Emmy Sound Part 1: The Johnstown Flood, a Viking Battle and 'Horror Story'

Nominated sound editors and sound mixers describe how they use sound to re-create the past or to make you feel “intentionally uncomfortable.”
Frank Ockenfels/FX
"American Horror Story"

Here’s a look at some of the Emmy nominees for sound mixing and sound editing, describing their work in their own words. Part 2 of this series will run on Tuesday.

PHOTOS: Emmy Nominations: 'American Horror Story' and 'Game of Thrones' Lead the Way

The Men Who Built America

Outstanding sound editing for nonfiction programming (single or multi-camera)

Tim W. Kelly, sound editor
Jonathan Soule, sound editor

Said Kelly: Our main goal while designing the sound was to make the audience feel they were watching a movie and not a documentary. The Johnstown Flood was an epic scene where a dam breaks and unleashes over 20 million tons of water onto a town in the valley below. The scene plays for well over five minutes with only a few lines of voiceover, which is very rare for a historical documentary. We wanted to begin the scene quietly and peacefully with elements like church bells and the sounds of a small town waking up on what they thought was an ordinary day, completely unaware of the horror that was to be unleashed. As the storm moves in, we tried to build the tension through ominous music and a soundscape that grows from a light rain to torrential downpours. When the scene reaches its climax and the dam breaks, a real challenge was making the sounds as stunning as the visual effects being seen on the screen, a town being engulfed by an enormous flood wiping out thousands of lives in a matter of minutes. Once the town had been swept away, we cut to a body underwater, and we used muffled eerie underwater effects that slowly turn to absolute silence, a stark contrast to the onslaught of sound that preceded. The sequence is concluded in an archival section. For this we stripped away all the sound effects and brought in a haunting track of music.


American Horror Story: Asylum  “Welcome To Briarcliff”

Outstanding sound editing for a miniseries, movie or a special

Gary Megregian, supervising sound editor
Steve M. Stuhr, dialogue editor
Jason Krane, dialogue editor
Christian Buenaventura, dialogue editor
Timothy A. Cleveland, sound effects editor
David Klotz, music editor
Andrew Dawson, foley editor
Noel Vought, foley artist

Outstanding sound mixing for a miniseries or a movie

Sean Rush, production sound mixer
Joe Earle, re-recording mixer
Doug Andham, re-recording mixer

The Technicolor team related: The sound landscape of American Horror Story: Aslyum was intentionally uncomfortable. The design team worked diligently with producers to fill each environment with elements of unease. From the slow wood creaks and metal strains (baby cries) of the abandoned asylum to the distant screams of agony and torture that echoed from the bowels of Briacliff, the soundscape helped support the fine line of sanity vs. insanity that Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) and her staff had to endure. Dark growls filled the tunnels beneath the asylum. Weird tonal shifts and winds filled Bloody Face’s dungeon. Distorted radio reports echoed in Dr. Arden’s strange laboratory. Vintage Nazi newsreels crashed in and snapped out. The Angel of Death moved with an airy essence. Even the repetitive and mind-numbing French classic Dominique played over and over to “settle” the patients in the day room. There existed no one scenario of American Horror Story: Asylum that wasn’t offset by the nature of the sonic design.


Vikings “Trial”

Outstanding sound editing for a series

Steve Medeiros, sound effects editor
David McCallum, dialogue editor
Brent Pickett, dialogue editor
Dale Sheldrake, ADR editor
Yuri Gorbachow, music editor
Goro Koyama, foley artist
Andy Malcom, foley artist

Explains McCallum: There’s a scene in Trial that occurs on the beach in England when the Vikings encounter a small Saxon army. It was important that the audience gets to experience the methods of Viking warfare, and it was a job for sound to remind the English-speaking audience that while the conceit for the show is that the Vikings speak in English, historically they spoke Norse and could not communicate with the English. The Vikings used a "shield wall," which is a protective shell of their wooden shields to hold off their opponents’ arrow-and-sword attacks. Holding steady, the Vikings would wait for the Saxons to tire and then at Ragnar’s command, they would open the wall in small bursts and counter with strong sword strikes only to quickly close the wall again. Here the three main challenges for sound revolved around creating a rhythm for the combat sounds, orchestrating the timing of the commands and reactions around the shield wall, and managing the language transitions, which slide from English to Norse to Anglo-Saxon. The swords and shields should sound authentic to the period while still carrying the necessary weight and power that modern audiences want to hear. For the dialogue work, we needed to convey their own confusion in dealing with an enemy who did not speak their language; to ensure proper accents and pronunciation, [the sound team] worked closely with voice coach Poll Moussoulides and the actors.