07 August 2008

Holy Production Tracks, Batman!

I try to avoid reading anything about a movie I'm excited about before I see it, which is becoming more difficult in our media-saturated world. And so, I waited to read FilmSoundDaily!'s excellent articles about the sound for The Dark Knight until after I'd taken in a screening.

I've now gone twice (two short of the minimum nerd quota, but hey, I've been busy). The first was at Cinetopia in Vancouver, WA., an all-digital cinema with some of the best sound-systems I've ever heard (and this is from a former THX auditorium junkie).

The second time was in IMAX. As I wipe the drool from my chin, let me tell you that it was an absolutely amazing experience, with the same power and spectacle that the movies used to hold for me when I was a kid, before I was spoiled on DVD and home surround systems. Certain sequences of the film were shot in IMAX 70mm 15-perf, filling four stories of screen with an incredibly sharp and lushly detailed image

And the sound...huge, dynamics for days, rib-shaking lows and crystalline highs, punch-you-in-the-gut and smack-you-in-the-face, but in a good way. It was cinema as it should be: larger than life, and turned up to 11.

So, um, yeah...I liked it. :)

But the best b-chain in the world is nothing without a quality mix. FSD talks to production sound mixer Ed Novick about the challenges of getting good tracks on one of the biggest movies of the year. Snip:


FSD: Nolan said in a recent interview, “I just think separating the voice from the face and the body is very tricky… It is, after all, blatantly unreal.” With an established dislike of ADR, was Nolan more accepting of input from you on set?

EN: Chris likes to use the production sound for the final, yes. And if during shooting I can identify a problem - that’s fine. But he expects me to have a solution, as well. His method of shooting one camera at a time is very sound-friendly. I think we both agree that matching the camera perspective (wide shots sound more distant than close-ups) is correct, and that a well-positioned overhead boom mic will be better than a lavalier hidden under the clothing...

Chris made sure that sound was invited to every location scout (emphasis added). Many potential problems are solved this way, as issues like generator placement and cable-entry can be worked out in advance. This movie had a number of locations in practical office buildings, so identifying location issues (escalators, air-conditioning, elevator dings, etc…) early can help make them go away on the day. James McCallister (location manager) and his location team were terrific in this regard.


See? It can be done, folks. I've ranted previously about this very thing, and it's refreshing to see a director care as much for that ephemeral quality of sound captured in the moment. It does make a difference, and going the extra mile certainly didn't hurt the movie's bottom line. What's even more telling is this quote from Supervising Sound Editor Richard King, in his interview with FSD:

Chris likes the sound of production.I think there's maybe half a dozen looped lines in the whole movie.


King goes on to say that Novick was very diligent in getting wild tracks of anything that might have been called into question in post.

Now, I'm fully aware of why looping is so prevalent on bigger budget productions: it's the economy, stupid. It's far cheaper to have two or three editors and one actor re-record the lines in a controlled environment later than it is to make one hundred-plus crew and expensive talent hold for that plane. But you sacrifice something else when you do ADR, something that can't be replaced or imitated, that very subtle but integral connection to an event in an acoustic space. Novick and crew did their very best, with the approval and encouragement of the director, to maintain that connection, and the results speak for themselves.

FilmSoundDaily links:

Dark Knight Part One
Dark Knight Part Two
Dark Knight Part Three
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