NEW YORK CITY — Now streaming on Netflix, writer/director Radha Blank’s debut feature The Forty-Year-Old Version is the semi-autobiographical tale of a struggling black playwright who, pressured by her impending 40th birthday, reinvents herself as a rap artist. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and Director Award at Sundance, Best Screenplay at the IFP Gotham Awards, Best First Film at the New York Film Critics Circle and the New Generation Prize from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the film presents a compelling portrait of New York City’s hip hop underground, thanks, in part, to the creative work of the post production team based at Post New York Alliance member Goldcrest Post (www.goldcrestfilms.com).
“The 40 Year-Old Version is a classic New York film,” says Rebekah Hernandez, the film’s post production supervisor (and PNYA member), “and it had a great New York City post team.”
A chief task for the film’s post sound team, led by supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Eric Hirsch and supervising dialogue editor/re-recording mixer Gregg Swiatlowski, was to replicate the ambiences of various New York City neighborhoods, reflected in their distinctive traffic patterns, business and residential neighborhoods and other environmental features. Subtle differences are even incorporated into background voices.
“People in Harlem sound different from people in Brooklyn,” explains Hirsch. “We tried to capture that in the snippets of dialogue you hear. We also went to Harlem, the Bronx and Brooklyn to record ambient sound so that the reality of those places comes through.”
In some instances, the sound team chose to retain extraneous noise inadvertently captured during production.
“You might hear someone yelling in the background and, rather than edit it out, we kept it because it fit the mood,” Swiatlowski says. “In one scene, you hear someone smash a bottle in the street. When Radha heard that, she said, ‘You know what, that’s part of the neighborhood. It’s real. Leave it in.”
Sound draws the audience inside Radha’s head during a hip-hop battle in an underground club, where her act is not going well.
“After the MC introduces different rappers, there’s a shift to slow motion accompanied by subtle sound design that indicates her distress,” observes Swiatlowski. “From there, we get into the actual battle with various freestyle rappers. Reflecting Radha’s perspective, it cuts from the performers to various people in the crowd reacting. It was a challenging scene to shoot, and even more challenging to mix, but it allows the audience to feel her emotions.”
Hirsch says that they were also challenged to get the sound right for a scene in Radha’s bedroom.
“She’s with another character who’s rapping to his dead mother,” Hirsch explains. “It’s a long scene and needed sound support, but we didn’t want to add anything distracting. The challenge there was to make it sound real, while keeping it quiet and contained.”
Color grading and editorial finishing was also completed at Goldcrest Post. The film was shot in black & white by cinematographer Eric Branco, who worked with an Arricam LT camera and shot to 35mm black & white motion picture film stock. As a result, picture post production followed a traditional digital intermediate workflow. The film negative was processed in a photo-chemical lab, then scanned to digital at 2K for creative editorial and later rescanned at 4K for finishing and color grading.
Sound and picture finishing for the film was completed twice, once prior to the premiere at Sundance and a second time to ready it for streaming on Netflix. That second finish occurred during the pandemic lockdown.
“We had to quickly come up with a plan to safely mix on a stage at Goldcrest Post,” recalls Hernandez. “It was a lot of work, but we pulled together and figured it out. The streaming version looks and sounds amazing.”