Soundtrack: The Oscar-nominated team behind <I>Greyhound</I>
Issue: March/April 2021

Soundtrack: The Oscar-nominated team behind Greyhound

Apple TV+'s Greyhound is a thrilling World War II story that was inspired by actual events. The film follows Captain Ernest Krause (played by Tom Hanks), as he leads an international convoy of 37 ships on a treacherous mission across the Atlantic, all in an effort to deliver thousands of soldiers and much-needed supplies to Allied forces. 

The film is nominated for an Oscar in the “Sound” category at this year’s Academy Awards, recognizing the work of Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders and David Wyman.

Greyhound was filmed in Baton Rouge, LA, and several authentic Naval ships were used during production. Wyman spent three days walking the ships and gathering sound elements that would be used in creating the soundtrack, particularly in scenes that would be shot on a stage. Some of his time involved analyzing the internal communications of the ship, and how an order gets communicated through the vessel. 

Here, production sound mixer David Wyman, re-recording mixer Beau Borders and supervising sound editor Warren Shaw talk about their work and contributions to making the film.

David Wyman

What were the sound needs of the film? 

Wyman: “Greyhound was always going to be an ambitious project, with both its content — mostly WW2 naval speak — and its complexity of shooting. The movie was going to be shot both on location (USS Kidd), a floating museum of the exact same ship as the story (USS Keeling), and on stage with sets built both at ground level and on a massive gimbal that required structural engineering and huge steel beams. The gimbal itself was 12 feet from the floor and the set added another 15 feet above that. The gimbal could be programmed to move on any axis, up 30 degrees of angle. Sea motion was so realistic that several crew members suffered from motion sickness during shooting. 

“Although the production sound needs were not atypical for a high-end motion picture, there were, however, several very, very unique needs and challenges.”

Beau Borders

Borders: “From a sound effects mixing point of view, we needed to use all of the elements of the natural environment to keep the feeling of unrelenting momentum pressing on the characters. Each sound chosen is based in reality, and used for a specific reason: tension.  

“Frosty windshield wipers, pulsing sonar pings, pounding waves, etc. All these themes are used over and over to keep the audience engaged in Captain Krause’s mission.”
Shaw: “Since almost the entire film takes place on one ship, it was important to us to sonically differentiate the environments throughout. The pilot house is a very different environment than the engine room, than the captain’s cabin, than the galley, and so forth. Sometimes the differences are very distinct, sometimes subtle, but we always sought to use sound to give a different feel and color to the various spaces.”

What were  some of the challenges you encountered? 

Wyman: “I believe that the first challenge to overcome upon reading the script was to admit that I knew very little about WW2 naval ships or how the command structure and personnel reacted to any given situation. I tried to research other movies based on naval battles of the time, but they were mostly unhelpful due to the very stylized nature of the dialogue and the never ending binocular shots! I did however learn what uniforms and battle dress they wore.  

“My real education came from the three days I spent aboard the USS Kidd and the wonderful veterans who work at the museum — some of whom actually served on that very ship. I took a deep dive into the way orders were transmitted, how commands were given and received, and most importantly, how the ship's communications allowed a vessel of this type to fight and survive. This was all of paramount importance. The ship was basically a floating telephone exchange with every device point to point wired to its corresponding device on numerous decks. We are all familiar with the voice tube used on numerous films to talk to the engine room for instance but I was not aware that there were private phone lines between decks or multi destination broadcast devices (not so affectionately termed ‘Bitch Boxes’), or that there were radio telephones used by the captains of all vessels to communicate swiftly with each other. Couple that with the Morse code, lamps, telegraph and semaphore flags, and you had an enormous array of ways to send and receive orders. 

“The director's vision was that everything that happened in the film world would have happened at sea in real life. The actors went to boot camp on the USS Kidd for a week and I went to sound boot camp. It soon became clear that what was needed was an immersive experience for the actors during filming that would allow them to use their newly acquired sailor skill sets, just as they would have done some 80 years ago. So I had a plan, however the director also had a plan. Nothing in the ship could be out of period. Everything had to match the real vessel, real sets, period props, period costumes — everything. So began the audio struggle to recreate a working ship.”

Borders: “A huge challenge for the entire sound team was to create the illusion that Greyhound was a real ship in a real ocean, battling real submarines. In reality, the incredible VFX team built everything digitally. When we were creating the soundscape of the film, we were working with a lot of temporary visual effects, so we really had to use our imaginations to bring the story to life. As the visual effects became more refined, so did our level of sonic detail.  The sound effects work that Warren Shaw did with Ann Scibelli, Jon Title and Will Digby truly elevated the immersive experience of the film. 

“In one particular scene, we were encouraged by the VFX supervisor to create the rhythm and chaos of the battle with sound effects. We then gave that scene back to the VFX department to animate against. It was a wonderful way to collaborate behind the scenes.”

Warren Shaw

Shaw: “A welcome challenge was to use sound to always propel the story forward. Sometimes an officer’s shouted command would be the key sound to focus on, then to be overtaken by a gun blast, then an ocean wave, then a music swell — it was an exciting and rewarding challenge to mine every moment’s potential and to always be weaving and balancing, always thinking about the overview of the story as we simultaneously worked on the tiny details.”
Can you talk a bit about the equipment you used? 

Wyman: “Equipment was firmly divided into three different roles. Production audio recording, sound effects playback and voice of God for the AD department and shipboard communications.”

Main Mixer Cooper CS208 (8CH 4BUSS 2AUX) 
Sub mixer: Sound Devices CL8 (8CH direct to recorder) 
Recorders: Sound Devices 788T x 2 (word and timecode locked) 
Wireless: Lectrosonics Venue systems x 2 (12ch of wireless) 
Boom and Plant Mics: Schoeps CMIT Blue shotguns 
Sanken CS3E shotguns 
Neuman KM185 Hyper Cardio short mics 
Sennheiser MKH416 shotguns 
Sanken CS1 short shotguns 
Wirless Lav Mics. Sanken COS11 and Countryman B6 
Antenna arrays of Shure, Lectrosonics, Sennheiser and Alps as needed per frequencies used. 

Sound Effects and Voice of God: 
2x 1000watt amps, various EV and Yamaha speakers. Sennheiser EW series wireless stage mics, various pre amps and splitter mixers. 

Communications Central control:
Audio Dev Ltd 8ch stereo mixer 
Lectrosonics IFB and Wirless transmitters 
Shure PTT(push to talk) mics 
1 whirlwind 24ch stage to fan 100ft loom 
1 whirlwind 8 ch stage to fan 100ft loom 

“I also carry a vintage pair of Schoeps CMC4 with various capsules, but the humidity levels from the special effects fan misters and fog proved too much for these guys.”
Borders: “We mixed this film at John and Nancy Ross’s facility — 424 Inc. They have an absolutely first class dub stage equipped with a Euphonix System 5. I used the traditional console in conjunction with multiple Pro Tools systems. The combination of a traditional console in conjunction with Pro Tools is a great way to get the best of both worlds in my workflow — utilizing both old school and new.”

Can you elaborate on the internal communications of the ship and how it is disseminated? How did that affect your job? What impact does having everything period correct (life jackets, helmets, phones, two-way speaker units, the old talkers with the telephone.) make on the sound? 

David Wyman

Wyman: “This was where things got really complicated. I’ll try to simplify as best I can, based on the characters and equipment they used. 

“So firstly, we are dealing with 1940s gear that’s 80-year-old stuff that the props department and the set decorators had sourced as best they could from around the country. None of the internal parts worked. Most were shells or just had rotting components inside. So the real challenge was to make these pieces work without altering their appearance or outward function. 

“It took a lot of planning and forethought before attempting modifications. Due to the fact that once I drilled into, or took apart or modified these pieces, there was no going back. As you might guess there are not many of these things left in the world. 

“Firstly, armed with my understanding from the USS Kidd, I had a pretty good idea how to break down Hanks’ penned script and map out who needed to talk to whom and who else needed to hear those conversations in order to either get the correct cues for their lines or to respond off camera with repeated orders. I began to draw a map of how this might work and how it could be controlled, to avoid chaos on the set. This allowed me to place a single 24-channel stage box on the gimbaled set to minimize cable management, as the rig was constantly moving. 

“Starting with the ‘bitch boxes’ — there were three in our story, although many more were on the real ship. One in the pilot house, one in the CIC (radar and course plotting room) and one in the Sonar Room. The key here was that they were two-way communicators — not duplex — but open squawk speakers with a push to talk. As stated, none of these worked upon arrival. 

“I managed to find some small personal stage monitors that could fit inside and act as my speakers with their own amp and EQ control. To make the talk function work, I decided that the only way to avoid a feedback loop was to not use the talent production audio recording mics, but to have discrete omni desktop mics directly on set and close to the units, which were only routed to speakers on other sets. All these mics went to the paint shop to be painted the exact same color as the set they were placed in. Along with about 500 feet of XLR cables that were run through the sets that all disappeared in plain sight. 

“The truest test of this system was when the director wanted to shoot two sets simultaneously. The CIC and pilot house scene, with a conversation about U-boat positions and bearings between Capt. Kraus (Hanks) and Lt Cole (Stephen Graham). With my 2nd utility learning the script and mixing the comms every day to ensure the correct speakers and mics were open, we pulled this off seamlessly. You can see the scene start around 11 minutes into the movie. When you hear a voice through a speaker in the tracks, that was a live actor off screen fed to a speaker on set, recorded by my boom mic. All the actors gave their off-screen lines in realtime everyday. 

“The Talkers presented another unique challenge. Firstly I had to understand the nature of their job. To send and receive commands and information from all over the ship and relay the same to everyone that needed to know. Therefore our actors needed to speak while hearing all the dialogue, both on and off screen. 

“The Talker equipment used in the 1940s was similar to a telephone operator, with a bell shaped breast plate, mounted mouthpiece, and a pair of tight fitting headphones. To capture the dialogue, I decided to place a Countryman B6 (known to be waterproof) in the bell, but as they would be both interior and exterior, a lot of wind protection was needed, as we used huge Ritter fans, misters and fog machines on stage to simulate storm conditions. To make the headphones work, I replaced one ear with a working driver sourced from some Sony 7506 headphones and left the other ear mute so they could hear the set. I soldered new connections and replaced the cables with the oldest looking balanced cable I could find. Headphone signal was derived from an IFB channel, which had the production audio feed and the mic was transmitted over one of my Lectro wireless channels. All the lines came through the breast plate (after some careful drilling) so that the actor could wear both the transmitter and receiver discretely. This system allowed the talker to hear exactly where they were in the scene regardless of exterior noise, receive orders and info from the Captain and Sonar room, and relay the same with intentional overlaps for expediency to the crew. 

“The last piece of our puzzle was the ‘sound phone’ and the ‘TBS’ (talk between ships). Both of these pieces required new headphone drivers and rewiring to allow a discrete IFB channel for ‘phones only’ to drive the earpiece. I used the production mics from the actors for the signal because there was no chance of feedback. The TBS required up to three actors to be off screen close to my station on PTT mics that were both recorded and sent over wireless to the device. That way Tom Hanks actually had realtime conversations with the off-screen actors and they followed his dialogue on headphones sourced from the main directors feed, again so they would know their place in the scene. 

“My two sound assistants had to learn the dialogue everyday so that they could cue the correct mics and open up the correct speakers and phones needed to keep the scene moving. All signals were passed through to the production mixer so I could ISO record these feeds as well to give the greatest audio variety to our post production mixers. 

“Helmets were wired for sound for the battle-station scenes and I could switch between hidden lav mics and helmet mics if the actor was required to get into battle dress on camera. Both Tom’s tie and hat had mics. Depending on the scene, multiple plant mics and lav mics were used for other crew members. My boom operator Betsy Lindell spent most of the time in the very cramped conditions of the pilot house on a very short pole with the Neumann KM185 or on the exterior part of the set in a full rain suit with the Sanken CS3 in a blimp, furry and a rain deflector. Finally, I placed two omni boundary layer mics at the two entrances to the pilot house to capture dialogue at the doorways, as there was no chance for Betsy to transition between inside and out as the doorways were so small and filled with actors! 

“In summary, the work we undertook to make this movie gave our actors a fully immersive, functional environment to become WW2 naval heroes, but it also allowed our audience to get a real glimpse of life under the incredible conditions faced by those brave men that served during the Battle of the Atlantic.”