When most film fanatics think of their favorite films’ technical aspects, they think visually: compositions, montage, special effects, and so on. But sound is just as integral to the makeup of a film’s environment as images, and the Tribeca Film Festival’s recent panel on sound design and music helped illustrate that.
Moderated by Glenn Kiser, the director of the Dolby Institute, “Dolby Institute: The Art of Sound Design & Music” took a look at some of the more notable moments in the careers of sound technician Skip Lievsay, a frequent Coen Brothers collaborator who recently won an Oscar for his work on Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” and music supervisor Susan Jacobs, known for her work with David O. Russell and Julian Schnabel. Here are a few highlights from the panel.
Lievsay on the turning point in “Inside Llewyn Davis”. Lievsay’s favorite moment in his latest collaboration with the Coen Brothers involves an unused guitar cue he wrote for John Wells’s “The Company Men,” which plays as Llewyn leaves the cat behind on a highway to Chicago. “If they’re here, I’m sure they’ll say that I’m wrong, but I thought it was a major stepping off point, where he basically has to confront his art, his personality…and to either remain a New York artist…or go forward to meet this producer…to me, that’s what he’s thinking.”
Lievsay on a sequence the Coens aren’t happy with. Lievsay had to replace the sound from the cop in the above scene with the track from another take. “They wouldn’t talk about it, but they didn’t like that track, for some reason. This whole sequence had this weird, I don’t know, ‘Don’t ask’…if you really want to know, you’ll have to ask Ethan.”
Lievsay on working with the Coens. “We mostly talk through our lawyers,” Lievsay joked. Traditionally, sound designers and directors talk through what ideas they might have. “We gave up on that a long time ago,” Lievsay said. Lievsay and his team edit at the same time that “Roderick Jaynes” does, working through what they’ve already finished.
Jacobs on the music for “Girlfight.” Susan Jacobs was working on the indie film “Girlfight,” and the original composer’s cues weren’t completely satisfying director Karyn Kusama. Young composer Thedore Shapiro, who was working for Jacobs, got a big break when he asked, “Don’t you have anything for me?” Through close collaboration with Kusama, he eventually found the music that helped make the movie work. “He had the enthusiasm to dig through and keep working to find that score.”
Jacobs on the expenses of source music vs. score. “If you know the song, and your mother knows the song, and your grandmother knows the song, you can’t afford the song.”
Jacobs on young filmmakers with allergies to using score. “I think it’s scary. When people take a piece of source, they’re putting it in the film, and they can sit back and gauge it…I’m finding less and less time people want to put into sitting down and carving a score.”
On an odd cue in “American Hustle.” In a dinner scene between Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle,” Jacobs played with what was available in the archives. “This is a piece of music from a 1974 erotica film…it’s a really fun way to get something unique and different.”
Lievsay on his favorite work he’s done with the Coens. Lievsay spoke about the ending of the wildly underrated “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” “It’s intimate because of his voice…I spend a ton of time trying to get it to sound really intimate and close up. He has, in his voice, a ton of gravelly sound…and he’s a smoker, so that helps.”
Lievsay on the Coens selling “The Man Who Wasn’t There” to Ann Richards, the ex-governor of Texas. Richards was instrumental in supporting the Austin Film Festival, and when she asked excitedly about the Coens’ next movie, Joel explained “The Man Who Wasn’t There” as “It’s like this movie that takes place in the 60s in California, and there’s, like, some crime things that happen, and he’s a barber, and then there’s a spaceship.” Richards’s response: “I’m trying real hard to get excited about this.”