The first time I saw David Fincher’s Mank, I was immediately transformed to my local old-school movie palace, The Rialto. I could imagine myself reclined in the plush red seats, surrounded by red curtains with gold fringe. I could smell the freshly popped corn. And I could hear the film booming in that classic movie palace sound, waves of 1930s-era monaural luxury wafting through a giant center speaker.
Given the current pandemic, that kind of escapism is pretty priceless. It’s exactly what sound designer Ren Klyce and director David Fincher wanted the user to feel while watching Mank.
“That was David’s wish — that you would feel that when watching the film, but our fear along with that wish was that somehow we wouldn’t be able to convey that response,” Klyce explained. “I’m so glad that you picked up on that.”
“Mank” has been a personal passion project for David Fincher for several decades now. His own father wrote the script, about the famously self-destructive writer of “Citizen Kane,” and Fincher was determined to make the film feel as authentic as possible. Almost like it was an undiscovered artifact from Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” insisting for years to film it in black & white, 1:33, and in mono. He once again joined forces with his longtime collaborator, sound designer Ren Klyce, to do exactly that. But building this time capsule turned out to be a surprisingly challenging process.
“It’s beyond production value. Sound is a portal into a stranger’s mind that is incredibly influential. And if we don’t avail ourselves of this access, um… then we’re stupid and we should die (laughs).” – David Fincher, director of “Mank”
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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