Boardwalk Empire

Nov 11, 2011 7:18 PM, By Blair Jackson



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It’s no accident that Rosenberg was tapped to be supervising sound editor—he’s a dialog specialist, and as production mixer Stettner notes, “This show is dialog-driven from the beginning. It starts with the written word on the page—and it’s brilliant—and those words and the acting inspire every craft involved with it. Not only me and camera, but the art department—everyone.”

Not surprisingly, Stettner has the most control over scenes shot on interior soundstages, while the many locations around town—including the Boardwalk set, which is in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, across the East River parallel to the Empire State Building—provide many challenges day-to-day because, well, it’s New York in 2010-’11, not 1920.

“We shoot a good deal of exteriors,” he says “and you have the age-old problem of contemporary sounds interfering. Like at the Boardwalk set: There’s a heliport right opposite on 34th Street, so if you’re shooting there, there are certain times of day that are worse than others. There’s a rush at 9:30 to 10 o’clock in the morning when the executives who get flown to work arrive. Then it quiets down, and then at noon there’s another surge of activity, and then again at 3 or 4 p.m. when those executive types go back home. When a helicopter passes, we hold it; we wait. The actors are very good about it—“Hold that thought, stay in character, back it up, okay, action!” They know they have to work around it, and they also know that if they do wait and we get it right, they won’t have to spend their days off doing ADR. They’re all great about projecting and cooperating.”

Does he have a say in the sonic appropriateness of certain locations. “No, we deal with what we have. Right before each episode starts, there’s a tech scout and I go on that, or if I can’t I’ll send one of my crew on it. So I do know what the locations are and I can see what the problems are going to be. I might say, ‘Hey, notice how close this interior is to this road that has buses? If we put a couple of bucks into putting plexi on these three windows, we’ll be able to do this better.’ Then whatever I do with the boom, I’m sure I’m going to back it up with radios in case it’s too noisy. Our goal is to limit the background as much as we can and control all the extraneous noise and really get the words that the actors say, especially if it’s one of those magic performances that really can’t be re-created [through ADR]. We want to give Fred [Rosenberg] and Tom [Fleischman] the best chance of making that work.”

Stettner’s sound cart is the same whether he’s working on a soundstage or out on location. He uses a pair of Fostex 824 8-track digital recorders, “so there’s 100-percent redundancy.” There are two hard drives and they simultaneously burn two DVDs. That’s what gets sent in for dailies—a master and a backup for Telecine.” His mixer is a Cooper Sound D208 8-channel that he’s used for years and calls “extremely stable.” His main boom mics are Sennheiser 416s—some scenes will employ two booms—and his radio mics are Lectrosonics Venue receivers and SMQ transmitters, and SonoTrim and tiny Countryman B6 lavs. “We’re lucky that nearly every man in that era wore a tie, so we can have a lav right in the knot of the tie, almost in the open,” he says. Stettner’s boom operators—Sam Perry and Peter Fonda—alternate by episode, and his trusty sound utility (or “third”) is Toussaint Kotright.

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