'Blade Runner 2049': The Secrets Behind its Suggestive Sound

Blade Runner 2049 Still 3 - Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

Oscar-winning supervising sound editor Mark Mangini describes creating a dystopian future.

What did it take to immerse audiences in a dystopian future in Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049? Supervising sound editor and Oscar winner Mark Mangini (Mad Max: Fury Road) talks with The Hollywood Reporter and describes some of the extensive work, from an oppressive Los Angeles to Wallace's Zen-like office. He also raises questions about why sound pros are frequently absent from main title credits.

What was the overall approach to the sound that you discussed with Denis Villeneuve?

One of the interesting ideas and approaches that Denis had was that, and I think it’s a pretty fresh idea, sound should start when production starts. And sound can, in fact, inform the edit as it is occurring. And that’s not the way movies are traditionally made, but Denis, who is an extremely smart filmmaker, saw the value.

Tell us about creating the sound of Los Angeles in 2049.

It’s overcrowded, it pounds a lot. It’s organic and mechanical and not shiny and modern. That was definitely a design aesthetic. I think another aspect to that is this idea that we’ve gone one level further in Los Angeles in terms of over-crowding and the assemblage of this multicultural society. We want to feel immersed in sound because it creates this sense of oppression — that you just couldn’t escape people and advertisements. We’re crowding your space.

Most of my work started with going out doing lots of field recording using microphones and recorders to catch real sounds that then would be then manipulated in the studio to other things later. Probably the most significant was rain. Here in Los Angeles, we were blessed with a once-in-a-century set of storms in January and February. So, I was out recording those rainstorms, as well as the sound of rain on windshields for the Spinners [flying vehicles] flying in the rain.

And in contrast, what was your goal for Wallace [Jared Leto]'s office?

[Sound designer] Theo [Green] and I were working on a sound that underscored the threat of Wallace. We made him a dark, sinister person. So we had rumbles and dark sounds that in a way were duplicating what he was doing in his performance. But what Denis wanted was more akin to a feeling of Zen, quiet and peacefulness. That’s how he finds his calm. So we ended up, among other things, using wind chime melodies as the kind of featured component of the Wallace offices.

What are your recent observations about placement of sound credits?

It’s an important topic, because I think sound has been regularly and for decades under-recognized in terms of credits. It’s the one filmmaking craft that is almost uniquely excluded from its proper recognition with the rest of the crafts.

What we know is that the studios have policies that exclude sound from the main title credits, or the credit block, and that’s a function partially of the unions and guilds that have negotiated contracts and the studios rightfully abide by them. That means either a director has to specifically state [a credit change] when they make their deal — and that is really rare — or most often someone like myself, as I did on Blade Runner, went to the director. I said, "Sound is such an important aspect of the film and it would be meaningful to myself and Theo Green to be recognized with the other artists and contributors." Denis immediately said "of course" — he didn’t even know it was something that wouldn’t automatically happen. So he put into motion a series of events that resulted in us receiving a single card credit for which I am deeply grateful and proud. It was a complex and frustriating process ...  I had to fill out a form justifying why this contribution went "above and beyond" the normal contribution that sound makes to a motion picture. I found that offensive, that only in rare circumstances would sound be accorded equal recognition. ... We are all part of a collaborative team.

After I had negotiated this, I saw the first draft of the [Blade Runner] credits, and saw [rerecording mixers Ron Bartlett and Doug Hemphill] were way down in the credit roll. I went to Denis, [who] got them a single card in spacing in the roller, in a much more significant [position].