'Southpaw' Sound Team Describes Creating a Realistic Boxing Experience

Sounds for the film were recorded during the Brandon Rios and Diego Chaves' 2014 bout in Las Vegas.
Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

The Weinstein Company’s Antoine Fuqua-directed Southpaw — which has earned a domestic total of $31.6 million since its July 24 theatrical debut — tells with gritty realism the story of Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), a talented but troubled boxer. And with what one member of the sound team described as the "intersection of outward action and personal introspection," coupled with James Horner's score and additional songs from Eminem, sound and music packs a powerful punch.

Southpaw was also one of the final film scores from Oscar-winning composer Horner (Titanic), who died June 22 in a plane crash. "We were deeply saddened when we heard, shortly after we finished the film, that he had passed," remembered Southpaw re-recording mixer Steve Pederson, who had actually worked with Horner for the first time, two decades ago on Apollo 13.

"He was a very sweet man, and cared so much about film, and understood the tremendous value of music," Pederson told The Hollywood Reporter. "I thought that he would be around for many more years. We might have even seen him on the next Antoine Fuqua film (a remake of The Magnificent Seven), which was the plan.

"James Horner's score is the thread throughout [Southpaw]," Pederson added. "It moves us through all the stages of Billy’s life."

The film was mixed at Sony Pictures Post Production Services. The team included re-recording mixers Pederson and Daniel J. Leahy, supervising sound editor Mandell Winter, sound designer David Esparza and production sound mixer Ed Novick.

"Antoine has a style; he’s known for gritty action," said Pederson. "In the boxing sequences, the camera is everywhere; the camera gets 'punched.' We were going for as big and brutal as it can be, because that's what it must be like in the ring at that level of competition. But equally important to Antoine was to take you frequently into the head of Jake’s character. Mixing was to be loud and bold, and then shape the sound to be different inside his head using music and design elements — it was a little bit heartbeat, subtle, and breathing, less subtle, so you feel it — and shaping and bending the reality of the sounds."

Even before production began, the team was at work, recording elements in gyms, boxing rings and arenas, which were blended with music and dialog.

Winter, Esparza and a small crew even made a trip to Las Vegas to capture crowd sounds at live prize fights, including the 2014 Brandon Rios and Diego Chaves bout. They positioned a 5.1 microphone above the press-box to record surround ambience, while recordists sat in different sections of the arena to capturing individual perspectives. "When we brought the recorded elements back to the lot, we lined them up and panned them around the mix stage to create a full spatial environment," said Esparza. "We also captured bell rings, ten second warning clappers and referees’ whistles. We ultimately used all that stuff."

Crowd noises had to be very specific, as they are a reaction to what’s happening in a bout. "Sometimes they bend toward one fighter, sometime toward the other. They are quick to turn," Esparza said.

With realism as their guide, Winter and Esparza also chose to record footsteps in gyms rather than on a Foley stage. This is because boxing rings are covered in mats and have suspension systems so footfalls tend to be muted. To make the punches "big," Esparza related that if a punch was coming from the right side, they would place the impact on the right side of the theater.

To give an abstract quality to the sound from the boxer’s point of view, the team used contact mics on their faces to create the sound of internal breathing.

Southpaw was mixed in Sony Pictures’ Cary Grant Theater with updates performed in the William Holden Theater.