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.

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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.

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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The long-awaited ‘Space Jam’ sequel is finally moving forward with Ryan Coogler producing

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Ryan Coogler Space Jam
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The long-awaited Space Jam sequel is officially moving forward at Warner Bros. with Black Panther director Ryan Coogler signing on to produce the film, which is being directed by Random Acts of Flyness creator Terence Nance and will star LeBron James in his first ever starring role.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, production on the Space Jam sequel is expected to begin in 2019, during the NBA offseason, and will likely feature a number of basketball’s biggest stars and Warner Bros. Looney Toons characters given how many cameos were made in the 1996 original.

The plot of the original Space Jam, a live-action/CG hybrid, revolved around Michael Jordan helping the Looney Tunes gang with a basketball game against a group of outer space creatures who wish to kidnap the Looney Tunes and take them to a failing intergalactic amusement park as the latest attraction.

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“I loved his vision” for Black Panther, James told THR about Coogler, describing how about there were no black superheroes growing up when he was a child. “So for Ryan to be able to bring that to kids, it’s amazing.”

Indeed, what Coogler did with Black Panther was quite astounding, setting a new standard for Hollywood and superhero movies after earning more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office with a film that features a predominantly black cast, directed by a black man.

“The Space Jam collaboration is so much more than just me and the Looney Tunes getting together and doing this movie,” says James, “It’s so much bigger. I’d just love for kids to understand how empowered they can feel and how empowered they can be if they don’t just give up on their dreams. And I think Ryan did that for a lot of people.”

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Focus sets September 2019 release date for ‘Downton Abbey’ movie as production begins

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Downton Abbey
PBS

With production on the highly anticipated Downton Abbey movie officially underway, Focus Features announced Wednesday that the film is scheduled to be released in North America on Friday, September 20, 2019, and internationally on Friday, September 13, 2019, via Universal Pictures International.

The eagerly awaited Downton Abbey movie will star the original principal cast, including Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Joanne Froggatt, Matthew Goode, Harry Hadden-Paton, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Lesley Nicol, and Penelope Wilton.

The film will also feature some new additions to the cast as well including Imelda Staunton, Geraldine James, Simon Jones, David Haig, Tuppence Middleton, Kate Phillips, and Stephen Campbell Moore.

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Downtown Abbey creator Julian Fellowes wrote the screenplay for the film, which is now being directed by Michael Engler rather than the previously announced Brian Percival, who has now shifted over to an executive producer role with Nigel Marchant.

“Since the series ended, fans of Downton have long been waiting for the Crawley family’s next chapter,” Focus chairman Peter Kujawski said. “We’re thrilled to join this incredible group of filmmakers, actors, and craftspeople, led by Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame, in bringing back the world of Downton to the big screen next September.”

The show, which picked up a whopping 15 Primetime Emmy Awards and 69 total nominations over the span of its six-season run, followed the lives of the elite Crawley family and the servants who worked for them at the turn of the 20th century in an Edwardian English country home.

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Listen to John Carpenter’s updated version of the iconic Michael Myers theme from ‘Halloween’

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Halloween Beyond Fest
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As if Halloween fans weren’t already excited enough after reading the rave reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival and watching that terrifyingly good new trailer, Sacred Bones Records has released an entire track from the upcoming’s sequel soundtrack, and it’s bound to get you into the Halloween spirit.

Appropriately titled “The Shape Returns,” the track was composed by John Carpenter himself and is a riff on the iconic piano theme from his 1978 classic, featuring some killer synths and booming percussion that adds a nice twist to the chilling theme that every horror fan knows and loves. Carpenter composed the score along with his son, Cody, and Daniel Davies.

“It was transforming,” Carpenter said about composing the score for the sequel.“It was not a movie I directed, so I had a lot of freedom in creating the score and getting into the director’s head. I was proud to serve David Gordon Green’s vision.”

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The new Halloween, a direct sequel to Carpenter’s original, will see Jamie Lee Curtis reprise her iconic role as Laurie Strode one last time as she comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.

The film also stars Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, and Nick Castle, and will open in theaters next month on October 19, the same day the soundtrack is set to be released. You can listen to “The Shape Returns” in its entirety below.

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