Monday, June 01, 2009

J.J. Abrams on 'Star Trek' Sound Design

(An excerpt from DIRECTOR'S CHAIR: J.J. ABRAMS - 'STAR TREK' - via Post Magazine)

PM: How important are sound and music to you?

ABRAMS: "They're always 51 percent of what makes a film work. As important as everything else is, when the sound and music don't work, it never works as a whole, and when they're great, it often looks great. It's weird — even if the visuals aren't terrific, the sound saves the day. Most films I love, if you pull out the sound and music, they're just anemic. So it's critical for setting the right tone, and Michael Giacchino, with whom I've worked since Alias, wrote a beautiful score.

"We mixed at Fox, and that was the most difficult part of post, because, for whatever reason, the first mix just didn't really work. So we brought in Ben Burtt to help out with some of the sound effects, because it just didn't sound like Trek. So he created all of these iconic sound effects that we hadn't been using at all, and identified the ones that were aurally the equivalent of what I was trying to do visually, and he ended up basically making the film into a Star Trek movie. Even those first sounds you hear, those sonar pings, weren't originally in the film. And he did a brilliant thing — he cleared out areas of sound.

"Think about your favorite movies of all time, and they might have had 16 or 24 tracks. Now we have 196 tracks, but it doesn't make it better and often makes it worse. Ben came in and said, 'Get rid of it all, pull it all back, use just these three sounds.' And suddenly it was, 'Holy shit! It's impactful now, not just a wall of sound.' So he de-Phil Spectored the film and gave us more clarity. But then we found we'd gone too far in that direction, and taken out 16 minutes of music and pared it all back. So now it felt too slight, so we did a third mix, which was partly possible because we'd delayed the release date by six months. That was massively important. We actually ended up putting back a lot of the score and then we took certain cues written for scenes and switched them out. We must have moved and added and adjusted nearly 24 cues. It was a huge amount of last-minute fine tuning, but it brought the music back to the fore in a lot of scenes, brought sound effects back more and used them as a support as opposed to a central element."

[read the full interview]

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