The sound of an opium haze

What does a crazed opium haze sound like?

Sound designers like Steve Boeddeker ask themselves these kinds of questions all the time. Boeddecker, who has been nominated for best achievement in sound design for his work on Black Panther and All Is Lost, shared a few secrets with radio producer Jonathan Mitchell in Sound Design From Hell. Grab a pair of really good headphones and give this story a quiet listen because really good sound design can elevate a film. In 2002, Mitchell won an award from the Third Coast International Audio Festival for the piece. He now produces the Truth Fiction podcast.

Apocalypse Now, 1979.

Apocalypse Now, 1979.

Don’t put away those headphones just yet.

It’s time to learn how the helicopter sounds at the beginning of Apocalypse Now. Walter Murch, author of In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, worked with director Francis Ford Coppola to create the sounds audiences hear actually seeing the war machines soaring above the jungle. This video explains how those sounds were made.

A sound examination of the helicopter flyovers in Apocalypse Now.

Murch isn’t quoted in the video, but here’s what he told Andreas Halskov about the sound of the helicopters: “In the beginning of the film, all you hear is the whap sound of the blade from this ghost helicopter–you don’t hear any of the other sounds. Then, gradually, as the music comes in, this sound disappears slightly, before it comes back again. And it’s only when Willard begins to wake up from his dream, that we start to introduce the realistic sound of the helicopter, and that’s what you hear when you are looking with Willard, and the fan is rotating on the ceiling. So that was a realistic sound of a helicopter, and that was one of the discoveries we made in the process of putting together the film. That was not part of the original plan for the film, but it seemed to work very well, so we went with it."


Women, Sound

Thelma Schoonmaker: It's All About Timing and Rhythm

If you like Martin Scorsese (and I do), you gotta love Thelma Schoonmaker, his long-time editor. Over the decades, she's spent untold hours in the editing booth with Scorsese, fretting over cuts.  "Editing is all about timing and rhythm," she says.

Schoonmaker, who has won three Oscars for film editing (Raging Bull, The Aviator, The Departed), told Studio 360 it can take as much as a year to edit a Scorsese film. "It takes a long time to get it right," she says. "We re-cut much more than most editors. You have to live with a film. Really live with it."

Also in the interview, Schoonmaker analyzes the cutting choices in this famous scene from Goodfellas.

“There are no close-ups at all because Marty [Scorsese] wanted to show what was happening to the people around Ray Liotta and around Joe Pesci," Schoonmaker says. "As it starts out very funny and people are laughing. Then pretty soon, things get a little scary, then scarier and scarier. You see on the faces of the people around them, they are really beginning to get worried. … You don’t always have to have close-ups. Sometimes a medium shot or a wide shot is just as good.”

The show also coaxed this analysis of a Raging Bull steadicam shot from Schoonmaker, which shows Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci walking into a boxing ring.

If you want more on Raging Bull, I've unearthed this Schoonmaker interview from 2005. She discusses when sound was removed from a fight scene, when a piece of film was placed upside down (on purpose) and many, many more details, including the reason the fight scenes in Raging Bull look different than other boxing movies. "He {Scorsese} had looked at every boxing film every made and the thing he noticed about most of them was that the camera was outside of the ring, of course, because it's so hard to shoot in. But he wanted to be in the ring," she says.

Oh! There's also this American Cinema Editors interview from 2010. In the video, Schoonmaker describes how tough it was to cut an improvised scene from Raging Bull with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci inside a kitchen arguing about fight scenarios.