Each movie has its own creative approach to its sonic experience, and for the Academy Award-nominated sound editing and mixing teams — this year nominated as one in a newly combined category for best sound — they worked in lockstep to meet those goals.
For instance in Amazon’s Sound of Metal, punk-metal musician Ruben, played by Riz Ahmed, experiences hearing loss, and director Darius Marder and the sound team deftly delivers the drummer’s aural point of view. “When you lose your hearing, your eardrums are not functioning anymore, your body (tissue, bones cavities) continues to feel the sound and your brain constructs something which looks like sounds,” supervising sound editor and designer Nicolas Becker relates. “You can have a similar experience when you are underwater: Your eardrums are not functioning, but the tissues and the bones transmit the vibration directly to the cochlea.”
This informed the film’s sound, which Becker says aims to “mimic as close as possible the way [deaf] people get sound through their body.” The team also incorporated Ahmed’s “inner body sound,” taking recordings with a range of microphones including a stethoscope mic on the actor’s chest, a geophone mic on his skull, and a waterproof lavalier microphone in his mouth.
Authenticity was the name of the game in Apple TV+’s World War II naval drama Greyhound. Director Aaron Schneider “had come to the table very well prepared with a portfolio photographs and descriptions of the way he wanted the movie to be made and equipment that he wanted the actors to use as prompts,” relates production sound mixer David Wyman. “It was a big picture conversation about how do we incorporate 1940s period-correct equipment and our sound so that the actors can be fully immersed in the period and every scene.”
Supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer Michael Minkler notes that while they had access to existing WWII material, “we wanted to customize every one of those sounds, every little sound that if we don’t like it, we replace it. If we like it, we’ll enhance it. Almost nothing is left alone. You want to be authentic, but we still want it to be a movie.”
Realism was the brief for Paul Greengrass’ period Western News of the World for Universal. “Paul Greengrass really likes to hear things as naturally as possible,” explains production sound mixer John Pritchett, citing as an example that “there’s tons of crowd scenes in this. “Normally when we do crowd scenes we’d had the crowd basically pantomime action. But he didn’t want to do it that way because it didn’t feel real to him, also it’s a strong motivator for [lead actor] Tom Hanks to have those real sounds [on set]. So we let the crowd go crazy and even added more crowds in post.” Period gun shots and other sound effects also added authenticity in post.
David Fincher wanted his period film Mank to sound as though it was made around 1940. “First, we made it as pristine as we could, as if we wanted it to sound like a modern-day film,” explains supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer Ren Klyce. “Then we took that entire mix, and we ran it through a process which we collectively called the ‘patina effect,’ where we ‘aged’ that sound. And the third sound that David wanted to have is [for] the audience to feel as if they were watching the film in an old-fashioned movie theater with an echo. That was the marching orders for the film: ‘I want the movie to sound like it’s old, it’s monophonic, it’s lousy, and I want it to sound like we’re in the movie theater that’s from the 1940s.'”
Klyce — who was also the supervising sound editor/designer and rerecording mixer on Pixar’s Soul — describes a very different approach to the animated nominee, which is set in both contemporary New York City and the film’s imaginary pre- and post-life realms. “Pete [Docter] knew he wanted to have a completely different palette of sound and music for [each] environment,” he says.
For the Great Before, an ethereal setting where young souls find their personalities, he says, “it was really important to Pete at that point in the film that we, through the character of Joe, feel safe, feel peaceful and feel like this is a very relaxing, nurturing environment.”