Emmys: How 'Game of Thrones' Sound Editors Created the Dragon's Roar

Much of what we hear in a TV series — from computer hacking ('Mr. Robot') to cars driving around Cuba ('Criminal Minds') — is the work of meticulous sound editing and mixing crews whose subtle craft viewers aren't supposed to notice.
Courtesy of USA; CBS
'Mr. Robot' and 'Criminal Minds:Beyond Borders'

What noises do dragons make? And other considerations

Mr. Robot (USA)

Much like coding itself, telling the story of computer programmer/hacker Elliot (Rami Malek) is all about attention to detail, says supervising sound editor Kevin Buchholz. "The door buzzers are accurate; I recorded a lot of them. We painstakingly matched all the keyboards. When Elliot is typing furiously, we made sure it was as if you were in the room with him. We spent so much time making sure the sync was perfect. Then it's not [the sound of] typing — it's [individual] keystrokes. Then you [match] velocity [to] what's in the scene."

Game of Thrones (HBO)

"The dragons are getting larger, so every season we need to revisit their sounds," says supervising sound editor Tim Kimmel of Formosa Group. "They're usually comprised of a lot of animals melded together. Sound designer Paula Fairfield, who's from Canada, had gone up there and recorded on a farm with animals, including some bison and moose. Also, the dragons are chained, so we needed to have the sounds of massive chains dragging and shaking as they move. [That included] recording manhole covers dragging on concrete."

Daredevil (Netflix)

Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox), who is blind, relies on his hearing. "We'd focus on the sound of a person or vehicle and 'blow it up' — making it bigger and putting an echo on it to tell the audience that he was tracking it," says supervising sound editor Lauren Stephens of Technicolor. "Sometimes he's looking for a crime being committed and would stand on the roof of his apartment. As the camera panned, I put in voices, radio sounds, car alarms. We sort through the sounds of the city with him until there's a scream or a gunshot."

Blending aural textures to give viewers a sense of place

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (CBS)

"The entire show is shot in L.A., but each week the story is set in a different location that we have to sell sonically," says rerecording mixer Frank Morrone of Technicolor, who has turned SoCal into India, Mexico and Thailand. "If the story's set in a marketplace, the crowd voices have to be in the local language, sound effects have to be native. If we're in Egypt, the ambience is totally different from France. In Cuba, the cars are not modern, and the sounds have to match the visuals."

Grease Live! (Fox)

"The key challenge was the pace," says production sound mixer J. Mark King. "The dialogue comes so quickly and unrelentingly that you have to not just live for the moment but far ahead in anticipation of what's coming. I had to memorize portions of the script so that I could be on top of getting every microphone on at the right time. … The production was spread out all over the [Fox] lot — from one stage to the next to outdoors — and yet there had to be the consistency of sound. Transitions were vital."

Homeland (Showtime)

The past season was lensed in Berlin, with much shot on location. It also was a three-camera shoot, making the logistics of where to place the boom an added challenge. Production sound mixer Ed Cantu praises director of photography David Klein and the camera department. "David, whenever possible, helped us get a boom in there. We also wired everybody," says Cantu. "In Berlin, you can't block streets in normal hours, so you have to deal with what's there. We made use of a very expensive digital directional mic."

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.