In Rockland County, New York, the community is in conflict over the fate of the East Ramapo School District. Religious, racial, and socio-economic divisions split the populace, and bribery seems the only way to achieve political ends. Director John Marco Lopez’s dramatic indie feature The Hudson Tribes is based on these true events happening in New York’s Hudson Valley. But the film goes beyond real-world politics to explore the human aspect of a divided community.
In this crime-drama, a Hasidic teenager falls in love with a Hispanic woman. She’s a teacher at the East Ramapo public school that his leaders are planning to shut down. During a school board vote, a leader in the Hasidic community is kidnapped by a local right-wing extremist. The Hasidic teenager, who witnesses the kidnapping, decides to withhold information from the police in order to uncover the crime himself. He discovers that the teacher he’s infatuated with is dating the main culprit.
HOBO Audio in New York City (www.hoboaudio.com) is handling audio post on The Hudson Tribes. Vice president/senior audio engineer Chris Stangroom is in charge of sound supervision. He is joined by sound designer/re-recording mixer Diego Jimenez. Over the years, Stangroom has built a relationship with LPZ Media and director Lopez, having recently completed the 5.1 mix on their feature film The Inquisition of Camilo Sanz. Stangroom says, “Director Lopez had initially contacted us a few years ago to take his directorial debut The Inquisition of Camilo Sanz to the next level. He had initially mixed it in stereo with a junior audio engineer, and since we had established a level of trust with him previously, he asked us to do a 5.1 theatrical mix for the film. That mix went so smoothly that when he started pre-pro on The Hudson Tribes, he and I got together to start the audio post process early.”
Initially for The Hudson Tribes, Stangroom and director Lopez discussed the backstory of several characters and how that could influence the sound design. Stangroom says, “The best part of John’s directing style is that he doesn’t come to the table with an agenda of what he wants you to do for him. He wants to have a conversation about what the scene already has, and also what it’s missing. The sounds aren’t ‘see something, hear something.’ Instead they are impressions of the emotions the characters are feeling.”
For example, there’s a riot sequence that Stangroom and Jimenez needed to flesh out by adding numerous layers of effects, like crowds yelling and individual shouts for specific people, sirens, and car honks, to build tension and add elements of racial and social disparity that are key to the film’s story.
For the mix of the riot scene, where the numerous layers of effects could easily overpower the mix, Jimenez says the objective was to control it enough to make the experience feel right for the audience. “When you are watching the scene, it seems you need to add lots of effects — starting with the quiet, upstate New York town ambience, followed by a fight that one of the main characters gets involved in, then this escalates into an accident and then this accident triggers an entire riot in the streets of the town with music, voices and screams, riot noises, sound effects and backgrounds all building at the same time. It was choosing not only the right sounds but the right time in the mix to make them stand out. That really helped to create the perfect balance without just being loud.”
During the riot, they also had multiple dialogue scenes where the production audio needed to be restored. They recorded and mixed some ADR already and are still currently working on the film in preparation for entry into upcoming film festivals. Jimenez uses iZotope RX5 Advanced for dialogue repairs and editing, and Audio Ease’s Altiverb 7 to help put the dialogue in the right space. He says, “Dialogue was an important focus since it is the main sonic element that tells the story. All this was possible with an amazing sound team of dialogue editor Jesse Peterson and sound effects editors Julian Angel and Chris Davis. They did excellent work in an incredibly short amount of time.”
There were many opportunities in The Hudson Tribes where director Lopez was interested in using sound to help tell the story. One example is during a council meeting scene — a major moment story-wise, where the true colors are revealed for a few main characters. The scene had a mixed crowd, with the Hasidic community being of one opinion, and the rest of the town having another view. There was also a third group of “crossover” people who didn’t completely side with the group they should have agreed with. Using general crowd sound effects here would have sounded forced and fake, so the audio team suggested recording loop group with some extras from the film. “We recorded a bunch of single lines in Hebrew and English that we could then intersperse throughout the entire scene, which is about 10 minutes long. That attention to custom recording is what gives a film — indie or not, its stamp of independence. Without those recordings we would just be creating another scene about people yelling, but now we were able to create a world of actual people with opinions, curses and emotions,” says Stangroom.
Stangroom feels his sound team on The Hudson Tribes was his most valuable asset. “We focus so much time and attention on the technology in audio post, but the people who are behind the technology are absolutely indispensable. I don’t have a plug-in that I can put on the huge riot scene to make it sound amazing, but I can hand it over to Chris Davis or Julian Angel and they can bring new ideas we hadn’t even considered up to that point. Tools help us on the technical side so that we can spend more time being creative.”