'Salt' Sound

Jul 27, 2010 3:30 PM, By Tom Kenny



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While music drives the film, the effects track, and its give-and-take with the score, keeps the pace. At times it’s relentless, but it never turns bombastic. Phil Stockton and Paul Hsu, out of C5 in New York, co-supervised the film, with Hsu concentrating on design and Stockton overseeing the dialog and overall delivery at the final.

“I had never worked with them before,” says Russell, “and they delivered stellar material, sounds that put us in these very real environments. Some fantastic city sounds, and the technical wizardry of all these control rooms, the beeps and boops in the interiors. Great explosions, great vehicle sounds, and I really loved the gun work. I think people will notice that the weapons have a fat, punchy but crisp sound. You feel them in your chest without being overcooked.”

At the final, Russell went out to about 10 or 11 5.1-channel hard effects predubs at any one time, with another 40 channels of props and 40 channels of footsteps from the Foley team per reel. It’s a busy movie, filled with location shoots across a lot of urban environments, hand-to-hand combat, principals on the run and lots of crowds. “There are a lot of human beings in this movie,” Russell says, “and human beings can get busy. There had to be an enormous amount of Foley to bring out the detail, and Dan O’Connell and his team did an amazing job of walking this film.” Marko Costanzo assisted the Foley walking, with recording by George A. Lara.

Particular attention was also paid to backgrounds in this film, as the characters move constantly and the tracks serve to anchor the audience in reality. When Mix first visited the Novak Theatre in early June, Russell and Haboush had just started their first passes, and Russell was knee-deep in BGs, eventually ending up with four “5-3” predubs, meaning four each in a 5.0 and 3.0 format to give himself separation and flexibility at the final. The BGs also serve to spin the characters in and out of a few key flashback sequences that help illuminate character.

While BGs and Foley provide the glue for the effects track, in a very busy film such as Salt, it’s the big sequences that the audience will remember, and there is no shortage here. Though Noyce preached from the beginning that the track always needed to be looked at in its entirety, to the extent that he calls it remixing, a few key scenes stand out for Russell.

“I loved her initial escape sequence, where she goes over the overpass,” he says. “It’s in the trailer, so I’m not spoiling anything. But she launches herself off an overpass, lands on a semi truck, jumps from vehicle to vehicle while they chase her, then she crashes and is up and off on a motorcycle.

“Phil [Stockton] and his team also provided an array of very cool explosions,” he continues. “In one particular scene, at a pretty dramatic moment in the film, we have a design-reversed sound effect that ties right into a very crisp button-click with a high-frequency ping into a huge dynamic explosion. It’s a concussive impact that goes right through your body. It’s a unique sound, that concussive impact, and it’s one of my favorites in the movie. Then again, there are a lot of moments like that.”

By all accounts, Noyce has a discerning ear and was deeply involved, down to the most minute changes, in the track. He wanted to feel a lot of sound, and he wasn’t afraid to pan around the room to open up space for the audience to hear it all.

“I’ve always believed in using sound as an ‘emotionator,’ if I can make up a word,” Noyce laughs. “No sound is innocuous, no musical note is innocuous. They simply exist. Whether it’s the rustle of the wind, the sound of birds, the footsteps or the strings, they all have a dramatic and an emotional purpose within the soundtrack.

“We set out at the beginning of the sound work with a number of objectives,” he continues. “One was to ensure that as a ride, Salt is relentless. Once the audience gets on, we want the roller coaster to never stop. The audience has nowhere to hide, you just hold on and hope you get to the end with your brain intact. That means you are trying to create incessant rhythms of sound. There can be no pause. You’re trying to hit them and hit them and hit them as if you have them against a wall, punching them. But you want them to feel as if you’re just stroking them, because you want them on the edge of their seats wanting more. Every time they might want to feel like a pause, there’s another sound ricocheting into the next sound, that’s bouncing forward into the next one. And they keep going within a rhythm that’s relentless. The trick is to find the right level, and I don’t mean volume. I mean the right level of complexity without ever being bombastic.”

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