Apocalypse Now

Sound

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."