On May 8th J.J. Abrams boldly went where 10 men have gone before by directing a Star Trek film. In his reboot of the waning franchise, Abrams re-recruited a lot of sound folk he used on his past feature efforts. “Star Trek” dubbed at Fox Studios crediting four re-recording mixers with their services, Paul Massey and Andy Nelson on dialog/music with Dave Giammarco and Anna Behlmer heading up the sound effects. One can only imagine with the amount of films the two teams mix that work had to be divided up at some point to accommodate Trek’s expanded schedule. Sound supervision, which included the oversight of eight sound designers was handled by Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin from Soundelux. Production mixer Peter Devlin handled the location sound, shooting all over socal including the Budweiser plant in Van Nuys. Michael Giacchino served as composer tracking the score at Sony’s Culver City stage. Dan from Scoringsessions.com has a great set of photos from the sessions, HERE.
DS: Early in the film, Captain Pike’s fight halting whistle nods to a trademark sound(intercom alert) harking back to the original series. Were there other sounds familiar to fans that had nontraditional roles in the film? How were other recognized sound effects(on the bridge, beaming, phasers, etc.) updated for this Star Trek?
MS: First off, I would like to make sure that the mixers on this film get the immense amount of credit they deserve in creating this soundtrack. Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson, Paul Massey, Dave Giammarco and Jim Bolt. It was an amazing effort to mix this film and deal with all the material and logistics along with presenting a point of view and ideas that helped make it the track that it is.Before the film even started shooting Alan Rankin sent me a link to a “Star Trek” fan website where somebody asked if “they” (us) were going to use the sounds of the door from the original series. Based on that comment, even before talking to JJ, it was pretty evident that we would have a devoted fan base to please. Having grown up with the original series, I was a fan of those iconic sounds myself but knew we needed to not only modernize them but make sure they were representative of the sounds that have been part of the franchise ever since the beginning. Pike’s boatswain whistle is just an example of our idea to sneak in nautical references every chance we got. Other sounds were basically inspired by what JJ had done with the visuals – either “Star Trek” staples – (buttons, communicators, and tribbles– anything with previous history) or sounds where the visuals changed (hand phasers, The Enterprise, transporters, the look of the bridge, etc).
More often than not, classic sounds were made fresh and modernized for fidelity and detail. Care was taken to maintain that 60’s analogue feel that made them so familiar. Some things did change. In the original series the hand phasers acted like a ray gun that shot out a continuous beam and in this Star Trek they recoiled like a firearm. Harry Cohen made tonal sounds with a concussive element that served what the phaser was doing along with adding a version of that neo classical space phone-like element that Ben Burtt provided to give the phaser roots in the franchise along with adapting it for the current film. If you listen to TOS’ (The Original Series) sounds you can get a good idea what was used to create some of those sounds and so we would make button pushes and electronics out of bird calls, phone rings, animals screams or comedy effects as the originals were. These sounds “felt” the same yet had their own individual characteristics. The transporter was challenging because we all wanted it to have characteristics of the original musical sound yet modernize it as well.
The visual fx of the transporter kept changing from the classic beam to a crystallization effect and finally the swirling light rings. Ann Scibelli created sounds specifically for each version as the visuals changed. The end result visually, was a combination of the swirl of light and the vertical light beam (as it was in the original series). We essentially blended the sounds of both visual styles into the sound of the transporter. One very important aspect of the sound for “Star Trek” was the human aspect. We felt it was very important that the interior of the Enterprise, though high tech, had to have a human element throughout. To that end we spent quite a bit of time with group ADR to achieve the constant hum of “business as usual” throughout the film. We also really wanted to have both the Vulcan and Romulian language spoken where possible. Romulian was the sole background language in the Narada and we were even able to use a Vulcan choir transitioning to the Amanda and Spock scene.
DS: Scenes like the space dive seemed to convey either Abram’s competency with sound direction and or trust in the ability of his sound crew. What was Abrams like to work with in regards to sound?
MS: JJ is great to work with because he is in tune with what sound can do to help tell the story along with the visceral experience sound can offer such as this one. He is also aware of the software w
e use and how it works to manipulate and create sounds. In the space jump JJ wanted the characters to be ejected out into silent space (at one point the concept was to play space in the entire film as silent) and then re- enter the atmosphere, building up sound as we went. We broke down the physics of what might actually take place. In re-entry an object would want to skip off the earths’ atmosphere or at least try to fight to break through. JJ’s direction with sound was very descriptive as they enter the atmosphere. He wanted the sound to convey a ripping through re-entry that builds as our characters enter the atmosphere.
There are many other contributing factors in the space jump that make it an exciting sequence and highlight the collaborative effort. Ben Burtt added tracking sonars and wind velocity sounds. Ann Scibelli created all the rippling/tearing re-entry sounds and the sonic boom that thrusts our character into earth’s atmosphere and Kerry Williams worked with the actors to perform the labored breathing through their masks, plus the foley team of Tom Small, Sarah Monet, Randy Singer and Robin Harlan made unique clothing and parachutes sounds for each of the three actors to make each cut unique and different. JJ’s ideas and suggestions along with everybody’s collaboration really helped make this a very unique sequence.
DS: While in space, it seems easier to establish the “star-date” with futuristic and otherworldly visuals. Back on earth where the audience relates easier to what’s on screen, what did you and your team do to make it sound like the future?
MS: Actually, to create more contrast with what the film would sound like in space we only concentrated on making the sounds of motion, electronics and machinery on earth futuristic and left everything else as normal as possible.
DS: Sitting through the credits it seemed like a very collaborative sound editorial process. In addition to all the other great sound designers on the film, what was Ben Burtt responsible for on the film? What in the mind meld sequence was done by Mangini and Binder?
MS: When Alan and I first started making sounds and planning “Star Trek” we always thought that as the demand for the delivery of sound design and sound effects intensive scenes escalated, it would be great to bring on various sound designers to help us on specific design intensive tasks. Little did we know!!!!!…besides Alan and myself, the primary sound effects team was Ann Scibelli and Tim Walston. Additionally, Harry Cohen, Scott Gershin, Ben Wilkins and David Barbee spent time on the film as well. Ben Burtt came to the film after the visual fx and picture cut were finished to lend an ear and create sounds for certain sequences that were not yet finished at the culmination of our first mix. Mark Mangini and Mark Binder came on to design the “Mind Meld” sequence where Spock mind melds with Kirk in the cave on Ruhra Penthe.
DS: It’s been said “in space no one can hear you scream” though in most films you can hear everything else. What rules were established for what the audience would hear in space? Did those rules differ scene to scene?
MS: As mentioned above, there was a concept floated at one point that we would not hear sound in space but after experimenting with an early cut of the Kelvin attack we realized that this was not very interesting in a dynamic sequence like that, (filtering, muting, etc.). However, that idea could come into play in some unexpected moments such as the crew member being ejected through the Kelvin or at the beginning of the space jump. Other than that the only rule was to serve the story while being dramatic and dynamic.
DS: What was your first gig like?
MS: My first gig was working as a runner with Bob Rutledge on a TV movie “The Scarlet and The Black”. He asked me to go to the ADR stage (loops at that time) and record some actor who just came in from Italy for two additional lines. I knew nothing of what to expect and was just supposed to walk away with the ADR recordings. In walks this dashing guy with two beautiful gals hanging all over him and all three of them gave me (this stranger to them) a hug and a kiss on each cheek. It was definitely my “Toto we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment!