“The Dark Knight” swooped into theaters July 18th. Helping Nolan create a Gotham City that sounds as real as it looks is sound supervisor and designer Richard King. Riding tall with his work on“The Assassination of Jesse James…” King returned to work with Nolanafter a previous collaboration for 2006’s “The Prestige”. Mixing took place at Warner Bros. stage 10 where re-recording mixers Gary Rizzo and Lora Hirschberg manhandled dialog and effects/music, respectively. The pair mixed Nolan’s last two films. Known for his emphasis on the importance of production dialog, Nolan tapped Ed Novick to shoot location sound. Novick is currently working on Michael Mann’s next, “Public Enemies”. Recorded at Air Studios in London, Composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard divvied up the work on “TDK” following their formula from “Batman Begins”.
When I seem to have a grasp on what production sound crews have to overcome on set, I sit in a theater watching a film like “The Dark Knight” and humbly remind myself I really have no idea. Production sound mixers have to battle everything from wind machines to air conditioners all while doing their best to capture performances that may not be able to be duplicated on an ADR stage. Sadly, in the case of “TDK” this scenario rang true with the untimely passing of Heath Ledger. Thankfully, with Ledger’s incredible performance on screen and Ed Novick‘s hard work on set no looping was needed. Confirming with sound supervisor Richard King (his interview will be up this weekend) Novick’s mixing captured Ledger’s “Joker” well enough that everything you hear in the film is production. Moreover, King revealed that there is very little ADR in the mix, period. I don’t think there is a better compliment for a production mixer and thankfully this one took some time out to talk about his experience in Gotham City.
Designing Sound: With Nolan’s emphasis on practical effects that happen during the production as opposed to CGI which is replaced after the fact, do you find yourself recoding more SFX on set when, say, a big rig flips over or a hospital blows up? If so, does your relationship with the post sound department become more important?
Ed Novick: My job always has been, and continues to be about recording good dialog on set. Anything beyond that is often seen as a bonus. However, I don’t disregard the non-dialog portions of the process. Any production recordist has the responsibility to record what the camera sees; even if it’s only a reference or guide track. You have only one chance to record any given take, and you should use that opportunity. I might even do something good! My production tracks may be used as a base layer upon which post sound can build.
On this project, though, post asked me to record ambiance tracks in Hong Kong. And so I spent a day with my local sound guy recording cars, trucks, traffic, police and emergency vehicle sounds (Hong Kong specific), birds, markets, and the like. I took a DEVA V over the shoulder and had a Schoeps M-S rig and came back with good stereo ambiance for post to use. It may be all background, but it helps a lot that it’s authentic. Plus I got to see (and hear) Hong Kong from more of a local’s perspective.
DS: I’ve read that Nolan does not have a second unit on his films. Is there an advantage to not having two production sound crews?
EN: If second unit is far from the main unit, there’s no problem. Often though, a second (or splinter) unit is working at the same site as the first unit. This is usually a problem, as locking up one unit as the other shoots is pretty tough to do. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen with Chris Nolan projects, as there is no second unit work.
DS: Nolan said in a recent interview, “I just think separating the voice from the face and the body is very tricky… It is, after all, blatantly unreal.” With an established dislike of ADR, was Nolan more accepting of input from you on set?
EN: Chris likes to use the production sound for the final, yes. And if during shooting I can identify a problem – that’s fine. But he expects me to have a solution, as well. His method of shooting one camera at a time is very sound-friendly. I think we both agree that matching the camera perspective (wide shots sound more distant than close-ups) is correct, and that a well-positioned overhead boom mic will be better than a lavalier hidden under the clothing.
But there are exceptions to every rule, and there are plenty of lavs in use in “The Dark Knight”. For one, the bat suit has a place for a lav built in to the suit. Graham Churchyard, who designed the bat suit, and Day Murch, who did the day-to-day maintenance of the bat suit, were both very helpful in making sure that I had a good mic position for the lav (and that I didn’t do anything I shouldn’t)!
Chris made sure that sound was invited to every location scout. Many potential problems are solved this way, as issues like generator placement and cable-entry can be worked out in advance. This movie had a number of locations in practical office buildings, so identifying location issues (escalators, air-conditioning, elevator dings, etc…) early can help make them go away on the day. James McCallister (location manager) and his location team were terrific in this regard.
DS: What kind of challenge did the Imax cameras (louder then traditional 35mm) bring to the set?
EN: They are loud. Fortunately, most of the scenes that were shot with IMAX are action scenes, with little or no dialog. When IMAX was present for dialog, close micing became mandatory, regardless of the frame size. There is simply no opening for an overhead mic when that camera is running. Radio mics and/or plant mics were required in those instances. There are a few instances where radio mics were impractical, either for action or costume. In those cases we took wild track right after shooting, with good success, I believe. Baffling the camera with furniture pads (whenever practical) was also used for IMAX/ dialog shots.
There’s a scene where Bruce Wayne is driving his Lamborghini while talking to Alfred, who is back at the Bat Bunker. There’s an IMAX camera mounted on the hood and another on a side mount. Even with the windows rolled up, I could still hear the camera noise outside the moving vehicle. Now that’s a loud camera.
DS: As an unabashed fan of the new “Batman” films, I just have to ask what was the most rewarding scene to shoot? And, what was the trickiest location to shoot?
EN: Anytime I can make a music recording good enough to end up in the final product, I’m happy. So it was here that the version of “Balmora” played by the Chicago Police Dept. Pipe & Drum band was the one I recorded live. And anything that Heath Ledger did as The Joker was wonderful. He was a terrific guy.
There’s a dialog scene between Bruce Wayne and Lucious Fox on the Central Escalators in Hong Kong. It’s an elevated area in a noisy environment in the center of the city. And there were tons of extras. All in all, a very noisy place to record.
Also, many locations in Chicago (Gotham) were glass and steel structures. Lots of reflections! But our boom operator, Kurt Peterson, was very good at keeping those reflections out of the frame.
DS: What was your first gig like?
EN: I can’t remember that far back!