<I>Lawmen: Bass Reeves</I>: Posting Paramount+'s Civil War-era series
June 13, 2024

Lawmen: Bass Reeves: Posting Paramount+'s Civil War-era series

Paramount+’s Lawmen: Bass Reeves follows the journey of Reeves (David Oyelowo) and his rise from enslavement to law enforcement as one of the first Black US Deputy Marshals west of the Mississippi. Despite arresting more than 3,000 outlaws, Reeves wrestles with a moral and spiritual cost to his family. Taylor Sheridan ( 1883) and Oyelowo ( Selma) serve as executive producers on the series, which also stars Lauren E. Banks, Demi Singleton, Forrest Goodluck, Barry Pepper, Donald Sutherland and Dennis Quaid.


Christopher Gay, ACE (pictured), served as picture editor on the show and says his role closely aligned with that of a supervising picture editor.

“This included me working alongside the other editing teams and reviewing their cuts to make sure that we all maintained a similar editorial aesthetic for the whole series.” 

He also screened the cuts with the producers and network to help get the episodes locked. 

“I reviewed nearly every VFX shot in the entire series, working closely with our VFX team and producers to make sure that we made the show look as grand and period accurate as possible,” says Gay.

Like many scripted television shows and series, the editing team used Avid Media Composer systems for this project. 
“That said, most of us continued to work from home, where we would use Jump Desktop to remote in to our Avid Systems at Pivotal Post in Studio City,” he explains. “My specific system at home is a Mac Studio desktop, with three Apple Studio displays and a 2.1 JBL LSR4328/4312 speaker setup. I actually reside just outside of Park City, UT, and mostly worked from home. (I) would do screenings over Evercast for the majority of the project.”

Gay did make many trips down to Texas to work with the director and producers, where they had an Avid system set up that was close to where they were filming. 

“Screening and being in an editing room together is such an important part of the process, so we did everything we could to get those valuable days together to work.”

According to Gay, what really made the editorial process unique for this show was that 101 Studios also has an Airstream trailer setup with a fully functioning Avid.

“This allowed me to be very close to the roducers and set when needed,” he explains. “This way the director or producers could pop in to review cuts with me when filming. It's a pretty slick, what I call a ‘remote remote’ operation, as the Airstream trailer can be moved anywhere that was needed if they wanted me to be on-set. The Airstream also has Starlink internet setup, so even though I would technically be off the grid, I was still able to be fully connected and communicate with the other editors and the post team back in LA.”

Gay says the show has many memorable scenes and sequences, but he would point to the opening sequence of the pilot as one that required the most thought

“For those who haven't seen the show, the series starts with a battle sequence in the Civil War, where the legend and lore of Bass Reeves’ journey to becoming the infamous sheriff really begins,” notes the editor. “This sequence was shot over the course of five days, with five cameras running full time, and also a second unit crew shooting additional material for a few more days. Let's just say I had a ton of material and footage to sort through...probably around 30 hours of dailies for a five-minute sequence.”

 The challenge in this sequence was to keep the point of view as centered around Bass Reeves as possible, while also showing the chaos and carnage that occurred at the Battle of Pea Ridge. 

“Lots of great material was left on the cutting room floor, but ultimately we all felt that for the sequence to feel most effective, we needed to have Bass become proactive in the battle quickly and establish him as the marksman and historical icon that we would follow for the rest of the series,” Gay explains. “So although we could have had a monstrous 10-minute battle if we wanted to, having the restraint to focus more on our hero was always at the center of the construction of this sequence. In the end, it turned out to be a very exciting and epic sequence that kept its core focus on Bass Reeves' experience.”


Jon Massey (pictured) was the overall production VFX supervisor for Lawmen: Bass Reeves, and says the show’s effects needed to stay consistent with that of the Civil War era.

“Specific challenges for visual effects, other than the usual western guns and blood, were mostly period set extensions that required research and adhering to a philosophy that it must look photoreal,” Massey explains. “I oversaw all of the production visual effects of the show and was responsible for sticking to this vision that not only did it have to look real, but had to fit within the time and place. The place was eastern Texas, western Arkansas and Oklahoma, or back then, the Indian territories. Many of the locations were chosen to represent this period or to be devoid of modern elements.”
Two of the show’s main locations were Fort Smith, AR, and Checotah, OK. For Fort Smith, Stephenville, TX, was chosen for its main square, courthouse and period buildings. 

“The production design team were only able to build the set along the first floor of the square,” Massey recalls. “It was up to the VFX team to continue with the rest and to extend the set down the main avenues. CG buildings were modeled and textured to fit with the existing architecture that was still standing from that time.”
The CG buildings were modeled and rendered in SideFX’s Houdini software while The Foundry’s Nuke was used for compositing. The Checotah set was located in the small town of Strawn, TX. Like Stephenville, it had many period buildings that could be utilized as practical sets. 

“It was down the streets that visual effects needed to provide set extensions that helped tell the story and set the mood,” Massey explains. “Even though the town itself is busy, much of its streets going off into the distance would not be developed, and it was decided for it to fall off to a much more rural area. At night, the streets would fall off into darkness. Oil lamps or candles would be the only illumination. There was no digital moonlight. I specifically asked the CG sets to be lit as if they were being lit by a film production light, high on a condor and its reach was limited. The goal was to see it as they would have seen in in the late 1800’s, and I think we were all in all very successful.”


According to supervising sound editor George Haddad (pictured), the team included Stuart Martin for sound effects & design, Boraj Sau for dialog editing and Randy Wilson and crew for Foley. Haddad handled the loop group and ADR, as well as supervised the mix team of Brad Zoern and Lindsey Alvarez.

“The reason we choose a small crew is to stay consistent with a lot of signature sounds and locations that occurred throughout the season,” he explains. “For example, our principal actors always had the same horse, we were in their homes a lot, we were in court buildings repeatedly and many other locations frequently. Having the same editor would maintain and edit the same sound and any updates needed depending on story points altering.” 
This went for dialogue too. 

“It’s a unique way when recording a western, because of the scenes on horses, around horses, in the barn, ranches, etc.,” he explains. “Our dialog editor was familiar with the workflow and setup from the production sound team on-set, and was able to come up with an editing template that helps us keep pace with the schedule.” 
The Foley crew enjoyed working on the series because of the time period in which the show is set. They use of old muskets and handguns, lots of leather props for boots, spurs, holsters, vests and hats. Many of the locations featured old wooden floors, while other scenes were shot on dirt roads.  

“We were pleased how it sounded and matched the visual on-screen that looked like post Civil War.”
The recorded dialog from set was very challenging because the actors were both on and off horses, and riding at different speeds.

“It was hard to get a boom microphone in many shots, so we had to rely heavily on the lavalier microphone,” Hadded recalls. “Because of the wardrobe they used, we would sometimes get a lot of cloth rustle. To deal with that, we relied on software like Izotope RX, Waves Clarity and Supertone Clear, which gives us the ability to clean all that up and avoid any ADR.”

The whole sound team contributed to the opening scene in Episode 101 - The Civil War. 

“We had to come up with three different sounding groups,” Hadded explains. “The Confederate Army, The Union Army and the Natives, who were in many battles. The Union Army came off looking prepared with powerful weapons, like cannons and muskets. They were dressed in uniform with commanders leading the troops into battle. The Confederates, for this particular battle scene, was several men of different ages, shapes and sizes, looking like it was their first time into battle, with less sophisticated weapons and armor, as well as a plan. The Natives came in with their horses and handmade weapons using their battle cries and hand-to-hand combat.”  
Haddad says one his favorite experiences was recording loop group, also known as the background voices. 

“Because of the time era being the Civil War and a few years after, we had to do a lot of research on dialogue and spoken words, phrases etc., they used back then,” he recalls. “Caucasian people, with their southern accent and way of speaking, the African-Americans, who were limited to their roles after the war and abolition of slavery, and the different Native tribes that were part of Bass Reeves’ journey. We had to hire voice actors familiar with the different dialect and language for each native tribe. It was definitely a great learning experience.”

Brad Zoern (pictured) served as re-recording mixer for effects and Foley, working with the entire sound crew. 

“As a team, we built the sonic soundscape that transports the viewer to the world that we create for the production,” he explains.
Some of his gear included Avid Pro Tools, S6, AltiVerb, Fab Filter and Slapper. He points to the Civil War scene at the start of the series as a highlight of the soundtrack.
“George (Haddad) and his editing team came to the stage with a wealth of material to comb through to give this scene the impact and gravity that it deserved and required,” he reveals. “From rifles, guns, horses, cannon fire — both close and distance — to the air blasts and explosions that created the visceral sound of the Confederate soldiers being shredded by the shrapnel created when the trees exploded, I had a lot of tracks to go through and craft to make that scene work. Lindsay (Alvarez) and I knew that this couldn’t be a wall of sound. It had to be loud, but also allow all the other elements of the mix to play their rolls: dialog, music and loop group needed to be clear and have their voice too. In the end, I believe what we crafted was a impactful and moving soundscape that put the viewer in the middle of the horrific battle with all its chaos and confusion, while honoring all the audio departments.”
As one of the re-recording mixers, Lindsey Alavarez says she had to collaborate on the sound mix with the sound crew, the show runner and the producers. 

“Ensuring the dialogue is clear and intelligible is paramount in any TV series, and Westerns are no exception,” she explains. “Often fraught with ‘old-timey speak,’ there’s added nuance to balancing the dialogue against the music and effects to ensure all is clear and intelligible. I also ensured that the music enhanced the storytelling without overpowering dialogue or other sound elements.” 

Alvarez (pictured) says she relied on Pro Tools, S6, Clarity Vx Pro, Slapper, FabFilter Pro Q3, and Almond milk vanilla lattes. She points to the poker game between George and Bass as a highlight.

“All departments came to this scene with mastery. From the quiet looks to the flick of a card, you could hear both Bass counting under his breath, as well as the distant house creaks. It was such a fun scene that built so much tension, and yet your job is to make it work by using restraint. As the tension builds, everything boils over and you have the chaos of the music with wailing instruments and big drums to Bass’ yells and George’s cries. It was all appropriately subtle then pure chaos but undoubtedly impactful — causing the viewer to hold their breath. You do this while maintaining your loudness and technical spec. Quite the task, but such a treat to mix.”