Soundtrack: <I>Ozark</I> mixers Larry Benjamin & Kevin Valentine
Issue: September/October 2020

Soundtrack: Ozark mixers Larry Benjamin & Kevin Valentine

Netflix’s popular Ozark series recently completed its third season. The show follows financial adviser Martin ‘Marty’ Byrde (Jason Bateman), who drags his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and children Charlotte and Jonah (Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner) from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks, where he must launder millions of dollars for a drug cartel.

Much of the series centers on the family getting adjusted to their new surroundings, and Marty’s search for a suitable business to serve as a front. Local Ruth Langmore (Emmy Award-winner Julia Garner) adds to Marty’s already stressful situation. In Season 3, his riverboat casino plan is starting to take shape, but when Wendy’s brother comes to town, their lives are thrown into chaos.

Jason Bateman (center) with the Ozark sound team.

In addition to starring in the series, Bateman is also its executive producer, and has directed early episodes. Season 3 received 18 Emmy nominations, including recognition in the Directing, Picture Editing, Music Composition, Writing and Sound Mixing categories. 

Kevin Valentine handles the series’ effects, backgrounds and Foley, while Larry Benjamin focuses on Ozark’s music, dialogue and ADR. The Emmy-nominated duo have been handling audio post on the show since its debut in 2017, initially working at Smart Post Sound for Seasons 1 & 2, and later moving over to Formosa Group for Season 3.

Larry Benjamin

“That typically happens,” says Benjamin of the move. “Shows up and move from facility to facility over the course of time. And that kind of changed, not so much our workflow, but the amount of time. We had a four-day mix originally in the budget, and then this season, were able to finish in three days. We actually made it work…and we were efficient with our workflow.”

The finale of Season 3, titled “All In”, was the episode submitted for Emmy consideration, and features a range of highlights throughout its soundtrack.

“They all have little nuggets of goodness,” says Benjamin of the season’s 10 episodes. “That one, we felt, reached a climax. There was a really great cliffhanger. It was like a piece of classical music — it had a lot of dynamics to it. It had peaks and valleys, and some holes to have some things work.”

“And some more bombastic moments,” adds Valentine (pictured, right). “So it’s really a good mix intended for submission.”

The mixing team begins by creating a pre-dub pass, where they are left to their own devices. 

“We kind of know what to do, and we work simultaneously on different parts of the show, which is the very unique way of working, which we’ve been doing for quite some time, but it it’s economical,” says Benjamin.

Valentine might put on a pair of headphones for a small period of time, isolating himself from what Benjamin is working on nearby.

“Generally, I could be working a dialogue from the scene at the beginning of the show [and he’ll] be working on backgrounds and effects for a scene way downstream,” Benjamin explains. “And then at some point, we will marry up and put in the music, and [Kevin] will put in the Foley. So it’s a very good, efficient way of getting through the show in a day and a half.”

The pair realizes that it’s an unconventional way of working — both in the same room, sharing the same speakers, but working on different sequences. 

“If we tried to do it in just a linear, old-fashioned mode and play at the same time, you just can’t do it,” says Benjamin of the workload. “At first it’s tough for the client to get used to, [but] this has been going on for a decade now.”

There are times when they will put everything — all in — at the same time, but for the most part, they hold off on placing the music because it sometimes saturates the mix and presents just too much sound at once.

“I’ll handle just the dialogue and Kevin will work the backgrounds, and we’ll kind of do it in layers, like an onion. He’ll then work on the effects and then the Foley, and then the music. So we are kind of building this from the ground up, but truly at the same time is how we do it. That’s our workflow.”

The mixers work very closely with Jason Bateman, ultimately presenting him with two episodes at a time for review, since his availability is so limited.

“He’ll come in on the third day and we’ll have cued up two shows for him to watch,” Benjamin notes. “And he will have just a handful of notes. He’s very particular, specific, decisive, but also uses broad strokes. He doesn’t get into the weeds and into the incredible detail, which exists in the tracks.”

The mixers have high praise for Bateman and his production company Aggregate Films, noting that he is much more than just a good actor, writer and producer.

“He knows just about everything about everything in the business or process,” says Benjamin. “He is just astounding.”  

“Even the technical ‘sausage making’ part of it, he really knows,” Valentine adds.

The 36-by-25-foot studio is based around Avid Pro Tools, with two S6 M40 mixing surfaces featuring 24 faders per mixer. The Avid feeds a Panasonic laser projector, which Benjamin will use while Valentine works on a broadcast monitor.

“I have two monitors,” says Valentine, “and I split them up between my picture on my system and all the goodies I have to mix with. So when Larry is doing his pre-dub on dialogue, he’s looking at the projected picture, and I just look at the picture on a monitor so that we could work on scenes independently. There’s no arguing over picture.”

The finale in Season 3 features a shooting that will catch the audience by surprise. 

“There’s blood splatter. It’s so shocking,” recalls Benjamin.

“It’s very well executed,” says Valentine of the scene. “It’s not often...the killing off of a character that has become a series regular…That’s shocking in itself. And then to have it done in a way — auditorially — where it’s shocking and it’s leading up to that moment. You had a lot of peaks and valleys…We really try to honor the space between the notes and have those dynamic moments. To make something loud — how do you do that? You make something before it soft. So, this episode in particular had a lot of those instances of dynamics.”

The show is mixed in 5.1.

For more on Ozark, check out our coverage of Emmy-nominated score mixer Phil McGowan, who details his work with composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.