Director David Fincher and sound designer Ren Klyce has worked together for more than 20 years, and their ongoing partnership is one of most acclaimed collaborations in the modern film sound community. Klyce has been nominated for five Oscars – one for Fight Club, one for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, one for The Social Network and two for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Their latest work is the very successful marital thriller Gone Girl which has just overtaken The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as director Fincher’s highest-grossing film in the US. The movie is filled with so many twists and turns that you can’t really talk about it without revealing something – and this interview with Ren Klyce also contains spoilers, beware!
Among other subjects, Klyce discusses Fincher’s working methods, the film’s use of immersive ambiences and the collaboration with composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and scriptwriter Gillian Flynn.
Designing Sound: What kind of directions did David Fincher give you for the sound work?
Ren Klyce: Fincher wanted to have the environments be immersive sonically. His idea was to create vertical differences between the locations, so that the period of time when Nick and Amy were in love felt and sounded like a special place in time, versus their darker period when money troubles begin and they move to Missouri to take care of Nick’s dying mother.
DS: I really loved the use of ambiences – the insects, the radio noises and voices at the police station and the constant offscreen sounds from the crowds and cameras outside Nick’s house. How did you approach your work on these very dynamic and evocative backgrounds?
RK: While on location in Missouri, David called me and said how invasive the cicadas and crickets were and that he was concerned about the production dialogue being compromised. We decided that rather than trying to remove the insects, we should rather embrace the sounds and then expand upon them. The cicadas were a mixture of various recordings in the Southern United States by our effects editors Al Nelson and Malcolm Fife. Because there was an opportunity to play the various insects loudly, we made the decision to mix in 7.1 so that we could take advantage of the additional stereo speaker array – the idea being to pan specific insect sounds to specific speakers. That idea then gave us another thought about the voices and sounds of the reporters: that they too could be loud and invasive like the crickets, cicadas and insects, and similarly pan into the 7.1 rear array.
Fincher wanted the sound of the reporters voices to have a character to them, and to have a story-like shape that went in sync with the film’s shape: starting off mild and polite at first, then a bit more forceful, and then finally building to a feverish pitch. There is a line in the film where Nick says, “…they disliked me, they liked me, they hated me, and now they love me.” As the story becomes more twisted, David wanted the crowd to follow this shape, ultimately ending in a soft cooing and loving sound from the fans as Amy comes home. This then led to David asking writer Gillian Flynn to compose a host of lines for the various stages of ‘paparazzi’ reactions. We then gave these lines to our loop squad voice actors and recorded them outside in the field at the Lucas Ranch (rather than on an ADR stage). We used an assortment of microphone angles and had the actors perform at various distances from the microphones.
DS: One of my favorite sequences was one of Amy’s last diary voice overs where the voice had these delicate delays and manipulations which almost morphed into the music. How did your collaboration work with Trent/Atticus this time around?
RK: Getting to work with Atticus and Trent is a real treat for us, on many levels. The scene you ask about was actually one of the first music cues we mixed as we were working out of order on the reels. David Parker came up with the sound treatment on Amy’s voice-over. It was Fincher’s idea to try to go to an extreme with her voice as it was the build before the reveal where we learn Amy had schemed everything. Parker tried some reverb treatments at first, but because of the percussive nature and wide textures of the Trent and Atticus’ score during this scene, the reverb wasn’t speaking and cutting thru to Fincher’s idea. Parker then came up with a stutter like percussive delay that could enhance the high frequencies and sibilance in Amy’s voice. This delay created a nice syncopation with the score, and could sit in-between the beats.
Fincher’s approach to his soundtrack is to get everyone together early on with discussions. He mentioned to Trent that he had recently gone to get his back aligned at the chiropractor, and in the procedure room they played very soft music which Fincher called ‘spa music’. He liked the idea of how this spa music was designed to make one feel ‘relaxed’ and at ease, and what if this sound serves as the underscore. This was one of the first briefs Fincher gave to the composers and they in turn delivered a host of tracks to the picture editor Kirk Baxter. Trent and Atticus’ score does go into true dark territory as well – one of my favorite cues they composed was for the murder scene in the bedroom. They somehow created a very complicated yet articulate bass swelling sound, using some sophisticated filtering. The effect is horrifying as it feels like the life is being sucked out of Desi and at the same time speaks to Amy’s psychosis.
DS: What’s your own favorite sound sequence in the film?
RK: I think it is when Amy is in the pool and we hear the Ozark ambiences and a distant motor-cross bike going over the hills.