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September 2014
Issue: April 1, 2010

HBO TAKES ON WWII IN 'THE PACIFIC'

By: Marc Loftus
SANTA MONICA — In mid-March, HBO began broadcasting its new 10-part miniseries, The Pacific. Executive produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman, the series recreates the stories of three real-life Marines — Robert Laeckie, John Basilone and Eugene Sledge — who served during World War II. But unlike the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers by the same executive producing team, this drama takes a look at the battle with Japan in the Pacific, as opposed to the war taking place in Eastern Europe.

Soundelux’s (www.soundelux.com) Tom Bellfort (Oscar, Titanic) was supervising sound editor on the project and likened the demands of this TV series to the film work he’s been involved in over the course of his career. Here, he talks to Post about The Pacific’s soundtrack and the nine months the team at Todd-AO spent getting it ready for broadcast.

Post: Which CSS Studios facilities contributed services to The Pacific?
Bellfort: “It was just through one. We made a decision early on to have the sound department, picture department and mixing department under one roof — at [Todd-AO] Lantana, which is on the West Side of LA. The main reason was this was such a huge, complex and vast undertaking that it made strategic sense for us to be able to communicate in a direct manner.”

Post: What services were provided? ADR, sound design, Foley?
Bellfort: “It’s all of those. The production sound was recorded in Australia, which is where the episodes were shot. There was a huge amount of dialogue replacement. That was all done at Lantana. All the effects, dialogue, Foley, the loop group — everything was done at Lantana.”

Post: Did the heavy battle scenes cause the needed for so much ADR?
Bellfort: “Correct. The environments were very real. There was a huge amount of rain in a few of the episodes, so the dialogue was difficult to understand. Just about all of the rain scenes — I think there were four episodes that had heavy rain — were completely re-done. I’d say probably a good 50 percent of all the dialogue was re-done with ADR. Every episode had approximately 1,000-1,200 lines that were re-recorded after the fact.”

Post: How does a series like this compare to a more typical TV series or to a feature film?
Bellfort: “We were definitely striving for, and achieved, feature film work. It doesn’t come close to TV work — except for Band of Brothers — in terms of the density and complexity of sound.”

Post: Were each of the episodes different in terms of sound?
Bellfort: “There are definitely a couple of episodes — like the first one, which is the set-up episode and the foundation for the next 10. You meet the protagonists — Laeckie, Basilone and Sledge — in the first episode and understand how they joined the Marines, why they joined the Marines, the vision of the Marines in the Pacific. That’s a fairly dialogue-driven episode. There’s another episode where they go to Melbourne on leave for a couple of days and have all kinds of social adventures. That is certainly a dialogue-driven episode. And then the last episode — Episode 10 — when they arrive back home, is a dialogue-driven episode. And you have seven episodes that are very action driven.”

Post: With so many EPs and directors, who did you report to?
Bellfort: “I reported to Gary Goetzman. He was the final arbiter of everything that happened at the mix.”

Post: Were you hands-on in the editorial, or did you have to manage a larger team?
Bellfort: “Both. I did a fair amount of dialogue and ADR editing, and supervised at the same time a team of about 10 editors. But the core editing team was relatively small. We had two dialogue editors, two effects editors and myself. When we needed extra help, because of schedule issues or re-cuts or new scenes being added, then we had to go beyond that core group and hire people for ‘X numbers’ of weeks to help out.”

Post: How many episodes were in post at one time?
Bellfort: “We had multiple episodes going on at the same time and we never worked chronologically. We worked on the episodes that Gary Goetzman, HBO and Playtone would sign off on. The first episode that we worked on was Episode 3, which was the Melbourne episode. But at the same time, we were mixing an episode, we were cutting another and we were preparing another episode. So three things happened simultaneously.”

Post: Did you have a locked picture edit to work with?
Bellfort: “The visual effects changed fairly constantly — things were added, so we’d finish an episode and two weeks later find out that they had added certain things, which most of the time were extra gun shots or explosions. So we’d have to go back into the episodes to update the sound effects to match the visuals that had been added.”

Post: Did you draw on Soundelux’s massive effects library?
Bellfort: “We have a fairly vast sound effects library — thousands and thousands of choices — so that was the basis of what you hear. But, obviously, we added Foley. Every episode has a huge amount of Foley because we really wanted to hear the footsteps, in the battle scenes, of the men running across the field. You would hear their sacks and guns rattle, so all of that was added in post. Pretty much everything you hear was replaced through the library. The gunshots, explosions, and canons were shot on-set, but [were] replaced for creative and realistic concerns.”

Post: How long did you have to complete it?
Bellfort: “We ultimately worked for 38 weeks, so it was a total of nine months from start to finish. The schedule was originally two months shorter than that, but because of changes by the picture department, it took us longer.”

Post: What are you using for editorial?
Bellfort: “[We’re] all on [Mac-based Digidesign] Pro Tools, and all of the elements that we grab are on a master server at Soundelux.”

Post: Did the final mix take place at Lantana?
Bellfort: “[Yes, with] the tremendously gifted Michael Minkler. He’s won three Oscars [Dreamgirls, Chicago, Black Hawk Down]. I’ve won one, so it was pretty much the ‘A Team’ selected for this job.”

Post: With so many sound effects, did you perform panning prior to the mix?
Bellfort: “The main effects editor, Ben Cook, did a lot of panning, level work and 5.1 because we had so many tracks running at the same time and so little time to mix. We were somewhere between television and feature in terms of the time to mix all of these elements, so we were pretty much compelled to premix 5.1 stems or sessions. We’d have it consolidated and Mike Minkler would decide if he wanted to change things. Obviously, he had a tremendous amount of creative input, so if he didn’t like something, he could undo it. But for the sake of streamlining, we attempted to come in with a 5.1 for Mike to be able to work with.”

Post: What were you trying to achieve for The Pacific’s soundtrack?
Bellfort: “I would say that our job as sound editors on this series was to create an envelope, a soundscape that put the viewer viscerally inside the soldiers’ experience and reality as they marched from island to island. And the attempt to recreate that environment that dealt with heat, rain, mud and fear. That was really our goal — to create — viscerally — that environment sonically. It was a big challenge and hopefully what we achieved.”