MIX Magazine recently published several articles on sound for picture. Let’s read:
You never know what fascinating world directors Joel and Ethan Coen are going to visit. Their 2009 entry was the Oscar-nominated A Serious Manabout an introspective Jewish fellow in suburban Minneapolis in the late ’60s. The year before that brought us the wacky comic caper Burn After Reading. And in 2007, they made the dark and brilliant Best Picture–winner No Country for Old Men. Now, on Christmas Day 2010, the Coen brothers return with another completely different tale—the period Western True Grit, which, rather than being a re-make of the famous 1969 John Wayne film, is a more faithful adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel.
Skip Lievsay has been working with the Coens since Blood Simple in 1984, usually in the capacity of supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer. For the last four Coen films, he’s been joined by sound designer/FX re-recording mixer Craig Berkey, and together they’ve fashioned a way of working that has streamlined the sound editorial process. The key, they say, is not delineating certain tasks as being for a temp dub and then re-doing things for the final, but creating a mix that goes through a progression.
Speaking of making audiences uncomfortable, there has been much chatter about the lengthy arm amputation scene at the heart of director Danny Boyle’s much-acclaimed 127 Hours, the filmmaker’s first effort since he won Oscar gold for Slumdog Millionaire two years ago. That film—which was honored in a slew of different categories including Best Sound (it was also nominated in the Sound Editing category)—couldn’t be more different from 127 Hours. Slumdog was teeming with the buzz and cacophony of overcrowded cities while 127 Hours focuses on the real-life ordeal of a hiker named Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) in Utah’s beautiful but desolate Canyonlands National Park. When a falling rock in a crevice traps his arm, Ralston eventually decides the only way out is to cut off much of his arm with a pocket knife. More than one critic has commented that it isn’t the visual of an arm being cut off that is most disturbing; it’s the sound, which seems to accentuate every tendon severing, every stream of blood, every cry in a nearly unbearable symphony of pain.
“That was by design, certainly,” comments sound designer and supervising sound editor Glenn Freemantle, who assembled much of the post team that worked on Slumdog, including Oscar-winning re-recording mixers Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke, and FX designer/editor Niv Adiri. Post was at Pinewood Studios in England. “It was the most pain he’s ever had amplified a hundred times. The concept was to always be with Aron sound-wise. It’s all from his perspective. We did a lot of research on how he felt and how he heard things, how he heard the bone break and all. He stabs himself and you hear the heartbeat, the rushing of blood and the release of gases. It was all how he perceived things. The strings of his nerves were like electric strings that he had to pull that sent this shocking pain that was like electrical pulses.” For that, Freemantle’s team used a combination of distorted, plucked electric guitar strings and sustained electronic noises to communicate some of the searing pain.