SOUND EDITING: PARAMOUNT PICTURES' 'STOP-LOSS'
Paramount Picture’s Stop-Loss had a six-week delay due to an actor
dislocating a shoulder during shooting. That resulted in changing sound
supervisors, using two dialogue editors, and other disruptions due to
Stop-Loss is the story of a soldier ordered back to duty in Iraq
against his will, testing everything he believes in. The film was
released on March 28, 2008. We talked about Stop-Loss with dialogue
editor Jac Rubenstein and sound effects editor Wyatt Sprague.
The film was shot in Austin, TX, and Morocco, with post production at
Sound One/C5 Inc. in New York. On the first day of the shooting, Joseph
Gordon-Levitt, who plays Tommy, dislocated his shoulder. While waiting
for him to recover, the picture lost its dubbing dates with mixers Lee
Dichter and Roberto Fernandez in New York. Sound designer Eugene
Gearty, who records at his studio in South Carolina, became occupied
with design for Ang Lee’s Lust Caution. And composer John Powell got
involved with Bourne Ultimatum.
Stop-Loss dialogue editor Jac Rubenstein has worked on such films as
Boys Don't Cry, Shaft, The Manchurian Candidate, The Departed, and
Margot at the Wedding. “If the dialogue doesn’t work then nothing else
will,” says Rubenstein. “The reason I got involved with Stop-Loss is on
The Departed I worked with Eugene Gearty. And, I’d worked on another
Kimberly Peirce film, Boys Don’t Cry.
“I was the original dialogue editor on Stop-Loss,” says Rubenstein.
“The schedule was inconsistent. The film kept going on hiatus. I got
offered another film, Reservation Road. I was on that film for three
months. Eugene Gearty was supposed to be done in April but went to
August. Larry Wieland, who does all of Ang’s films, became supervising
sound editor.” To substitute for Rubenstein, Stop-Loss brought on
Branka Mrkic as dialogue editor, but then she got another film and
Rubenstein came back.
“I had just gotten out of the hospital and into a high pressure cooker
that everyone had been on for a long time,” says Rubenstein. “It was
pancreatic surgery, pretty grave, but I’m fine now. The job was in
constant state of flux with crew because it went on so long. They kept
recutting. They started the film in one direction and when I saw it, it
had taken a very different shape. It went from more of a road film to
being a movie about two main characters at odds and their duty. We were
working seven days a week. It became crazy by the end. It was hardest
on the ADR department. We were recording ADR on the day of finaling.”
The schedule was so intense that Rubenstein even worked on his 50th
birthday, a Sunday.
“With dialogue editing, a lot of it is organizational,” says
Rubenstein. “I still think of it as mag. I still lay it out as though
it’s on an editing bench. For me as dialogue editor it’s mostly
coordinating with ADR. I got notes from Eugene, but I didn’t talk to
Claire or Kimberly until I came back. Some editors cut very loose. You
can get alternates. Some are very specific and cut to breaths. The most
interesting part is editing the dialogue and judging from how they’ve
cast what you’re at liberty to do. I’ve worked on a movie where any
time I mention ADR the director bristles. Stop-Loss went ADR-happy.
They were rewriting a lot of it using Franken-bites.” A Franken-bite is
three syllables clipped together to make a word because you don’t have
the actor available to voice the changes.
“New York is different from Los Angles in how we approach editing,”
says Rubenstein. “In New York we cut as though there’s going to be
nothing else there. No gaps. There’s a lot shot here on streets, and we
had to make those tracks work. In Los Angeles they anticipate where
music or car crash will be, because [they] know it will be covered with
other stuff. We’ve got one mixer, where in L.A. you’ve got three
mixers. I don’t do equalization. That’s the mixer’s job. Doing
equalization is not a good idea. It sounds completely different under
headphones than when you get on stage. There were three temp mixes.
Branka cut the dialogue. A spotting session is where you screen all the
reels with director and he gives you notes, takes a day, maybe two. On
Stop-Loss we didn’t have that.”
Sound effects editor Wyatt Sprague got started in sound editing
relatively late in life. “I had been in a band called Urban Blight in
Manhattan,” says Sprague. “When I was 33, I had major wrist surgery. I
got some books out of the NYU bookstore about film sound that had
interviews with various sound people. One that stuck out was Skip
Lievsay. He’d worked on a lot of movies that I really liked such as
Goodfellas, Silence of the Lambs, and all of the Coen brothers films.
The facility that Skip co-founded with Ron Bochar and Phil Stockton was
called C5, and about 15 blocks from my house. It took a lot of legwork,
phone calls, and persistence, but I eventually got in there as an
intern and then hired as an apprentice. I worked at that level for a
year or so and then got moved up to first assistant for Ron Bochar. I
stayed with Ron for about three years as first assistant and then got
the chance to cut backgrounds and effects on Murder by Numbers.
“I’m always hired by the supervising sound editor,” says Sprague. “I'd
worked with Eugene on the Aviator and Brokeback Mountain. With typical
understatement he said the first reel of Stop-Loss needed some work and
gave me a week to cut it. Once that was done there would be some time
off and then we'd come back and cut the rest of the movie. He was still
mixing another project so he couldn't start right away. It turned out
to be a full-on firefight in Iraq with a Humvee chase thrown in.
“My approach to a film is based on who I'm working for,” says Sprague.
“Eugene conveyed to me that Kimberly Pierce wanted a realistic sounding
track. I believe her brother was fighting in Iraq and she got a lot of
information from him about what it actually sounds like over there. We
were very lucky that the guns that were fired during filming had full
loads so they sounded authentic. I did a full pass with just production
guns and then cut some sweeteners here and there as needed. Because a
lot of the gunfire is in a narrow alleyway, the production recordings
had great perspectives that are hard to achieve artificially. The
overall feel of the film is very natural, but there are also some
scenes with subtle but powerful sound design. This movie also had the
good fortune of having CeCe Hall, who has a sound effects Oscar, and
Scott Rudin at the mix. They both have very finely tuned ears. Also, it
was mixed by Lee Dichter.
“Surprisingly, the biggest challenge on Stop-Loss for me wasn't the
gunfight,” says Sprague. “That took a lot of work, but I find it more
challenging in some ways to make locations feel real. There are some
scenes at hotels/motels that have a very natural feel to them. Does the
distant traffic have the right perspective or does it sound like close
traffic played very low? I want to get across the atmosphere of the
place without relying too much on obvious sound cues. A couple of
tasteful things in the right places can give you a lot of information
without being obvious. These cues get absorbed almost subconsciously.
You don't need to hear the drunk guy screaming in the background for
two minutes to know you're in a cheap motel.
“It's hard to say what a typical day was on Stop-Loss because it was a
very atypical job,” says Sprague. “I was on for eight weeks or so but
that was spread over six months. I cut the first scene for a screening
and then didn't work on it again for a month. I think over those six
months the longest I worked on it at a stretch was two weeks. I cut at
C5 in New York City while Eugene was working from home in South
Carolina. We worked off the same sessions using Pro Tools. It could
have easily been a mess but Eugene's assistant, Larry Wineland, made
sure that the workflow was absolutely smooth and clean.”
While working on Stop Loss, Sprague started and finished Reservation
Road and Chicago 10, and worked on an independent film called Tennessee
with Ben Cheah. Sprague and Rubenstein are now working on The Happening
by M. Night Shayamalan.
Robin Rowe is a partner in MovieEditor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.