Sound: Emmy nominee Mandell Winter details his <I>Deadwood</I> & <I>True Detective</I> work
Issue: July/August 2019

Sound: Emmy nominee Mandell Winter details his Deadwood & True Detective work

Sound supervisor Mandell Winter recently received two Emmy-nominations for his work on True Detective and Deadwood: The Movie. Here, he discusses recreating sound from the beloved Deadwood series, using the same loop group from the series, and the challenge of creating sound for Westerns. He also details his True Detective work, which includes blending composer T Bone Burnett's score with the sound design.

How did you get involved in these series?

“When I heard that True Detective was officially going back into production, I immediately emailed one of the executive producers and mentioned how much we enjoyed working on the previous season and would love to be a part of the new season.  

“Deadwood was a culmination of everything coming together. I was originally just going to handle the ADR for the film, as Ben Cook was slated to supervise. However, as schedules can change on a dime here in Hollywood, Ben was no longer available, so with his recommendation I was able to become the supervising sound editor for the show, along with Daniel Colman as co-supervising sound editor.”

What are the shows’ soundtrack needs?

“Both shows have their unique qualities. True Detective is a dialogue-driven show with complex characters. Music plays a huge part in telling the story as well. What T Bone Burnett brought to the stage elevated everything and really established the mood. We worked to compliment the music at every level. There is a naturalistic approach to sound effects, where they have to live in the world of our characters and feel believable. The sound design weaves delicately around the music, and the dialogue had be clear. Our re-recording mixers Tateum Kohut and Greg Orloff took all of the elements and elevated everything in the show to the next level.

“We wanted Deadwood to sound like Deadwood. It needed to sound familiar. They wanted us to give it scale since we were making a movie.  The town of Deadwood is more established now with more businesses and families. Co-supervising sound editor, Daniel Colman worked from many of the original recordings from the series to create rich backgrounds and authentic sounds associated with the town.

“Populating the town of Deadwood was also a challenge. You can’t simply pull these elements out of a library. In Westerns, the ADR loop group tends to play forward unlike other genres. We had the same loop group that was used for the original series come back to record for the film. It was like a reunion, people came out of retirement to do this. We needed the loop group recordings to feel appropriate for the time period, and what they brought to the project elevated the detail of the crowds and created yet another rich texture.  

“We also had the good fortune on Deadwood to have one of the original re-recording mixers from the series, William Freesh, and his current mixing partner John Cook. They were huge assets in bringing all of this together.”

What studio are you working out of?

“On True Detective, we ran everything through Sony Pictures Studios. However, the producers wanted to work closer to their cutting rooms, so we four-walled Stage 5 at Deluxe in Hollywood.

“For Deadwood, sound editorial and mixing were done at NBCUniversal and the final mix was completed on Mix 6.”

What gear are you using for design and mixing?

“We worked in Pro Tools and mixed on Avid’s S6 mixing console for both shows. On True Detective, our sound designer David Esparza created some of the soundscapes with Kyma. Specifically, for when Hays (played by Mahershala Ali) experiences moments of dementia and sees the ghost of his wife.”

Are you using library elements or recording new sounds?

“We had a great library of original recordings that Ben Cook recorded during the series of Deadwood. He had access to everything on the set, from doors, wagons, horses, and atmospheric sounds. We used mostly naturalistic sounds, however, there were some designed elements to add tension. But the primary concern was authenticity.

“True Detective is an exercise in restraint, we used primarily sparse natural recordings without too much manipulation. The aesthetic of True Detective has always been minimalistic and this season was no different.”

People have commented on how pristine the sound on True Detective is, particularly the dialogue. Is that something you can comment on?

“Having worked with Nic Pizzolatto (creator of True Detective) on the previous season, we knew that focusing on the dialogue was going to be key. It all starts with the production sound, which was brilliantly captured by Geoffrey Patterson. We were able to clean up the dialogue with a tool called iZotope RX 7 Advanced. The best way to describe this tool is essentially Photoshop for sound. You can paint away many unwanted sounds while being very careful not to affect the quality or tone of the voice.

“The lavalier microphones were sometimes scuffing due to normal movements, but they would also create a warm tone from the actor's chest resonance while performing. The boom microphone would have an excellent higher frequency quality and it would produce a wonderful room tone and movement that would be unmatched by trying to recreate from scratch. We tried to leave as much of the organic production sound movement in each scene as possible and carefully attenuate any unwanted noises.

“Throughout the series, there are many times where the actors are speaking at relatively low levels, and/or whispering, and that almost always poses a challenge. In those moments, tensions were often high, and the words were often critical to the story. We did not want the audience to be lost so we often would merge both the boom and the lav together by essentially taking the best frequencies of the voice in each microphone and merging them together to recreate a sort of digital hybrid microphone technique. This technique allowed our re-recording mixer, Tateum Kohut, to really bring out the voice through the whispering.

“Ultimately, the brilliant performances of Mahershala (Wayne Hays) and Stephen Dorf (Roland West), under the direction of Nic, inspired us in dialogue editorial to focus on the quality of their voices and really give life to them when most appropriate.

“David Milch’s dialogue was also very important in Deadwood. We were fortunate enough to have the same production sound mixer Geoffrey Patterson capture great recordings. Our dialogue editors worked in a similar fashion to craft a track that preserved the rich vocal qualities from our actors. Utilizing iZotope RX 7 Advance to clean the track of unwanted sounds while preserving the richness of voice.”  

What are the workflows for both shows and delivery deadlines?

“On True Detective we had roughly 10 days of prep time before we mixed for five days on each episode. From the start to finish on Deadwood, we had five to six weeks.”