Tag Archives: Tatiana Riegel

The Girl in the Spider’s Web: immersive audio and picture editing

By Mel Lambert

Key members of the post crew responsible for the fast-paced look and feel of director Fede Alvarez’s new film, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, came to the project via a series of right time/right place situations. First, co-supervising sound editor Julian Slater (who played a big role in Baby Driver’s audio post) met picture editor Tatiana Riegel at last year’s ACE Awards.

During early 2018, Slater was approached to work on the lastest adaptation of the crime novels by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson. Alvarez was impressed with Slater’s contribution to both Baby Driver and the Oscar-winning Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). “Fede told me that he uses the soundtrack to Mad Max to show off his home Atmos playback system,” says Slater, who served as sound designer on that film. “I was happy to learn that Tatiana had also been tagged to work on The Girl in the Spider’s Web.”

Back row (L-R): Micah Loken, Sang Kim, Mandell Winter, Dan Boccoli, Tatiana Riegel, Kevin O’Connell, Fede Alvarez, Julian Slater, Hamilton Sterling, Kyle Arzt, Del Spiva and Maarten Hofmeijer. Front row (L-R): Pablo Prietto, Lola Gutierrez, Mathew McGivney and Ben Sherman.

Slater, who would also be working on the crime drama Bad Times at the El Royale for director Drew Goddard, wanted Mandell Winter as his co-supervising sound editor. “I very much liked his work on The Equalizer 2, Death Wish and The Magnificent Seven, and I knew that we could co-supervise well together. I came on full time after completing El Royale.”

Editor Riegel (Gringo, I Tonya, Million Dollar Arm, Bad Words) was a fan of the original Stieg Larsson Millennium Series films —The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and The Girl Who Played with Fire — as well as David Fincher’s 2011 remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She was already a fan of Alvarez, admiring his previous suspense film, Don’t Breathe, and told him she enjoyed working on different types of films to avoid being typecast. “We hit it off immediately,” says Riegel, who then got together with Julian Slater and Mandell Winter to discuss specifics.

The latest outing in the Stieg Larsson franchise, The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, stars English actress Claire Foy (The Crown) in the eponymous role of a young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander who, along with journalist Mikael Blomkvist, gets caught up in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials. The screenplay was co-written by Jay Basu and Alvarez from the novel by David Lagercrantz. The cast also includes Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant and Lakeith Stanfield.

Having worked previously with Niels Arden Oplev, the Swedish director of 2009’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Winter knew the franchise and was interested in working on the newest offering. He was also excited about working with director Fede Alvarez. “I loved the use of color and lighting choices that Fede selected for Don’t Breathe, so when Julian Slater called I jumped at the opportunity. None of us had worked together before, and it was Fede’s first large-budget film, having previously specialized in independent offerings. I was eager to help shepherd the film’s immersive soundtrack through the intricate process from location to the dub stage.”

From the very outset, Slater argued for a native Dolby Atmos soundtrack, with a 7.1-channel Avid Pro Tools bed that evolved through editorial, with appropriate objects being assigned during re-recording to surround and overhead locations. “We knew that the film would be very atmospheric,” Slater recalls, “so we decided to use spaces and ambiences to develop a moody, noir thriller.”

The film was dubbed on the William Holden Stage at Sony Pictures Studios, with Kevin O’ Connell handling dialog and music, and Slater overseeing sound effects elements.

Cutting Picture on Location
Editor Riegel and two assistants joined the project at its Berlin location last January. “It was a 10-month journey until final print mastering in mid-October,” she says. “We knew CGI elements would be added later. Fede didn’t do any previz, instead focusing on VFX during post production. We set up Avid Media Composers and assemble-edited the dailies as we went” against early storyboards. “Fede wanted to play up the film’s rogue theme; he had a very, very clear focus of the film as spectacle. He wanted us to stay true to the Lisbeth Salander character from the original films, yet retain that dark, Scandinavian feel from the previous outings. The film is a fun ride!”

The team returned to Los Angeles in April and turned the VFX over to Pixomondo, which was brought on to handle the greenscreen CGI sequences. “We adjourned to Pivotal Post in Burbank for the Director’s Cut and then to the Sony lot in Culver City for the first temp mix,” explains Riegel. “My editing decisions were based on the innate DNA of the shot material, and honoring the script. I asked Fede a lot of questions to ensure that the story and the pacing were crystal clear. Our first assembly was around two hours and 15 minutes, which we trimmed to just under two hours during a series of refinements. We then removed 15 minutes to reach our final 1:45 running time, which worked for all of us. The cut was better without the dropped section.”

Daniel Boccoli served as first assistant picture editor, Patrick Clancey was post finishing editor, Matthew McGivney was VFX editor and Andrew McGivney was VFX assistant editor.

Because Riegel likes to cut against an evolving soundtrack, she developed a temporary dialog track in her Avid workstation, adding sound effects taken from commercial libraries. “But there is a complex fight and chase sequence in the middle of the film that I turned over to Mandell and Julian early on so I could secure realistic effects elements to help inform the cut,” she explains. “Those early tracks were wonderful and gave me a better idea of what the final film would sound like. That way I can get to know the film better — I can also open up the cut to make space for a sound if it works within the film’s creative arcs.”

“Our overall direction from Fede Alvarez was to make the soundtrack feel cold when we were outside and to grab the audience with the action… while focusing on the story,” Winter explains. “We were also working against a very tight schedule and had little time for distractions. After the first temp, Julian and I got notes from Fede and Tatiana and set off using that feedback, which continued through three more temp mixes.”

Having complete supervising The Equalizer 2, Mandell came aboard full time in mid-June, with temp mixes running through the beginning of September. “We were finaling by the last week of September, ahead of the film’s World Premiere on October 19 at the International Rome Film Festival.”

Since there was no spotting session, from day one we were in a tight post schedule, according to Slater. “There were a number of high-action scenes that needed intricate sound design, including the eight-minute sequence that begins with explosions in Lisbeth Salander’s apartment and the subsequent high-speed motorbike chase.”

Sound designer Hamilton Sterling crafted major sections of the film’s key fight and chase sequences.

Intricate Sound Design
“We liked Hamilton’s outstanding work on Independence Day: Resurgence and Logan and relied upon him to develop truly unique sounds for the industrial heating towers, motorbikes and fights,” says Winter. “Sound effects editor Ryan Collins cut the gas mask fight sequence, as well as a couple of reels, while Karen Vassar Triest handled another couple of reels, and David Esparza worked on several of the early sequences.”

Other sound effects editors included Ando Johnson and Robert Stambler, together with dialog editor Micah Loken and supervising Foley editor Sang Jun Kim.

Sterling is particularly proud of several sequences he designed for the film. “During a scene in which the lead character Lisbeth Salander is drugged, I used the Whoosh plug-in [from the German company, Tonsturm] inside Native Instruments’ Reaktor [modular music software] to create a variable, live-performable heartbeat. I used muffled explosion samples that were Doppler-shifted at different speeds against the picture to mimic the pulse-changing effects of various drugs. I also used Whoosh to create different turbo sounds for the Ducati motorcycle driven by Lisbeth, together with air-release sounds. They were subtle effects, because we didn’t want the result to sound like a ‘sci-fi bike’ — just a souped-up twin-cylinder Ducati.”

For the car chases, Sterling used whale-spout blasts to mimic the sound of a car driving through deep puddles with water striking the inside of the wheel wells. For frightening laughs in another sequence, the sound designer turned to Tonsturm’s Doppler program, which he used in an unorthodox way. “The program can be set to break up a sound sample using, for example, a 5.1-channel star pattern with small Doppler shifts to produce very disturbing laughter,” he says. “For the heating towers I used several sound components, including slowed-down toaster noises to add depth and resonance — a hum from the heating elements, plus ticks and clangs as they warmed up. Julian suggested that we use ‘chittery’ effects for the computer user interfaces, so I used The Cargo Cult’s Envy plug-in to create unusual sounds, and to avoid the conventional ‘bips” and ‘boops’ noises. Envy is a spectral-shift, pitch- and amplitude-change application that is very pitch manipulatable. I also turned to the Sound Particles app to generate complex wind sounds that I delivered as immersive 7.1.2 Pro Tools tracks.”

“We also had a lot of Foley, which was recorded on Stage B at Sony Studios by Nerses Gezalyan with Foley artists Sara Monat and Robin Harlen,” Winter adds. “Unfortunately, the production dialog had a number of compromised tracks from the Berlin locations. As a result, we had a lot of ADR to shoot. Scheduling the ADR was complicated by the time difference, as most of our actors were in London, Berlin, Oslo or Stockholm. We used Foley to support the cleaned-up dialog tracks and backfilled tracks. Our dialog editor was very knowledgeable with iZotope RX7 Advance software. Micah Loken really understood how to use it, and how not to use it. He can dig deep into a track without affecting the quality of the voice, and without overdoing the processing.”

The music from composer Roque Baños — who also worked with Alvarez on Don’t Breathe and Evil Dead — arrived very late in the project, “and remained something of a mystery,” Riegel recalls. “Being a musician himself, Fede knew what he wanted and how to achieve that result. He would disappear into an edit suite close to the stage with the music editors Maarten Hofmeijer and Del Spiva, where they cut together the score against the locked picture — or as locked as it ever was! After that we could balance the music against the dialog and sound effects.”

Regarding sound effects elements, Winter acknowledges that his small editorial team needed to work against a tight schedule. “We had a 7.1.2 template that allowed Tony [Lamberti] and later Julian to use the automated panning data. For the final mix in Atmos, we used objects minimally for the music and dialog. However, we used overhead objects strategically for effects and design. In an early sequence we put the sound of the rope — used to suspend an abusive husband — above the audience.” Re-recording mixer Tony Lamberti handled some of the early temp mixes in Slater’s absence.

Collaborative Re-Recording Process
When the project reached the William Holden Stage, “we could see the overall shape of the film with the VFX elements and decide what sounds would now be needed to match the visuals, since we had a lot of new technology to cover, including computer screens,” Riegel says.

Mandell agrees: “Yes, we could now see where Fede Alvarez wanted to take the film and make suggestions about new material. We started asking: ‘What do you think about this and that option?’ Or, ‘What’s missing?’ It was an ongoing series of conversation through the temp mixes, re-mixes and then the final.”

Having handled the first temp mix at Sony Studios, Slater returned full-time for the final Atmos mixes. “After so many temp mixes using the same templates, I knew that we would not be re-inventing the wheel on the William Holden Stage. We simply focused on changing the spatiality of what we had. Having worked with Kevin O’ Connell on both Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and The Public, I knew that I had to do my homework and deliver what he needed from my side of the console. Kevin is very involved. He’ll make suggestions, but always based on what is best for the film. I learned a lot by seeing how he works; he is very experienced. It’s easy to find what works with Kevin, since he has experience with a wide range of technologies and keeps up with new advances.”

Describing the re-recording process as being highly collaborative, Mandell remained objective about creative options. “You can get too close to the soundtrack. With a number of German and English actors, we constantly had to ask ourselves: ‘Do we have clarity?’ If not, can we fix it in the track or turn to ADR? We maintained a continuing conversation with Tatiana and Fede, with ideas that we would circulate backwards and forwards. Since we had a lot of new people working on the crew, trust became a major factor. Everybody was incredibly professional.”

“It was a very rewarding experience working with so many talented new people,” Slater concludes. “I quickly tuned into Fede Alvarez’s specific needs and sensibilities. It was a successful liaison.”

Riegel says that her biggest challenge was “trying to figure out what the film is supposed to be — from the script and pre-production through the shoot and first assembly. It’s a gradual process and one that involves regular conversations with my assistant editors and the director as we develop characters and clarify the information being shown. But I didn’t want to hit the audience over the head with too much information. We needed to decide: ‘What is important?’ and retain as much realism as possible. It’s a complex, creative process … and one that I totally love being a part of!”


Mel Lambert has been involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He is principal of Content Creators, a Los Angeles-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. He is also a long-time member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists.

Tatiana Riegel on editing the dark comedy I, Tonya

By Randi Altman

I, Tonya is sad and funny and almost unbelievable in the sense that this — or a version of this — actually did happen. It’s also a fantastic movie.

Some of us are old enough to remember when the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan “Why?!” incident took place. I think we all knew at the time that what was playing out was more like a soap opera and less like figure skating. Thanks to the Craig Gillespie-directed I, Tonya, everyone gets a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what led up to that assault, and it’s not pretty. What the public didn’t know back in 1993 was the abuse that Tonya Harding was enduring via her mother, her husband Jeff Gillooly and even the figure skating community, who viewed her as too working class to represent them.

Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE

I, Tonya’s editor, Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE, is a long-time collaborator of Gillespie’s, having worked with him now on five features (Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours, Fright Night and Million Dollar Arm) and the pilot for the TV series United States of Tara for Showtime. She says the shorthand they’ve developed over 10 years “is thrilling and makes life very, very easy.”

We spoke to newly minted Oscar-nominee Riegel about working with Gillespie and her workflow on the film, which was nominated for a number of Golden Globes and has earned Riegel her own ACE Eddie and Independent Spirit award nods as well.

When were you brought on I, Tonya?
Craig told me about it the fall of 2016, and I officially began when they started shooting in January 2017.

Were you on set, near set? How did that work?
I was far from set. I was in Los Angeles, and they were shooting in Atlanta. It was very nice for me to be able to stay home. That is one of those advantages that I can have with Craig because we do have such a shorthand. And while I have traveled with him on location many times, this time, from a budget standpoint, it was prohibitive. Plus, we were going to be in New York for the six months of post, and I didn’t want to go away for nine months. This was our compromise.

You worked out of Harbor Picture Company in New York, where the post was being done?
Yes. It was lovely. They’re so nice. I really — I have to say — I miss it and I hope I get to go back to New York and work there again. I felt like I was at home, even though I wasn’t.

Can you talk about how you and Craig work together? Does he shoot a lot of coverage?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is he is very prepared and very disciplined. The schedule on this was quite short. It was 31 days, and I think there were 260 or 265 scenes. So it was compact, but he was so wonderfully prepared. For certain scenes, he didn’t shoot as much coverage, but for other scenes, much more. But always with lots of options, which makes editors very happy.

What did he shoot on?
Craig shot most of it on film, which was lovely. It gave it a great look. He shot 2- and 3-perf, 35mm film, but then he did do some stuff digitally. The interviews were shot digitally, just because of the amount of coverage. It was three hours, per person, for the interviews. And then, obviously, some of the extreme slow-motion stuff was shot with a Phantom camera.

Did Harbor do the dailies?
They did not. We did the DI at Company 3. That’s where we finished, and the dailies were processed at Crawford in Georgia.

Who is your assistant, and how do you work together? Are they covering the technical stuff? Are they another eye?
They’re both. This was probably our sixth or seventh film together. Dan Boccoli is fantastic. For this film he was on with me during dailies, because when we went to New York I had to hire a local. His name was Steve Jacks, who was also superb.

Dan and all of my assistants are a wonderful combination of creative and technical. They are preparing everything, communicating with all of the different departments, making sure I have everything I need, and they keep me out of those loops that I don’t want to get involved in.

I show them scenes and get their feedback, which is wonderful for me — this allows me to show somebody before I show the director or anybody else. Just to make sure everything’s being comprehended properly, and I’m getting the reaction that I want. It’s also a teaching process for them; they get to understand the whole process, and learn for their own future.

Was Craig looking at scenes you were editing?
With all directors, I like to stay up to camera as much as possible. I want to start that conversation sooner rather than later to make sure we’re all on the same page tonally, performance-wise and story-wise. Then there are the practical things like, is all the coverage there? I try to put the scenes together quickly, the best that I can, and send them off on a daily basis, sometimes a couple times a week, sometimes once a week. It depends on what’s being shot.

Another advantage is that when shooting is finished and they come in for the first time to watch the assembly, they’re not surprised by anything. It’s not anywhere close to being done, but they are clear about what they have and how we’re doing tonally and performance-wise.

How were you physically getting scenes to Craig?
A variety of ways, but usually it was a system like Pix or DAX because of piracy issues. It’s very secure, and he was able to watch it online.

Were there any instances where you thought coverage was missing?
Yes, there was one situation. Shawn, the bodyguard, doesn’t really show up in the movie until the second half — there are only some interviews early on. I actually asked for a couple more instances to be added so we would have an introduction to him. This way it wasn’t a new character popping up and the audience thinking, “Oh, I think I saw him once.” I called Craig and he agreed, and the writer Steven Rogers agreed.

Can you talk about editing the skating scenes? I know that VFX was used for some of that and there was a double, but how did that work?
There are four or five larger skating sequences, and Craig and the DP talked very early on about each having their own personality. For example, the first one, the ZZ Top one, is earlier in Tonya’s career, and she’s got an attitude and gruffness and a strength that wants to be portrayed in that sequence. Especially after coming off of the Vivaldi Four Seasons, and emphasizing how Tonya Harding was not the typical ice skater. She didn’t fit the mold, and she really did skate to ZZ Top.

Craig and the DP Nicolas Karakatsanis watched the original skating sequences for the choreography and tried to get as close as possible. They had to do some pretty serious planning for these seamless transitions between Margot and the double. Margot had trained for about five months, so she did a fair amount of spectacular stuff where you have to be an Olympian type moves. She did do some of the dancing and getting on and off the ice, and the beginning and ends of routines.

Then it was a question of following this choreography map they had set up, but also spicing it up and giving each of the scenes their own personality and energy. The ZZ Top scene is very energetic and a bit show-off-y. The one at the end of the film, at Lillehammer, is all done in one shot, or it plays as one shot. We go in and out of Margot and the double, and that’s purposely done to build the tension, the anxiety and the stress she’s going through at that moment with her shoelace having broken.

The soundtrack is fun. Can you talk about that?
There was nothing about music in the script. This is all something that Craig brought to it. He had gotten a lot of music from the music supervisor, prior to shooting, and we began listening to stuff. But after I had the whole thing together, we sat down, about a week into it, and started throwing music against it and figuring out what worked for energy, for pacing, for fun and for emotion. We just kept trying things, moving them around. Sometimes we cut in or out of songs very quickly, for momentum, and that became a lot of what we did in the post process. Experimenting.

There was a scene where Gillooly is on the floor of his house, and then the camera sort of backs away and takes you down a street. Was that one shot?
It plays as one, but it was actually shot as four different parts. He starts on the bed, which I just love. He’s distraught and hunched over, but looking right at the camera. Then the camera pulls away from him and goes into the hallway, and then we find him again in the kitchen, where he’s obviously trying to talk to her but get mad, so he throws the phone. Then it pulls out of the kitchen and into the living room, and he’s sitting alone on the floor. Then it pulls out of the living room onto the front yard and down the whole block. It was all these different shots that were stitched together quite beautifully.

While there was obvious violence and abuse, there was also humor, so it was a fine line you needed to walk. How did you tackle that as an editor?
Craig spoke with Margot and everybody about it very early on, because it was really important to not sugarcoat that stuff. This is what made her who she is and made her react how she did. This is the reality of her life. There’s a documentary about her when she’s 15 years old, and she’s very matter-of-factly talking about her mother hitting her. She says it in a very detached, unemotional way that really struck a chord in Craig. That’s when he came up with this idea of breaking the fourth wall and having the characters talk directly to the camera. It allowed the characters to separate emotionally from that moment in a way that felt very lifelike to us. Although it’s not a lifelike moment, talking to the camera, it gives it detachment. It also shows survival. It’s the 45-year-old Tonya talking back about that moment having survived.

You cut this film on Avid Media composer. What about it do you like, and did you use ScriptSync?
I find it to be just a fantastic tool for sharing media. I know how to use it very well, so I don’t have to think, which is terrific. I did use ScriptSync for the very first time on this film. I just haven’t felt the need for it before, but this time it was helpful because of the way the interviews were shot, which were, for the most part, very long takes. The interviews are spaced throughout the script, so the actors would read all the way through them, doing some retakes within a take, but then continue on. So, just from an organizational standpoint, ScriptSync was a lifesaver. It was just brilliant. I don’t know how I would have done it without it, to be perfectly honest. It would have been excruciatingly time consuming.

Is there any scene that you are most proud of, or that was most challenging?
The film as a whole was very challenging in terms of balancing the very serious with the very funny. There are moments that portray that, like the knife scene where she’s having dinner with her mother. The conversation grows into this terrible fight, and they are screaming at each other. Then the mother’s throwing stuff, and then she throws the knife, and it’s this amazingly shocking moment.

There is that fantastic pause. You don’t know how Tonya’s going to react or how LaVona is going to react. Then Tonya takes the knife out, but you still don’t know what she’s going to do. She walks over, slams it into the table, and we see LaVona’s reaction as Tonya walks off. I just loved that. It’s about holding that moment as long as possible, almost until it breaks, and then breaking it with this fantastic joke — where LaVona, in her interview says, all families have problems. When we screened it you could hear a pin could drop, and then it just breaks into this great relief of laughter. It’s just a really fun thing to put together.

What’s next for you?
I am going to Berlin to work on The Girl in the Spider’s Web for director Fede Alvarez. It’s part of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. This is something that’s very different, which I find very appealing. I like doing different types of films. I think editors often get pigeonholed very quickly — “They’re a comedy person, they’re a drama person, they’re an action person.” I like to shake it up a bit whenever possible, because I like working on different kinds of films just as I like going to see different kinds of films, and.