Cinema director David Fincher created one of the first original streaming series with House of Cards, and his innovative spirit infuses the Netflix original series Mindhunter, now in its second season.
In this podcast episode, the sound team discuss Fincher’s unique approach to the sound of serial killer interrogation scenes, a hallmark of this fascinating, dark series. The team discuss setting the acoustic tone of the series, including the oppression of the FBI agents’ basement office (and a very special door), why it was important to Fincher to always hear trainee agents at Quantico at target practice, and the joy of receiving Fincher’s incredibly detailed mix notes.
Steve Bissinger – Sound Effects Editor Scott Lewis – Re-Recording Mixer Stephen Urata – Re-Recording Mixer
Director David Fincher’s Mindhunter series on Netflix is as calculated as the serial killers it fictionalizes. Fincher locks down all the details on a nanoscopic level, including the sound. Here, Skywalker Sound supervising sound editor Jeremy Molod talks about his collaboration with Fincher and how they deliver a finely-crafted show.
Having spent so much time as a Foley editor in his early career, award-winning supervising sound editor Jeremy Molod, at Skywalker Sound, appreciates the value of that performance art, as does his long-time collaborator director David Fincher. So much so, that Fincher even requests samples of potential footstep sounds for his characters before the Foley is shot. With all the details that a director has to attend to, it’s rare that one allocates so much attention to sound — even down to the Foley footsteps.
In Season 2, Ep. 2 of Netflix’s Mindhunter series — which is up for Emmy consideration for sound editing and mixing — Fincher and Molod used Foley and sound design to communicate the nervousness and discomfort of BTK-survivor Kevin Bright (Andrew Yackel) as he recounts details of the attack to detectives Tench (Holt McCallany) and Drowatzky (Jeb Kreager). Kevin is in the backseat of Drowatzky’s truck, and because of the camera angle and depth-of-field, he’s not clearly seen by the audience. His movements are implied through Foley, and those increasingly agitated movements reflect Kevin’s emotional state.
Here, Molod discusses the sound team’s work on Mindhunter, focusing on several key scenes in Season 2, Ep. 2, and their use of Foley and loop group as a storytelling tool that adds unique detail to the soundtrack.
How has your experience of working on Mindhunter Season 1 impacted your approach to Season 2? Any lessons learned on that first season that sparked ideas for this new season?
Jeremy Molod (JM): Once we got through the first season, our crew had a rhythm down. That made things a lot easier for Season 2 just in terms of our workflow and how we do it.
We didn’t take a new approach to the second season. We treated Season 1 and Season 2 as one long, huge movie. We continued exactly what we were doing before. David [Fincher] would give us his spotting notes and we’d work on it and then he would give us notes on what he liked and didn’t like. We just proceeded that way.
Since you’ve worked with David Fincher before, did he just give you general notes and let you do your thing?
JM: No. He’s very hands-on, more so than any other director I’ve worked with. He cares about every little aspect. Before we start working on it, he’ll tell us what he has in mind sound-wise, but every single day he is chiming in with more information, more detailed notes, and more ideas of things he’d like us to try. It’s a back-and-forth all the time. I send things to David almost every day for him to listen to and make notes on. It’s a very collaborative effort.
Often directors are so busy handling everything else that they don’t have time for sound collaboration. It’s good to hear he’s very involved in that…
JM: Absolutely. It’s a rare thing for a director to be this involved in sound, but that’s one of the reasons his movies are so good. He cares about every little aspect of it.
I was late in discovering David Fincher’s gripping series on serial killers, Mindhunter. But last summer, I noticed the Netflix original lurking in my suggested titles and decided to give it a whirl. I burned through both seasons within a week. The show is both thrilling and chilling, but the majority of these moments are not achieved through blazing guns, jump scares and pyrotechnics. It instead focuses on the inner lives of multiple murderers and the FBI agents whose job it is to understand them through subtle but detail-rich conversation.
Sound plays a crucial role in setting the tone of the series and heightening tension through each narrative arc. I recently spoke to rerecording mixersScott Lewis and Stephen Urata as well as supervising sound editorJeremy Molod — all from Skywalker Sound — about their process creating a haunting and detail-laden soundtrack. Let’s start with Lewis and Urata and then work our way to Molod.
Scott Lewis, Stephen Urata, and Jeremy Molod
How is working with David Fincher? Does he have any directorial preferences when it comes to sound? I know he’s been big on loud backgrounds in crowded spaces since The Social Network.
Scott Lewis: David is extremely detail-oriented and knowledgeable about sound. So he would give us very indepth notes about the mix… down to the decibel.
Stephen Urata: That level of attention to detail is one of the more challenging parts of working on a show like Mindhunter.
Working with a director who is so involved in the audio, does that limit your freedom at all?
Lewis: No. It doesn’t curtail your freedom, because when a director has a really clear vision, it’s more about crafting the track to be what he’s looking for. Ultimately, it’s the director’s show, and he has a way of bringing the best work out of people. I’m sure you heard about how he does hundreds of takes with actors to get many options. He takes a similar approach with sound in that we might give him multiple options for a certain scene or give him many different flavors of something to choose from. And he’ll push us to deliver the goods. For example, you might deliver a technically perfect mix but he’ll dig in until it’s exactly what he wants it to be.
Urata: Exactly. It’s not that he’s curtailing or handcuffing us from doing something creative. This project has been one of my favorites because it was just the editorial team and sound design, and then it would come to the mix stage. That’s where it would be just Scott and me in a mix room just the two of us and we’d get a shot at our own aesthetic and our own choice. It was really a lot of fun trying to nail down what our favorite version of the mix would be, and David really gave us that opportunity. If he wanted something else he would have just said, “I want it like this and only do it like this.”
But at the same time, we would do something maybe completely different than he was expecting, and if he liked it, he would say, “I wasn’t thinking that, but if you’re going to go that direction, try this also.” So he wasn’t handcuffing us, he was pushing us.
At PIX System, we help create entertainment and media by bringing creativity, collaborators and assets together. For 16 years, we’ve been creating and innovating ways to give the top creative talent, studios, mini-majors, networks, indie productions, and online content providers the time and resources they need to create. Better. Faster. More reliably.
Our industry leading platform is an open sandbox and secure home base, viewer, community workspace, media mine, think tank and muse – a place on the digital frontier where creative and strategic content and communication are safe and tidy and easily found, shared and worked on alone or together.
On Saturday night at its annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored PIX with a Technical Achievement Award. The award recognized Eric Dachs, founder and CEO; Erik Bielefeldt, director of research and development; Craig Wood, technical director; and Paul McReynolds for the design and development of the industry leading security mechanism for distributing media. Prior to the awards ceremony, Digital Cinema Report spoke exclusively with Bielefeldt and Wood to talk about the company’s continued innovation in the evolving world of content collaboration from film to digital to next-generation data rich requirements.
Technical Achievement Award (Academy Certificate): to Eric Dachs, Erik Bielefeldt, Craig Wood and Paul McReynolds for the design and development of the PIX System’s novel security mechanism for distributing media.
PIX System’s robust approach to secure media access has enabled wide adoption of their remotely collaborative dailies-review system by the motion picture industry.
PIX founder and CEO Eric Dachs thanked Ren Klyce, Ceán Chaffin and David Fincher (present at the ceremony): “your friendship, patience, and talents have had an enduring and measurable impact on our work, and more importantly, in filmmaking.”
Eric Dachs, Erik Bielefeldt, Craig Wood, and Paul McReynolds (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)
The familiar Pix app is one of the early tools with security features developed to improved communication and collaboration during production, which was initially conceived as filmmaking became more distributed geographically. After being used on more than 5,000 film and TV projects including Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody and Mindhunter, its developers will be among those honored Saturday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual Scientific and Technical Awards.
Pix founder/CEO Eric Dachs — who with director of R&D Erik Bielefeldt, technical director Craig Wood and Paul McReynolds will receive Technical Achievement Awards — started his career in sound and it was while working as an assistant to seven-time Oscar nominated sound designer Ren Klyce on David Fincher’s 2002 film Panic Room that the idea for Pix was born. “I got a look at how digital technology was changing motion picture postproduction, but I also saw the inefficiency from faxing notes when the work was distributed geographically,” Dachs tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I started writing a really simple prototype application for capturing David’s spotting notes and getting them distributed to the crew via a simple web application. So that [composer Howard Shore] could get the music notes in real time, and the different departments within sound were no longer having to wait for faxes.”
One afternoon during the final mix, Klyce showed Fincher the app and the technically-savvy director was impressed. In fact, he continues to use it today.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) honored Eric Dachs ’98, the founder and CEO of PIX System, with a Technical Achievement Award at its Oscars 2019 Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation on Feb. 9, 2019.
Since its creation in 2003, PIX System has become the entertainment industry gold standard in providing secure communication and content management capabilities. Dachs, a theater major while at Wesleyan, designed and coded the initial software early in his career when he was an assistant to sound designer Ren Klyce for Panic Room. It was then that he saw the need for an easy, safe digital platform to share revisions and collaborate across locations.
Slightly more than 22 years ago, David Fincher, a talented filmmaker who made music videos and commercials and was left by his directorial stint on his first feature Alien 3 so disillusioned and bitter he felt “he’d rather die of colon cancer than do another movie,” stumbled upon a script that would renew his faith in the filmmaking business. This particular piece was written by Andrew Kevin Walker, and was deemed too dark and bleak to succeed. The story was largely shaped by Walker’s experience of living in New York City for a couple of years, where he felt alienated, lonely and unhappy. Desperately trying to get his story made, Walker agreed to rewrite the screenplay on the demand of director Jeremiah Chechik (Christmas Vacation), and it was this altered version that should have ended up in Fincher’s hands. But the studio made a mistake, delivering Walker’s original piece to Fincher, who was immediately intrigued and, even when the mistake was explained, chose to insist on the utter darkness Walker envisioned. By mere happenstance, therefore, Se7en found its director and made the first, crucial step on its way to cinematic immortality. […]