Thanks go out to the sound editorial crew for A Nightmare on Elm Street for taking time out to answer few questions about their work on the film!
AC = Sound Supervisor Andrew DeCristofaro
MP = Supervising Sound Effects Editor Michael Payne
DF = Sound Designer David Farmer
DS: Director Samuel Bayer stated in interviews that he wanted to keep the dreams in “NOES” rooted in reality. Did this ring true for the dream’s sound design?:
AC: It does. We tried to ground the dream sequences with “real life” anchors. Some were obvious, and some were almost subliminal. For example, during Kris’s nightmare when she is outside looking for her dog, you hear “real life” sounds in her backyard that put her and the audience on notice. We hear some wind, wind chimes, a night bird… but if you listen carefully to the night bird you realize that the sound it makes begins with Freddy’s new signature sound of him “scissoring his finger knives” and quickly morphs into the wing flaps of the bird. It’s subtle, but effective. In general, we made an effort to have our design feel organic in nature. If anything felt “processed” we usually would modify that element to keep things sounding more natural.
DF: Well of course we couldn’t tip the audience that we’re in a dream, if they’re not supposed to know that yet, or we’d ruin the surprise. It’s tricky though, because today’s audience expects the tricks & mis-directs. They’re hard to fool. I’d say in the end, we DID have to reign ourselves in. Whenever we’d get too over-the-top, it wouldn’t work for the film. So in several places, like Kris’ death sequence for example, the first & second passes through that were much larger with jet whooshes & the like. We wound up with a track that is still hyper-real, but is more in the realm of reality.
DS: The dream sequences in the beginning of the film transition in and out of the real world noticeably where as later in the film they jump back and forth more secretively. How did the sound transitions in and out of dreams evolve along with the storyline?
AC: The filmmakers were very concerned about when we were in a dream vs. reality. We set the “sonic rules” of this early on in the film, so that later we could bend and/or break those rules for effect.
MP: The producers, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller, along with picture editor Glen Scantlebury and, of course, director Samuel Bayer, all worked closely together with our sound crew in pretty much every aspect of the film’s audio track. While they gave us a lot of room to try out whatever we thought might be scary and cool, they also were very firm about certain aspects of the sound design, such as when the audience should know it’s in a dream or not. Near the beginning of the film, the filmmakers wanted the dreams to be more apparent, to help sell the audience on the whole dream vs. reality atmosphere of the film. But as you get further into the film, the filmmakers wanted to sometimes fool the audience into thinking a scene was in reality when in fact they were in one of Freddy’s nightmarish dreams. So those decisions were usually made by the filmmakers, and we simply facilitated what they wanted.
DS: Can you talk a little about the supermarket sequence and how you handled the rapid-fire jumps from dream to reality?
MP: From the beginning, the filmmakers had a major concern about the sound of the very last jump from dream to reality (not in the supermarket sequence, but at the very end of the film, when the heroine Nancy pulls Freddy out from the dream world and into the real world to kill him). The filmmakers wanted strong, bold sound design to sell the idea of transporting from one dimension into another, and that’s where we started playing with the huge crack-thumps that we came up with as the “dimensional rip” sound effect. Once we got the sounds right for that final scene, we then went back to the supermarket sequence and used the same approach and elements. The sounds actually play better in the supermarket scene, since the visuals really help underscore the changing dimensions.
AC: Mike does a great job explaining the evolution of the “dimensional rip” that we came up with for this sequence. The final piece of design for this sequence was really done on the dub stage. There is a lot of information going on in this sequence and it is coming at you pretty fast. The re-recording mixers, Kevin O’Connell and Beau Borders did a fantastic job of letting us hear the distorted music from the drugstore, the boiler room, the “dimensional rip” sound design, etc… We had all the pieces, but our mixers made the magic happen!
DF: I came on late in the project, and the teams before me had done a nice job on this that the clients liked. We tried to preserve what had been done, adding a few sweetners here & there.
DS: In the film, Freddy has a signature sound for his bladed hand; what was it constructed from? Did you sneak hints to that sound as a foreshadowing device or transition from one shot to the next?
MP: Our foley artists, Gary Hecker and Catherine Rose — who work out of the ToddAO-West Lantana facility — created most of the “finger-knives” sound effects using a variety of long blades: machetes, bayonets, Titanium martial arts swords. To help the blade shing ring out longer, they even sweetened the blades with a ringing Tibetan bell. Gary and Catherine are very “design-heavy” foley artists, in that they look at foley NOT as simply covering the sounds of footsteps and hand props, but instead as a valuable resource for creating new sound effects that you’ve never heard before. Although we had lots of great blade sounds in our library (originally created for other blade-centric horror movies), the new sounds Gary and Catherine came up with just seemed sharper, deadlier, and somehow more evil. And, yes, we did occasionally use these and similar blade-like sounds in other aspects of the sound design, simply to echo his finger-knives. As you mentioned, the blades essentially became Freddy’s “signature” sound, and we tried to sneak it in where we could.
AC: As Mike said, our Foley team created some great “surgically sharp” elements for Freddy’s knives. We used these elements throughout the film, in the obvious places, but also in stings, hidden in the bird wings, etc. We also used them for some of our transitions in or out of dreams. For example when Kris has a dream in class, the new blade “snip” is what snaps us back to reality… along with a lock of Kris’s hair. Initially we probably had too many knife sounds peppered in the film and found that less is more.
DS: Transition stings seem like a lot fun to cut in horror films due to their startling nature. Do the sounds that comprise the sting have to be related to the shot? What makes a perfect transition sting?
AC: Stings are tough. To be effective they need to be shocking enough to jar your nerves. The problem with stings is that they are not a “satisfying” scare. If you have too many of them, the audience will become annoyed. There is a scene where Jesse shows up outside Kris’s window. Initially we had a more “traditional” sting here, but we all felt we were over staying our welcome with stings. So to mix things up, we used a LOUD window bang. This still jars the audience’s nerves, and gives us a shock, but because it is tied to a real world event, it doesn’t feel “stung.” So the elements can be real like the window example, or comprised of all sorts of goodness.
DF: The thing about stings is, you can’t do too many of them or you bore the audience. You can only get away with a handful, because they have diminishing returns. The filmmakers were accutely aware of this, and we went round and round trying to make them different from each other, and to not insult the audience by putting too many of them in. But I’d say no, the content of the sting just has to convey whatever emotion is on screen. Sometimes they’re sharp with a crack, and sometimes there’s a lot of movement in them.
MP: That question is ironically funny… because the answer is, frankly, we have no idea what makes the perfect transition sting. The stings were some of the hardest challenges we had on this film, and certainly they were the element we recut and changed the most. And that is due to the subjectiveness of stings; stings are essentially music, and in the same way where you have some people who love the Rolling Stones and others who can’t stand them, the same is true for stings — they are so subjective that every individual person is going to have a differing opinion. So all you can try to do is please the filmmakers and please yourself, and just know that there are some people who aren’t going to be pleased.
DS: Freddy’s tone of voice is a lot more menacing in this film than the original which seemed more playful. How did you guys treat his vocals and performances? Was it mostly ADR due to Jackie Earle Haley’s prosthetics?
MP: Freddy’s voice was completely looped for the entire movie. Both the filmmakers and the actor, Jackie Earle Haley, wanted to play around with different performance ideas (they tried playful, they tried menacing, they even tried a version where Freddy’s voice had a slurring gurgle in it due to being a burn victim). It was a process of trial and error, seeing which performance of each line best suited the drama of the scene. Then we took the filmmaker-approved takes of the recorded ADR and treated his voice, pitching it down slightly while pumping up the energy of the audio recording and then sonically twisting it just enough to give it an almost other-worldly, dreamlike quality.
AC: The filmmakers wanted to get back to the “original” tone that Freddy had in the first “NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET”. He was much darker and scarier in the original, and really, only in the sequels did he become more of the sarcastic, joke telling Freddy. There is a bit of that in this film, but it is meant to be a much darker Freddy that is closer to the original. With that in mind we recorded Jackie Earle Haley in ADR with an almost intimate level of projection. We found that Jackie had these very rich tones in his voice when he was delivering his lines this way. Then David Farmer came up with a processing chain that really brought out those deep, dark tones, but didn’t go too far to make his voice sound false.
DF: Vocal processing for a principle speaking character is one of those touchy areas. People always want one of those “something we’ve never heard before” approaches, but in reality, you just can’t go very far with it before it sounds processed and un-natural.
How did you approach the sounds for the main titles sequence? How much freedom did you have to conjure up what you wanted?
DF: As is typical, the inspiration came from what is on screen. The speed & impression of the images as well as the picture edits, really drive the first round. I don’t think I’ve ever done a sequence like this where the music wasn’t numero uno, so I did my best to complement the music and not distract the audience. Luckily, I had the final music to work to, which, in my opinion, was crucial to having the FX work. If I had been working against anything other than final music, odds are the FX would not have worked and been dropped. There were lots of places sound COULD go, but my approach was to start with as few places as I could, watch it down again and add sounds where I felt something was lacking in the “composition” (and here I mean the FX and Music together). I knew the FX would be pulled back a lot, so in several places I added a lot more smooth bottom end than would play at a higher volume. As a result the impression still plays, but doesn’t get in the way. As far as freedom goes, we were given carte blanche for this. I made a pass through, and so did Stephen Robinson. Andrew, Mike, Steve Durkee (music editor) and I listened to it down a few times to see what we’d like to present to the clients. It was great to have Steve’s take on it since he’d have a great ear for what would bother the music. Since we’d been given a blank slate as far as direction goes, we wanted to put our best effort out the first time. We did do a mix on it with Kevin & Beau before we presented it to the clients, too, so they’d hear it as we intended. We crossed our fingers, played it for the clients, and their reaction was “it’s cool”. We tweaked one or two things, but at that point it was mostly just fine tuning the mix.