The Audio Design Hacks That Made Mank Sound Like Citizen Kane

Ren Klyce had to experiment with a lot of new ideas to make David Fincher’s movie sound old.

Angela Watercutter
February 2, 2021

During the COVID-19 pandemic, very few cinephiles have seen the inside of a theater, let alone a grand old one like the Castro Theater in San Francisco or the Paramount in Austin, Texas. Yet those who have recently watched Mank, David Fincher’s biopic about Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, might’ve noticed—or, more specifically, heard—something that felt old, something that sounded like it was coming from a 1930s theater, even if they were streaming the movie on Netflix. It’s eerie—and completely intentional.

With Mank, Fincher wanted a movie that not only looked but also sounded like the films produced in Hollywood during Mankiewicz’s era in the 1930s and ’40s. To do that, he shot the film in black and white (of course), and also enlisted the help of sound designer Ren Klyce, who came up with a method to create an aural “patina” that made all the dialog, all the ambient noises, and the score sound as though they were created using the methods of Golden Age pictures. “We came up with the technique by analyzing the sound spectrum of old-fashioned movies,” Klyce says, “and of course Citizen Kane was one that we modeled, and we kind of realized that that film sounded the way it did because of the limitations of the technology.”

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