I caught up with Looper’s composer Nathan Johnson to talk about the dynamics between his sound-based score, the sound design of the film and between himself and director Rian Johnson. What follows is part of the transcription of our Skype conversation.
Can you talk about the dynamics between your sound-intensive soundtrack and the sound design of the film?
For any movie, I come on board mainly with the predominant thought to serve the director’s vision. I think that everyone involved in the movie is hopefully following that same approach. Rian (Johnson, director on Looper) has such a clear direction and such a clear idea of where everything is going…but he’s really open to collaboration as well. I think that’s probably a testament to Rian because he’s the ‘master in the middle’ pulling everything together and bringing all these disparate elements to the same park to play nicely together.
David Sonnenschein, the author of Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice, and Sound Effects in Cinema and founder of SoundDesignForPros.com, has a new project. 3 Deaf Mice is an audio-music discovery game (initially targeted for PCs and Macs) where the mice need help in designing their next hit song. It aims to enhance listening skills and creativity with sonic treasure hunts and puzzles. Thanks to Aurelien Folie for this interview with David about the game and the sounds that make it.
3 Deaf Mice just launched as a Kickstarter project. Show your support by checking it out!
What is 3 Deaf Mice?
3 Deaf Mice is a game aimed toward our sound design community and beyond, where you discover the root of listening and how we create through sound. We do it through the story of the 3 Deaf Mice, who have been playing loud music for too long and have lost their hearing, so the player has to help them make their next hit song. To do this, the player has to perfect their abilities to listen to the world in different ways. By solving sonic treasure hunts and audio puzzles, they’ll be able to piece together a song called “Cheatin’ the Trap”, which consists of 10 verses, 10 tracks, and 10 game play levels. Once the player has made it all the way through the game, unlocking all 10 tracks and 10 verses, they’ll be able to create their own remix by manipulating all the elements of the song. We’ll also expand this into contests for the community to interact with one another.
Skip Lievsay needs almost no introduction: He is one of the most distinguished and prolific sound editors in the movie business. His many collaborations with The Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Jonathan Demme, to name just a few, are often considered classics. Lievsay has been nominated for four Academy Awards, two for No Country for Old Men and two for True Grit. He is a New Yorker but has been working in Los Angeles for several years. Recently, he moved back to NYC and talked with Designing Sound at a new Warner-sponsored sound facility on Manhattan. Part 1 of this interview can be found here.
DS: Skip, I’ve picked some different titles you worked on where I think there’s a very interesting interaction between music and sound effects – I’d love to hear your thoughts about the work. I wanted to go back in time and start out with a true classic: Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. I’ve heard Tom Fleischman talk a lot about his wonderful mix of the film but I don’t think I’ve heard much from you about how you did the sound effects for the film. I think one thing is to mix the film, another thing is to kind of use the songs almost like a foundation for your sound effects, which I thought was very creatively done.
SL: Yeah, it’s interesting… Marty’s really, really committed to that thing of drama and music. And in those days music was all about songs – songs from his youth and pop songs of the moment, of the day. In Goodfellas he wanted to use Layla by Eric Clapton, and as Marty and Eric had become friends on The Last Waltz, Eric said that Marty could use Layla, and he said that he would take, I think it was 50.000 dollars. That created a baseline so that they could then go to all the other players and say: “Well, Clapton’s giving us Layla for 50.000. So we wanna get that song from you for no more than 50.000”. And that enabled them to put together the 50 or 60 songs that were in the movie without it costing, you know, 50 million dollars just for the cues.
March was kind of a banner month for us wasn’t it?! There was a lot of enthusiasm about exploring the intersection of sound design and music. So please check out all of the excellent contributions from the community, and leave a comment to thank those people who donated their time to the subject.
Like I said, an amazing response from the community. Thanks to everyone who contributed! Remember to contact us if you have something you’d like to share with the community. Tomorrow beings an exploration of DSP environments. While some other sites will be having their “April Fool’s” fun, we’ll be staying out of the shenanigans. Thanks for a great March!
Skip Lievsay needs almost no introduction: He is one of the most distinguished and prolific sound editors in the movie business. His many collaborations with The Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Jonathan Demme, to name just a few, are often considered classics. Lievsay has been nominated for four Academy Awards, two for No Country for Old Men and two for True Grit. He is a New Yorker but has been working in Los Angeles for several years. Recently, he moved back to NYC and talked with Designing Sound at a new Warner-sponsored sound facility on Manhattan.
DS: Skip, thanks for taking time out to do this.
SL: My pleasure.
DS: The theme should be: Music and sound design. And I wanted to start out by asking you about your background. Are you a musician yourself or do you have a musical background?
SL: I started playing in rock bands when I was around 10. And that carried through high school pretty much. And I have some instruments that I play every other day. I started out with the guitar. And in my band they already had a guitar player, so I switched to bass. And like all great sound people I still play bass. I couldn’t say I’m a musician. I’d say I’m a dabbler more than anything. It’s entertaining and I enjoy it, but I don’t… To say I was a musician would defraud people like Terence Blanchard and Miles Davis.