Behind the sounds of 'Blade Runner 2049' with Oscar-winning sound editor Mark Mangini - Silver Screen Beat
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Behind the sounds of ‘Blade Runner 2049’ with Oscar-winning sound editor Mark Mangini

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Mark Mangini
MARK MANGINI

Denis Villeneuve’s unforgettable Blade Runner 2049 is one of the greatest sci-fi films in recent memory, and I was thrilled to see it earn five, very well-deserved Academy Award nominations earlier this month, including Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. The film’s sound design is simply remarkable, and I was beyond excited to be able to chat with Oscar-winning supervising sound editor Mark Mangini this week about how he and his team created each and every sound in the film from scratch, all 2,850 of them, among other things. My conversation with Mark begins below:

First of all, congratulations on your fifth Oscar nomination! How did it feel to wake up on nominations morning and learn that you’ve been nominated for yet another Oscar?

There’s no such thing as “yet another Oscar!” Like each of my children, they are all special and loved. I went to bed with the same nerves and self-doubt I’ve felt with every one of my previous nominations. It always feels like it’s the first time, with an insane mix of excitement and fear. My wife Ann woke up at 5 a.m. and watched it live-streaming on her mobile phone in bed while I pretended to be sleeping and not caring. She screamed so loud when they announced my name that she woke up our son, Rio, who jumped into bed with us and we all had a huge family hug.

How exactly did you get involved with Blade Runner 2049?

The filmmakers had just watched Mad Max: Fury Road while they were shooting Blade Runner 2049 in Budapest, Hungary. They saw a style or approach in that film (which I won an Oscar for in 2016) that they felt suited their film. I got a call in London the next day and flew to Budapest to meet with Denis Villeneuve on the set while he was filming. I had to pitch my ideas in front of his entire crew…without ever having read the script! I guess he liked them.

With a film like Blade Runner 2049, I’m assuming that you and your team had to start from scratch when it came to building the sound design in that film. How did you know where to start?

We did, indeed, start from scratch. We wanted Blade Runner 2049 to occupy its own unique sonic universe. It is 30 years hence, and we felt it required a fresh approach while being “loyal” to the original. We listened to Ridley’s Blade Runner a great deal to deconstruct what made it tick. We then embarked on a nine month journey to create our own textures in the spirit of the first film, without ever copying or even using a single sound from it. “Starting from scratch” is, quite literally, what we did. There is very little in this film that was recorded on set. Every single sound from the smallest irradiated bee buzz to the biggest sonic boom was created, designed, and edited for this film. No library sound at all. 2,850 original compositions.

In that regard, I think good science fiction sound has a special challenge to do what we call “world building.” Nothing exists and it all has to be manufactured. Traditional and historical films have the benefit of living in a sonic universe we all understand and have heard before. They are familiar to our ears. Our film, and most good science fiction, have to go that extra mile to create a sonic “believability” to everything the audience hears it for the first time.

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Did you use Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner as a reference while building the sound design for Blade Runner 2049?

Yes, but only as a reference. What Ridley and his sound team did so brilliantly was immerse the audience in these quasi-musical textures as atmosphere throughout the film. Almost anywhere you go in the original, you are surrounded by these ambient mood-textures that aren’t music and aren’t sound design. They work on a meta-level that displaces the audience to a very foreign or unknown place. We don’t know if these sounds are sculptural, architectural, or even musical. They work to create this other “world” that doesn’t exist except in the mind of the filmmakers.

Around awards season, I get a lot of people asking me to explain the difference between sound editing and sound mixing. As a sound designer, how would you explain the difference between the two?

I am so glad you asked this. The sound disciplines are not well understood outside the small circle of its practitioners. Here’s a couple of ways of looking at the differences using disciplines all filmmakers understand as an analogy:

The relationship between the sound editor and the sound mixer closely tracks the relationship between the cinematographer and the film editor. The sound editor creates the sound content for a film (the thousands of individual sounds one hears in a film) and the Sound Mixer organizes all that sound content (those thousands of pieces) by mixing it into a seamless and beautiful final soundtrack. So too does the director of photography create the visual content by filming thousands of individual pieces or shots that require the skills of the film editor to organize all those individual pieces into a seamless and cohesive whole, final film.

Another comparison might be illustrated by the relationship between writer and actor. The writer creates the content: the story, the words, the script. The writer creates what you will experience. But it is the actor that brings this content to life through his or her interpretation of that content. Remember, the words in and of themselves are not a performance. The actor takes the content provided by the writer and interprets them, arranges them for the screen, and creates living, breathing performances. The writer determines what the actor will perform, while the actor determines how that content will be interpreted for the screen.

2017 was a fantastic year for sound design in film. In addition to Blade Runner 2049, some of the other films that stick out in my mind are Phantom Thread, Call Me by Your Name, and mother! What were some of your personal favorites?

I love that you chose very non-traditional movies for their deft use of sound. I, too, loved movies one would not expect. I really liked Three Billboards and All the Money in the World this year. Both used sound as an effective narrative tool: sound that told the story without bludgeoning or forcing itself on the audience. It’s a shame that nuance isn’t as appreciated in our discipline as it might be in others. All too often sound is judged but its density and loudness; two techniques which are often the hallmarks of filmmakers bereft of better storytelling ideas. Our awards are given for best sound. Not most sound. Billboards and All the Money both constantly engaged the audience with sound to create mood, geography, displacement, and engagement for the audience. They did it with beautiful subtlety as well as high craft, recording and choosing unique and memorable sounds while never bludgeoning or coercing the audience to react to them.

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‘Incredibles 2’ opens with a record-breaking $18.5 million from Thursday night previews

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Incredibles
DISNEY/PIXAR

Disney and Pixar’s Incredibles 2 is off to an excellent start at the domestic box office as the long-awaited animated sequel leaped into theaters with a record-breaking $18.5 million on Thursday night, making it the biggest preview ever for an animated film.

The record was previously held by Finding Dory, which earned $9.2 million from Thursday previews in 2016. However, Dory still holds the record for best opening weekend ever for an animated film with $135 million—whether Incredibles 2 can break that record as well is still to be determined, but it’s chance look promising.

Incredibles 2 launches in 4,410 theaters across the U.S. starting today and, according to estimates from box office analysts, could gross anywhere between $125 million and $140 by Sunday.

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Still, the preview is an impressive feat for Incredibles 2, beating out Beauty and the Beast ($16.3 million), Spider-Man: Homecoming ($15.4 million), and Thor: Ragnarok ($14.5 million), while almost matching the $18.6 million preview number Deadpool 2 earned just mere weeks ago.

Incredibles 2 picks up just after the events of the 2005 original and finds the Parr family back again, but Helen (Holly Hunter) is off on important crime-fighting business, leaving Bob (Craig T. Nelson) at home with Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) to navigate the day-to-day heroics of parenting life.

Brad Bird returned to write and direct the sequel, which also stars Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Isabella Rossellini, and Samuel L. Jackson.

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‘Aquaman’ first look reveals Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta

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Aquaman
WARNER BROS.

This week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly offers our first look at Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta in James Wan’s highly anticipated Aquaman, which is due out in theaters this winter. The EW cover photo also features Jason Momoa as the titular superhero and Amber Heard as Mera.

While specific plot details are being kept tightly under wraps by the studio, the EW cover story features an interview with Wan where he teases what’s to come in the next installment in the DC Extended Universe, which, according to a new report, is currently undergoing some big changes behind the scenes amid a recent shakeup of DC’s top executives.

“The water world my movie takes place in is so separate and so far apart from previous DC movies it’s like I’m making my own sci-fi fantasy film,” the director said, adding that Aquaman will be “a whole new underwater world nobody has seen before in live action.”

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The cover story also details the “great white sharks, giant octopi, seven different underwater kingdoms, trench-dwelling cannibals, and even sea dragons” that are present throughout the film, which will find Aquaman going head to head with his archnemesis, Black Manta, and half-brother, Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson).

Written by Will Beall, Aquaman also stars Dolph Lundgren as Nereus, Temuera Morrison as Thomas Curry, and Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko, and will hit theaters on December 21. You can check out the EW cover photos below.

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‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ tracking a solid $75 million opening weekend at domestic box office

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Ant-Man and the Wasp
MARVEL STUDIOS

Ant-Man and the Wasp is looking to outgross its predecessor when it debuts next month as the upcoming Marvel Studios sequel is heading toward a solid $75 million opening weekend over the July 6-8 weekend, further proving the fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is showing no sign of losing momentum due to so-called “superhero fatigue.”

If these early figures are correct, this would put the sequel roughly 30% higher than Ant-Man‘s $57 million opening weekend total in 2015. The original went on to earn more than $180 million at the domestic box office and $339 million overseas, bringing its worldwide haul to a whopping $519 million.

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The latest Marvel adventure, which takes place in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War but before the events of Avengers: Infinity War, follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) as he grapples with the consequences of his choices as both a superhero and a father. However, when Scott is confronted by Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) with an urgent new mission, they must work together to uncover secrets from their past.

Ant-Man and the Wasp also stars Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, and Michelle Pfeiffer, who joins the cast Hope’s mother and the original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, who Marvel revealed for the first time in a set of a character posters released for the film earlier this month.

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