‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’ Sound Designer on Creating Halloween Horror

Peter Brown, who also worked on the ‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension’ and ‘The Last Witch Hunter,' said of creating horror sounds: "the only secret is hard work and experimentation; each film has its own demands."
Screengrab/Machinima
'Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse'

Halloween 2015 came early — actually more than a year early — for supervising sound editor-sound designer Peter Brown of sound postproduction studio Formosa Group.

While Furious 7 is among his recent credits, this past year's work includes Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (which opened this weekend) and Oct. 23 releases The Last Witch Hunter and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension.

Brown loves to scare audiences, but he admits there isn’t one formula to creating the sounds that he applies to the genre. “The only secret is hard work and experimentation; each film has its own demands. None [of the recent titles] fall into the genre of traditional horror."

Peter Brown (Photo provided by Formosa Group)

Scouts was a fun romp and the effects are supposed to extenuate the horror and the fun,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The great thing for sound guys is you get to chop [zombies] to pieces or set them on fire. But they are zombies, and this gave us a change to make some visceral sound.”

Brown cites as an example that the scouts fight back by creating a unique set of weapons, including a whirling knife machine. His team used a weed wacker and recorded the sound of it going through everything from watermelons to pumpkins, celery and wood.

“It made a mess in my backyard, he admits. “I thing we are still picking up splattered pumpkin.”

In contrast, Brown noted that Paranormal Activity is intended to sound as it if was found footage captured by a standard mic.

“It freed us up to use more consumer grade recorders — then we could abuse them,” Brown said. “One recurring sound in the film was just a camera being dropped to get glitches. Even recording on my iPhone was useful. Things you would typically clean out, we would stick in because technical glitches lent an air of authenticity."

“We also did a ton of practical recording,” he continued. “They gave us access to the locations and we recorded impulse responses — a sonic fingerprint. When it got to the mixing stage, we could take that sound and pass it through some reverb units, and it sounded like it was created [live]. That's how shooting in L.A. really helped with the sound process.”

The sound pro described The Last Witch Hunter as a “full on action extravaganza where you are allowed to go larger than life. … One of the aims of [director Breck Eisner] was to create an entirely new world. Even though it takes place in modern day New York, there’s a history for the heroes in that they have been hunting witches for 800 years. We had four worlds: modern-day New York, Dark Ages Europe, their memories, and the ‘shadow realm.’ When you are given that kind of a backdrop, the sky’s the limit.”

Brown particularly enjoyed the research that went into creating the sounds of different spells as well as incantations. “We actually used an ancient form of Greek, and there was a linguist [that worked with the team]," he related. "We processed them so they sounded like they were coming from another universe. It was a great way to add one type of sound treatment to expand the layers of the universe.”

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