Could The Hurt Locker Take Sound Oscars?

Mar 1, 2010 6:50 PM, By Blair Jackson



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We cued probably 300 to 400 lines just to have it, but we really liked the performances. Later, we went to the ADR stage—me and Kathryn with our ADR cue sheets—and the actors were rolling in with their lattes and donuts—it just didn’t work. [Laughs] The shoot was really hard on everybody, but that’s one reason I think it came out so well. The actors became, sort of, what they were in the movie. Because the situations they were in were really hard—it was like 120 degrees, you’re wearing a 100-pound suit and armor and they’re sleeping in tents—they were far away from hotels most of the time. So when we shot the ADR it was almost impossible to get the same performances out of them.

So we ended up working really hard on the dialog. Robert Troy [dialog editor] did a fantastic job on it. We had at least eight mics going in every single setup there, so there was lots to choose from.

Where did you post?
At Sony in Culver City [Calif.]. We shot most of the ADR there. Foley we shot outside, and then I ended up mixing it at Sony on the small stage over there on a DAW.

I suppose there were some budget constraints…
Oh, yes! [Laughs] Sometimes you take a movie because you have to pay the bills, and sometimes you take it because you feel you have to do it—this was one of those movies. When I hired the crew, I told them the same thing: “This one you’re not doing it for the money, you’re going to love this.” Once you know your limitations, though, you just work the way you have to work within that.

Did you do much original effects recording?
A fair amount. I also had a lot of my own library material that I’d recorded through the years. Ray Beckett also recorded a lot out in the Middle East from the set, and some of that was live things they were shooting. Then I also went out and did some [ordinance] recordings out in the desert here about half-way to Las Vegas.

But I’ve probably never recorded this much Foley on any other movie I’ve worked on.

That makes sense because so much of it is an intimate perspective, where you’re either hearing it from the main character’s POV or, at the very least, you’re right there on top of the action.
That’s right. It was important to be able differentiate the main character from the others. Even when the camera’s moving, I was doing things mixers usually would not do. I would pan dialog and Foley with him, so I needed a lot of coverage because often they stick Foley in the center and it lives there because that’s where the dialog is sitting and usually people don’t pan dialog because it becomes a nightmare. But I said we needed to do that because we’re playing it from the perspective of you being this person, so when the guy is talking from the left I want to hear it from the left, and then when the camera moves over we bring it into the center, and whatever Foley we had needed to follow that. But then we also needed Foley for the guy on the right side, so mixing it was not easy because you had to really differentiate what sounds came from where.

Foley was done independently by a couple of guys—Alex Ulrich [Foley artist] and John Sanacore [Foley mixer]. They rented a place and did great work.

Tell me about that scene at night after the suicide bombing, where you don’t see that much, but you can hear helicopters and screams in the distance. It’s very strange and trippy. Is that something you discussed in detail with Kathryn in advance?
We talked about everything, but mostly in broader strokes: How we needed it to sound real, but also every scene we needed to play it like there wasn’t music because we didn’t know which ones we were going to use music in and which we weren’t.

That part of the movie was basically like a depiction of hell. We have the Americans there and the Iraqi police and all these people who’ve been killed. Just a lot of havoc and chaos and not knowing what’s going on. So we talked about the importance of communicating that. It’s true what you said—there’s so much sound there that isn’t on the screen, and that was to sell what the scene was about. It’s the scene that shows how it affects so many people. They’re all walking around confused; it’s the biggest bomb they’ve seen.

Did you have effects stems of multiple helicopters that you could then pan, or screams, flames? There’s a lot there…
I started the sound design of it as we were cutting it and working on it, but I never mixed out of stems because there were so many things to do I couldn’t lock anything in too early. So I ended up predubbing it but keeping it live on individual channels. I had around 300 tracks running there on the FX and dialog side, and then we had about 60 on the music side—and I was the only guy mixing it.

It was a very emotional mix. I always tried to convey the feeling of the person we were with [in the film]. Technically, I think it is a very different mix from what most are used to.

Well, you’re going for gritty.
It had to be what the character was feeling or the sense of pressure, which is hard to communicate. I built the helicopters up for that scene, and there was also a lot of group [ADR] with kids, women, boys, men, screaming. We shot with real Iraqi refugees so we were very true to it. It was very intense for all of us. Even a lot of the Iraqis in the film are Iraqi refugees, as well. The guy who has the bomb strapped on him [in a key scene] was a big-time actor in Iraq before all hell broke loose.

I really like the “home” scenes in the film, too.
That’s where you get a sense of how destroyed he is. He gets into the supermarket and he is so uncomfortable and so far out of it, but then you see the confidence of when he walks up to a bomb that can kill him and everyone else around him. Kathryn did an amazing job of showing those sides of him.

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