Director David Fincher tasked the sound crew with reviving the feel of the Golden Age of Hollywood in the track. They came up with a process of combining old and new technologies to create a “patina” for playback.
Ren Klyce, Sound Designer Drew Kunin, Production Sound Mixer Jeremy Molod, Supervising Sound Editor Nathan Nance, Re-Recording Mixer
On David Fincher’s Mank, sound designer Ren Klyce was tasked with crafting a monaural soundtrack, similar to those heard in films of the ’30s and ’40s, engaging in a laborious, experimental process, in order to round out the world of one of the year’s most distinctive films.
Scripted by Fincher’s late father Jack, the director’s longtime passion project follows Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman)—a washed up, alcoholic screenwriter from Hollywood’s Golden Age—as he endeavors to finish the screenplay for the iconic Citizen Kane.
The goal with Mank was to immerse viewers in its period world through the creation of visual and sonic ‘patinas,’ each working in concert with the other. While cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt shot the black-and-white film digitally, at extremely high resolution—allowing Fincher to degrade the image in post—Klyce would tinker with sonic degradation, tapping into all of the characteristics that gave early 20th century soundtracks their unique feel.
One of Fincher’s closest collaborators—who has worked with him on 10 features and two television series since 1995—Klyce had experimented only briefly with mono sound in the past, on a handful of Fincher films. “But we never did it with the conviction of, ‘This is the purpose,’” the sound designer notes, “‘because we want it to feel like it was made using the technology of the time.’”
Below, the seven-time Oscar nominee recalls his earliest conversations with Fincher about Mank, and the multifaceted process of fashioning its vintage sonic palette.
Seven-time Oscar-nominated sound pro Ren Klyce, who was born in Japan and moved to Northern California at a young age with his parents, traveled all the way from 1940s Hollywood to an ethereal afterlife in the course of his work as supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer on his two most recent films, Netflix‘s Mank and Pixar‘s Soul. (He’s also credited as sound designer on Soul.)
Klyce has been friends with Mank director David Fincher since they were teenagers and has worked on all of Fincher’s features. The two met working on the George Lucas-produced Twice Upon a Time and, remembers Klyce: “We kind of clung to each other because we were the youngest people on the crew. David was doing visual effects. I was an art assistant back then.”
For the director’s latest effort, about the origins of 1941’s Citizen Kane, Klyce says, “David wanted to have the look and sound of something that was made in the early ’40s.”
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.”
We sit down with Ren Klyce to talk about his work as Supervising Sound Editor and Re-Recording Mixer on David Fincher’s latest film Mank. We go down a rabbit hole on how he created the ‘patina’ over the entire soundtrack to make it feel like it was made in the depression era. It was no easy task….
David Fincher and Ren Klyce working on the soundtrack for Mank
The reverb send fader moves sent with the film for foreign versions of Mank
“Mank” is one of 2020’s most technically dazzling films. David Fincher‘s perfectionism transported us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood to tell us the story of Academy Award winning screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) and the film has been hailed as one of the year’s best, most recently being rewarded as one of the Top 10 films of the year by the American Film Institute (AFI). Many members from the film’s production were kind enough to give us a behind-the-scenes look into the making of the film including Academy Award-nominated sound designer Ren Klyce, Costume Designer Trish Summerville & Co-Producer/VFX Producer, Peter Mavromates.
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David Fincher and Ren Klyce came of age during a seminal time for Hollywood: when the pair were just kids, a group of ’70s filmmakers was reshaping what it meant to make movies, right from the pair’s native Bay Area. In a biographical detail almost too perfect to be true, George Lucas rented a house in Marin County to edit his “THX 1138,” that just so happened to be located right next door to the Klyce family’s home. A single suburban lawn is all that separated a then-9-year-old Ren from the great Walter Murch, just as he was starting to change modern movie sound forever, work he’d continue throughout the decade with another NorCal auteur, Francis Ford Coppola. And it would be on a Lucas-produced animated feature, “Twice Upon a Time,” that future sound designer Klyce would meet his Coppola, a then-19-year-old Fincher.
Over the last 25 years, as Hollywood has utilized the multi-channel surround technology pioneered by Murch to create bombastic soundtracks that all too often mask a lack of craft, Klyce has helped Fincher explore the subconscious underbelly of his own films, constantly refining how sound can be used to shape a viewer’s emotional response.
“To me, sound design is not about 96 channels all at 11, and two side cars giving you this sound pressure-gasm; to me, it’s very much about the detail and the nuance and maybe things that you wouldn’t even be aware that you heard until the second or third time you saw it,” said Fincher in an interview about his collaboration with Klyce. “I can’t talk more enthusiastically about someone [Klyce] I feel has very subtly pushed what sound designers do.”