to Quentin and his editor Fred Raskin, who are both really deeply knowledgeable filmmakers, it can be quite challenging to stay in front of them and/or to chase behind them. It’s usually a combination of the two. But Quentin is a very generous collaborator, meaning he knows what he wants, but then he’s able to stop, listen and evaluate other ideas.

How did you find all of the clips we hear on the various radios?
Quentin went through hundreds of hours of archival material. And he has a tremendous working knowledge of music to begin with, and he’s also a real student of that period.

Can you talk about how you approached the other elements of specific, Tarantino-esque sound, like Cliff crunching on a celery stick in that bar scene?
Quentin’s movies are bold in the sense of some of the subject matter that he tackles, but they’re highly detailed and also very much inside his actors’ heads. So when you talk about crunching on a piece of celery, I interpret everything that Quentin imparts on his characters as having some kind of potential vocabulary in terms of sound. And that vocabulary… it applies to the camera. If the camera hides behind something and then comes out and reveals something or if the camera’s looking at a big, long shot — like Cliff Booth’s walk to George Spahn’s house down that open area in the Spahn Ranch — every one of those moves has a potential sound component and every editorial cut could have a vocabulary of sound to accompany it.

We also use those [combinations] to alter time, whether it’s to jump forward or jump back or just crash in. He does a lot of very explosive editing moves and all of that has an audio vocabulary. It’s been quite interesting to work with a filmmaker that sees picture and sound as sort of a romance and a dance. And the sound could lead the picture, or it could lag the picture. The sound can establish a mood, or it can justify a mood or an action. So it’s this constant push-pull.

Robert Bresson, the father of the French New Wave, basically said, “When the ear leads the eye, the eye becomes impatient. When the eye leads the ear, the ear becomes impatient. Use those impatiences.” So what I’m saying is that sound and pictures are this wonderful choreographed dance. Stimulate peoples’ ears and their eye is looking for something; stimulate their eyes and their ears are looking for something, and using those together is a really intimate and very powerful tool that Quentin, I think, is a master at.

How does the sound design help define the characters of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt)?
This is essentially a buddy movie. Rick Dalton is the insecure actor who’s watching a certain period — when they had great success and comfort — transition into a new period. You’re going from the John Wayne/True Grit way of making movies to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Easy Rider, and Rick is not really that comfortable making this transition. His character is full of that kind of anxiety.

The Cliff Booth character is a very internally disturbed character. He’s an unsuccessful crafts/below-the-line person who’s got personal issues and is kind of typical of a character that’s pretty well-known in the filmmaking process. Rick Dalton’s anxious world is about heightened senses. But when he forgets his line during the bar scene in the Lancer set, the world doesn’t become noisy. The world becomes quiet. We go to silence because that’s what’s inside his head. He can’t remember the line and it’s completely silent. But you could play that same scene 180 degrees in the opposite direction and make him confused in a world of noise.

The year 1969 was very important in the history of filmmaking, and that’s another key to Rick’s and Cliff’s characters. If you look at 1969, it was the turning point in Hollywood when indie filmmaking was introduced. It was also the end of a great era of traditional studio fair and traditional acting, and was more defined by the looser, run-and-gun style of Easy Rider. In a way, the Peter Fonda/Dennis Hopper dynamic of Hopper’s film is somewhat similar to that of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth.

I saw Easy Rider again recently and the ending hit me like a ton of bricks. The cultural panic, and the violence it invokes, is so palpable because you realize that clash of cultures never really went away; it’s still with us all these years later. Tarantino definitely taps into that tension in this film.
It’s funny that you say that because my wife and I went to the Cannes Film Festival with the team, and they were playing Easy Rider on the beach on a giant screen with a thousand seats in the sand. We walked up on it and we stood there for literally an hour and a half transfixed, just watching it. I hadn’t seen it in years.

What a great use of music and location photography! And then, of course, the story and the ending; it’s like, wow. It’s such a huge departure from True Grit and that generation that made that film. That’s what I love about Quentin, because he plays off the tension between those generations in so many ways in the film. We start out with Al Pacino, and they’re drinking whiskey sours, and then we go all the way through the gambit of what 1969 really felt like to the counterculture.

Was there anything unusual that you did in the edit to manipulate sound to make a scene work?
Sound design is a real design-level responsibility. We invent sound. We go to the libraries and we go to great lengths to record things in nature or wherever we can find it. In this case, we recorded all the cars. We apply a very methodical approach to sound.

Sound design, for me, is the art of shaping noise to suit the picture and to enhance the story and great sound lives somewhere between the science of audio and the subjectivity of storytelling. The science part is really well-known, and it’s been perfected over many, many years with lots of talented artists and artisans. But the story part is what excites me, and it’s what excites Quentin. So it becomes what we don’t do that’s so interesting, like using silence instead of noise or creating a soundtrack without a composer. I don’t think you miss having score music. When we couldn’t figure out a song, we made sound design elements. So, yeah, we would make tension sounds.

Shaping noise is not something I could explain to you with an “an eye of newt plus a tail of yak” secret recipe. It’s a feeling. It’s just working with audio, shaping sound effects and noise to become imperceptibly conjoined with music. You can’t tell where the sound design is beginning and ending and where it transfers into more traditional song or music. That is the beauty of Quentin’s films. In terms of sound, the audio has shapes that are very musical.

His deep-cut versions of songs are so interesting, too. Using “California Dreaming” by the Mamas and Papas would have been way too obvious, so he uses a José Feliciano cover of it and puts the actual Mamas and Papas into the film as walk-on characters.
Yeah. I love his choice of music. From Sharon and Roman listening to “Hush” by Deep Purple in the convertible, their hair flying, to going straight into “Son of a Lovin’ Man” after they arrive at the Playboy Mansion. Talk about 1969 and setting it off! It’s not from the San Francisco catalog; it’s just this lovely way that Quentin imagines time and can relate to it as sound and music. The world as it relates to sound is very different than the world of imagery. And the type of director that Quentin is, he’s a writer, he’s a director, and he’s a producer, so he really understands the coalescing of these disciplines.

You haven’t done a lot of interviews in the past. Why not?
I don’t do what I do to call attention to either myself or my work. Over the first 35 years of my career, there’s very little record of any conversation that I had outside of my team and directly with my filmmakers. But at this point in life, when we’re at the cusp of this huge streaming technology shift and everything is becoming more politically sensitive, with deep fakes in both image and audio, I think it’s time sound should have somebody step up and point out, “Hey, we are invisible. We are transitory.” Meaning, when you stop the electricity going to the speakers, the sound disappears, which is kind of an amazing thing. You can pause the picture and you can study it. Sound only exists in real time. It’s just the vibration in the air.

And to be clear, I don’t see motion picture sound as an art form. I see it, rather, as a form of art and it takes a long time to become a sculptor in sound who can work in a very simple style. After all, it’s the simplest lines that just blow your mind!

What blew your mind about this film, either while you worked on it or when you saw the finished product?
I really love the whole look of the film. I love the costumes, and I have great respect for the team that Quentin consistently pulls together. When I work on Quentin’s films, I never turn around and find somebody that doesn’t have a great idea or deep experience in their craft. Everywhere you turn, you bump into extraordinary talent.

Dakota Fanning’s scene at the Spahn Ranch… I mean, wow! Knocks my socks off. That’s really great stuff. It’s a remarkable thing to work with a director who has that kind of love for filmmaking and that allows for really talented people to also get in the sandbox and play.


Beth Marchant is a veteran journalist focused on the production and post community and contributes to “The Envelope” section of the Los Angeles Times. Follow her on Twitter @bethmarchant.

Behind the Title: Cinematic Media head of sound Martin Hernández

This audio post pro’s favorite part of the job is the start of a project — having a conversation with the producer and the director. “It’s exciting, like any new relationship,” he says.

Name: Martin Hernández

Job Title: Supervising Sound Editor

Company: Mexico City’s Cinematic Media

Can you describe Cinematic Media and your role there?
I lead a new sound post department at Cinematic Media, Mexico’s largest post facility focused on television and cinema. We take production sound through the full post process: effects, backgrounds, music editing… the whole thing. We finish the sound on our mix stages.

What would surprise people most about what you do?
We want the sound to go unnoticed. The viewer shouldn’t be aware that something has been added or is unnatural. If the viewer is distracted from the story by the sound, it’s a lousy job. It’s like an actor whose performance draws attention to himself. That’s bad acting. The same applies to every aspect of filmmaking, including sound. Sound needs to help the narrative in a subjective and quiet way. The sound should be unnoticed… but still eloquent. When done properly, it’s magical.

Hernandez has been working on Easy for Netflix.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Entering the project for the first time and having a conversation with the team: the producer and the director. It’s exciting, like any new relationship. It’s beautiful. Even if you’re working with people you’ve worked with before, the project is newborn.

My second favorite part is the start of sound production, when I have a picture but the sound is a blank page. We must consider what to add. What will work? What won’t? How much is enough or too much? It’s a lot like cooking. The dish might need more of this spice and a little less of that. You work with your ingredients, apply your personal taste and find the right flavor. I enjoy cooking sound.

What’s your least favorite part of the job?
Me.

What do you mean?
I am very hard on myself. I only see my shortcomings, which are, to tell you the truth, many. I see my limitations very clearly. In my perception of things, it is very hard to get where I want to go. Often you fail, but every once in a while, a few things actually work. That’s why I’m so stubborn. I know I am going to have a lot of misses, so I do more than expected. I will shoot three or four times, hoping to hit the mark once or twice. It’s very difficult for me to work with me.

What is your most productive time of the day?
In the morning. I’m a morning person. I work from my own place, very early, like 5:30am. I wake up thinking about things that I left behind in the session. It’s useless to remain in bed, so I go to my studio and start working on these ideas. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish between 6am and 9am. You have no distractions. No one’s calling. No emails. Nothing. I am very happy working in the mornings.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing?
That’s a tough question! I don’t know anything else. Probably, I would cook. I’d go to a restaurant and offer myself as an intern in the kitchen.

For most people I know, their career is not something they’ve chosen; it was embedded in them when they were born. It’s a matter of realizing what’s there inside you and embracing it. I never, in my wildest dreams, expected to be doing this work.

When I was young, I enjoyed watching films, going to the movies, listening to music. My earliest childhood memories are sound memories, but I never thought that would be my work. It happened by accident. Actually, it was one accident after another. I found myself working with sound as a hobby. I really liked it, so I embraced it. My hobby then became my job.

So you knew early on that audio would be your path?
I started working in radio when I was 20. It happened by chance. A neighbor told me about a radio station that was starting up from scratch. I told my friend from school, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, the director. Suddenly, we’re working at a radio station. We’re writing radio pieces and doing production sound. It was beautiful. We had our own on-air, live shows. I was on in the mornings. He did the noon show. Then he decided to make films and I followed him.

Easy

What are some of your recent projects?
I just finished a series for Joe Swanberg, the third season of Easy. It’s on Netflix. It’s the fourth project I’ve done with Joe. I’ve also done two shows here in Mexico. The first one is my first full-time job as supervisor/designer for Argos, the company lead by Epigmenio Ibarra. Yankee is our first series together for Netflix, and we’re cutting another one to be aired later in the year. It’s a very exciting for me.

Is there a project that you’re most proud of?
I am very proud of the results that we’ve been getting on the first two series here in Mexico. We built the sound crew from scratch. Some are editors I’ve worked with before, but we’ve also brought in new talent. That’s a very joyful process. Finding talent is not easy, but once you do, it’s very gratifying. I’m also proud of this work because the quality is very good. Our clients are happy, and when they’re happy, I’m happy.

What pieces of technology can you not live without?
Avid Pro Tools. It’s the universal language for sound. It allows me to share sound elements and sessions from all over the world, just like we do locally, between editing and mixing stages. The second is my converter. We are using the Red system from Focusrite. It’s a beautiful machine.

This is a high-stress job with deadlines and client expectations. What do you do to de-stress from it all?
Keep working.

Technicolor creates sixties soundscape for Hulu’s ‘11.22.63’

By Jennifer Walden

Beloved politician — now there’s an oxymoron. I can almost hear the collective “pffff” that term would elicit from today’s younger voters. However, voters of a certain age may remember one such president who could pull off that title: John F. Kennedy. So if you’ve had enough of this election year’s hoopla, then turn off the news channels and turn on Hulu. Their new series 11.22.63, based on a book by Stephen King, transports viewers back to the 1960s, a time when racism, sexism, domestic abuse and mistreatment of mental patients prevailed. (It wasn’t the glory days, but every generation and president has their battles… even JFK.)

11.22.63 follows the newly divorced English teacher Jake Epping (James Franco), who steps out of 2016 and into 1958 via a time portal in the utility closet of a small-town diner. His mission is to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy by unraveling the conspiracy theories that surround the event.

Michael Wilhoit

Michael Wilhoit

Sounds of the Sixties
Setting the stage of early ‘60s sound is supervising sound editor Michael Wilhoit, who is based at the Technicolor Sound facility on the Paramount lot in Hollywood. He got involved early, working with director Kevin Macdonald, executive producer Bridget Carpenter and associate producer Jill Risk during editorial on the pilot episode — well before the score and visual effects were created. “The sound we established in the pilot was going to be the continuing style of sound for all the episodes,” explains Wilhoit. “Jill and Bridget were the leading force for us on the whole series. They were involved in all of the sound design spotting sessions and they really wanted to have something in the track besides the score. Bridget was the one who signed off on everything for sound.”

One big decision they made early on was how to handle the time travel event. “We purposefully didn’t want to make it over the top. We wanted to include the audience without taking them out of reality and making it too sci-fi or too bold,” says Wilhoit. The time travel effect, sonically and visually, is very subtle. It’s not the earth-shattering epic thunderstorm of Terminator, for example. It’s a delicate blend of music — by composer Alex Heffes — and sound design. “We just wanted to bring the audience into this place and not lose them by overdoing our job. It’s the same for the ambiences and other sounds too. We tried not to hit people over the head. When we do our jobs right no one knows we’re here.”

The ‘60s soundscape is more mechanical and analog than modern day, with rotary phones with real metal ringers, clacking typewriters and big clunky cars — even the shoes of the day made more noise. Although the elements that make up the ambiences are louder than today’s sounds, the environments that Wilhoit and his sound effects editor, Dino Dimuro, created feel subtle and real, and they don’t draw unnecessary attention. Wilhoit and Dimuro really hit their mark without over shooting it.

Another sci-fi situation in the series involves the “past pushing back.” Whenever the characters get too close to changing the past, unexpected events cause them to fail. As with the time travel effect, the “past pushing back” effect errs on the side of realism. It was a reoccurring challenge throughout the show. Instead of designing one signature sound for the past pushing back, Wilhoit and Dimuro worked with sounds that were relevant to each situation on screen. For example, when Jake is back in 1958, he tries to call his father from a phone booth and the past pushes back. Wilhoit and Dimuro set up the uneasy feeling of the scene by adding distant dog barks, crickets and a mournful train horn as Jake approaches the booth. Once Jake is on the phone, they manipulated and distorted the voices on the other end. He and Dimuro added crackling static and high-pitched tones that interfere with the phone call; they added buzzing on the flickering lights. Out of nowhere a car races down the street and crashes into the phone booth, all of which was carefully crafted with sound.

“Because you don’t see the past pushing back you have to convey that with sound,” says Wilhoit. “My whole thing was making sounds stutter. Sound design wise I wanted there to be a stuttering of reality. I wanted there to be a dysfunctional stuttering sound.” He achieved this by editing the effects in Avid Pro Tools 11.

Matching the VFX
For several VFX-led scenes, Wilhoit and his team had to design sound without the benefit of actually seeing the visual effects. One of the early VFX-dependent scenes happens in Episode 1. Jake is hiding in a dark room in the basement of the Dallas Convention Center. It’s another situation of the past pushing back, so the lights flicker and buzz. Jake starts to hear things emerging from the shadows; it’s a swarm of cockroaches coming after him.

“I had to create a whole sound texture for these cockroaches that none of us ever saw until we were nearly done with the mix. Then at the very end we were able to make slight adjustments to make it work once the visual effects were finished,” says Wilhoit.

Another interesting VFX-dependent scene that takes place at the Dallas Convention Center is when John F. Kennedy is addressing a large audience. According to Wilhoit, that entire sequence was fabricated. “That was completely shot on greenscreen, but when you watch it you would never know because you can see and hear all of these people in this convention center. You see and hear the president up there, and that is unbelievable to me.”

JFK’s speech is an original recording that Wilhoit and dialogue/ADR editor Kimberly Ellis cleaned up using iZotope RX Advanced. There was no reverb inherent to that original track so the mixers were able to add that on the dub stage, effectively putting the speech into the 14,000-seat theater. Ellis edited the period-specific reactions in a loop group, and additional crowd sounds were added to fill in the space.

The loop group tracks were an essential element that Wilhoit used to help build a convincing early 1960’s soundscape. They added the right flavor without being over the top. “Because the show takes place mainly from 1958 into the early 1960’s, you won’t hear people say the same things that you would hear today, or hear the same reactions. The loop group sound had to be very specific in regards to the lingo of the time. For instance, they were saying things like ‘swell’ instead of ‘cool.’”

The Mix
11.22.63 was mixed in 5.1 surround on Stage 7 at Technicolor Sound on the Paramount lot by re-recording mixers Kevin Roache (sound effects/Foley) and Pete Elia (dialogue/music). Wilhoit notes that the mixers’ contributions on the dub stage went beyond balancing EQ and levels. “Kevin was able to take my effects tracks and make them that much more interesting on the dub stage. We have Pro Tools 11 and a ton of plug-ins that we all use. I make sounds and they twist them to make them even crazier. The re-recording mixers are like sound designers too. They bring everything to another level. It was definitely a collaborative effort between sound editorial and mixing.”

The season finale of 11.22.63 aired Monday, April 4 on Hulu, but all episodes are available for streaming, so binge away!

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

Meet the Artist: Formosa’s Odin Benitez

NAME: Odin Benitez

COMPANY: West Hollywood’s Formosa Group

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We create sound tracks for motion pictures, television, games and Internet sound.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Supervising Sound Editor/Sound Designer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL? 
I work with the filmmakers to create the best possible sound tracks for their movies. This involves making sure that the dialog is smooth and can be heard with clarity. It also involves Continue reading

Meet The Supervising Sound Editor: Greg Hedgepath

Greg Hedgepath

NAME: Greg Hedgepath

COMPANY: Formosa Group (www.formosagroup.com)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Formosa Group is a new post sound editorial company. The order of the day is to form a creative, collaborative, high-energy, environment where free exchange of techniques and tools used in creating sound for film post production can exist.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Supervising Sound Editor.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Ultimately, my job is to convey the director’s emotional vision for the film, through sound, to the audience. For each film I work on I supervise the editing of all sound elements (except music) and will supervise the mixing of all elements (including music) during temps, pre-dubs, and final mixes.

Continue reading

Soundelux adds supervising sound editor Kelly Cabral

HOLLYWOOD – Soundelux has added Supervising Sound Editor Kelly Cabral to its team. Her most recent credits include The Purge, Dark Skies, and Hawaii Five-O. She is currently working on “The Other Woman” for director Nick Cassavetes.

“We are thrilled to have Kelly join our family of creative talent. She is a well-respected, highly versatile and talented sound supervisor,” said David F. Alfonso, the owner of Todd Soundelux, which is the parent company of Soundelux.

Cabral’s arrival also represents a return to her “roots” as a supervising sound editor, having previously worked with Soundelux before launching an independent career. Her credits also include such titles as Any Given Sunday, The Notebook, Alpha Dog, and Ladder 49.