One Sound Designer's Very Busy Year: From 'Everest' to 'Steve Jobs,' 'Brooklyn' and 'Ex Machina'

Oscar winner Glenn Freemantle offers a look at the storytelling of sound in his latest projects.
'Everest'

Sound designer and supervising sound editor Glenn Freemantle — who won an Oscar in 2014 for Gravity — had a busy year on the sound-editing teams of a collection of high-profile films including Everest, Steve Jobs, Brooklyn and Ex Machina. Each, of course, had its own unique challenges in telling the story through sound.

Speaking of Everest and Steve Jobs, Freemantle said: “When it’s a true story, you feel a lot of responsibility to create a complete realism.” That included recording sound at the Mount Everest base camp, as well as in the Alps.

When recording dialogue, castmembers including Jason Clarke wore weight belts and were lying on the floor in order to capture the discomfort of the restricted situation. "They were going through excruciating pain trying to re-create that," said Freemantle. "It makes you feel like you're in that situation."

When they were on the 007 stage at the U.K.'s Pinewood Studios, where scenes at the Hillary Step and summit were filmed, "production brought in snow and ice. ... Also, each night we sprayed their outfits with water and put them in freezers so, when we were shooting, it was how it would sound," said Freemantle.

For realism in Steve Jobs, the sound team took to the Internet to locate a 1984 Macintosh and a 1998 iMac, the subjects of two key product launches portrayed in the movie and for which the script required authentic sounds. "We bought them so the sounds would be exactly as they should be," said Freemantle. "They are iconic products, so we wanted to make sure, even if the actor is touching it, the product has the right sound."

For period drama Brooklyn, sound was used to convey the emotional journey of a young woman who moves from Ireland to start a new life in New York. "The idea is, from this little community, she's thrust into this world that she never experienced before. So it's slightly hyperreal — the traffic, the stores," said the sound designer, adding that the sound also mirrored the character's point of view in New York: sounding more unsettled at first and then the sound change as she settles into the environment. "The sound helps to tell that culture shock."

In Ex Machina, the sound team's challenge was Ava, a humanlike robot with artificial intelligence. "It was about giving her a sexuality, rather than a robotic sound, because in the film, [the protagonist] has to fall in love with her. If it was fully robotic, that would be a barrier. We got different types of gyros and crystals off the Internet and recorded them with contact mics [in different situations] ... through water, and I wanted to record some through oil because I wanted soft movements. I wanted to create these soft, organic sounds that weren't mechanical, that became the sounds of her body. And we gave her a sort of heartbeat rhythm when she first arrives; the idea is that he had something to attach himself to, and she would become this thing of beauty."

A final note: The dangers that were being documented in Everest became very real when, during some work on location, a small team from the production witnessed the aftermath of the worst tragedy in Everest’s history. The crew was shooting plates and recording sound at base camp in April 2014 when a 31 million-pound block of ice crashed down onto the climbing route through the Khumbu Icefall, killing 16 Sherpas. "After the accident, the government closed the mountain down," releated Freemantle. "We had recorders up there at the time. ... But we got the cycle of what the days were like."

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