Oscars: 'Interstellar' Sound Mixer Explains Rationale Behind Controversial Mix

Interstellar Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Paramount and Warner Bros.

Interstellar Still - H 2015

This story first appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker, Mark Weingarten

The controversy that erupted over whether key dialogue in Interstellar intentionally was made inaudible had at least one unintended effect: It focused public attention on the often ignored, and just as often misunderstood, art of sound mixing. And, in the end, the members of the Academy's sound branch decided that director Christopher Nolan's team of veteran mixers was deserving of a nomination.

Nolan himself has said that the movie's sound mixing was quite intentional. And, says rerecording mixer Landaker, "[Nolan] wanted to come up with a different style … to really capture the essence of space travel. We listened to a lot of NASA recordings, including a track of the interior of a space shuttle. We experimented with lowering stuff down so that you could hear the dialogue, but then it became so unreal. The idea of these scenes is to make you feel you're straining to hear just as much as they are straining to hear each other."

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Among the most discussed scenes was one critical exchange between Michael Caine's dying professor and Jessica Chastain's Murph. "You are supposed to be on the very edge of just grasping — as much as [Murph] is grasping — for every last word," says Landaker. "You want him to [confess the truth about the mission,] but he doesn't get it all the way out. 'Just give me that word!' That's intended. Chris wants his audience to hang on just as much as Jessica is hanging on."

American Sniper
John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Walt Martin

"The story is on the screen," says Rudloff of the approach to the mix. "You want to be cautious that you don't pull the audience out of the movie by doing something that's distracting to the story."

Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano, Thomas Varga

"The music in this film is narrative," says Taylor. "When it's there, it plays big whether there's dialogue or not. Because of that, it was a balancing act between the big drums and the dialogue."

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Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano, David Lee

"When Louis [Jack O'Connell] is going through these brutal attacks, the audience has to feel a little of what he endured. The flavor and level of the hits are key," says Taylor. "If they're too over-the-top, the audience couldn't handle it and wouldn't watch it. If they're too low, the audience won't be in the moment. It was a delicate balancing act."

Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, Thomas Curley

For the musical performances, says Wilkins, "Our team played back a set of specialized tones into the space [on location] and then recorded them. Later, decoding the tones gives you the exact naturally occurring reverb of the room."