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How Sound and Editing Build Tension During ‘House of Cards’ Season 4 Presidential Campaign (Emmy Watch)

Editing and sound focus on a house divided during the Presidential election cycle in Season 4 of the addictive Netflix political drama.

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The stakes couldn’t be higher for the Underwoods in Season 4 of “House of Cards”: Frank (Kevin Spacey) struggles to hold onto power with his Presidential re-election and Claire (Robin Wright) plots her own political path to the Presidency.

And editing and sound mixing play a significant role in conveying their tug-of-war.

“We try to keep it balanced and close to the world of believability,” said Lisa Bromwell, who edited the first two episodes and concentrated on the first half of the season. “It’s absolutely heightened in a fun way.”

From the very beginning, David Fincher wanted “House of Cards” to be cut more like a movie, according to Bromwell, which means focusing on the reactions of supporting characters. “You can always cut to Kevin Spacey at any moment. But he’s the one pulling the strings and often times it’s more interesting to see how other people are reacting to what he’s doing. Are they on to him? Are they buying what he’s saying?”

At the same time, Frank and Claire both have their own agendas and they never speak the truth even when talking directly to each other.

“We did not know where it was going in Season 4 so it was hard to shade their performances,” continued Bromwell. “Are you shading Claire to get back with Frank or are you shading Claire to stay away?”

In one of the rare instances of Frank’s loneliness, he asks an aide to keep him company in a hotel room. “When Frank walks into the room, I made sure that there was no music and it was before he turned the TV on. For a moment, he was lost because he’s used to people being around him. He’s not totally comfortable without Claire by his side,” noted Bromwell.

Bromwell also enjoyed the introduction of Claire’s mom, Elizabeth (Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn), who immediately cuts Frank down to size by calling him poor white trash. “You see where Claire gets her scheming nature,” Bromwell suggested.

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Indeed, to the delight of editor Byron Smith, attention shifted to Claire in the second half of the season. “In a lot of ways, she’s more dangerous because she would not care if he perishes,” he insisted. “And she takes the opportunity to grab power when he’s at his most vulnerable.”

The second half of the season brings back gritty, bone-jarring power. That’s what makes the series fascinating for Smith: “Power is what legacies are built on. My hope is that through [Claire’s] POV, you see more of what it’s like for women…. It’s all about being a women in power and facing the discrimination from men.”

Smith also relished taking a more surreal turn with Frank’s dreams and nightmares: “In a dream, he realizes that without her he’s trapped in the very room that he was working so hard to get into. It’s fascinating to realize the people that support you.”

In terms of sound mixing, Skywalker Sound’s Jeremy Molod played the surreal sequences unconventionally. While the visuals are realistic, the sounds are much more disturbing, in a nod to Stanley Kubrick.

“When Frank got stuck in a room and he’s turning a door knob, we experimented with a lot of different sounds and finally went with nothing,” said Molod (who used the Fincher-favorite PIX app, which saves time by auditioning everything before mixing in the studio).

“In another creepy dream, Frank walks down a hallway toward Zoe Barnes [Kate Mara], but he hears the clanks of the subway train that killed her in Season 2,” Molod added. “It’s like Frank’s crazy version of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ in which he confronts past crimes and fights for his life and legacy.”

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