Ira Sachs (“Keep the Lights On”) returns to Sundance this year with his latest, “Love is Strange,” starring Alfred Molina and John Lithgow as a gay married couple in New York, forced to live apart. Prior to its world premiere in Park City, Sachs provided Indiewire with an exclusive excerpt from his production diary chronicling the making of his film. He wrote the below entry while sound mixing the film at Skywalker Sound.
At the sound mix at Skywalker Sound, a palatial campus owned by George Lucas on 4000 acres of land and hills (and vineyards) a half hour North of San Francisco. I’ve mixed all my films previously at the now defunct Sound One, in the Brill Building in the heart of Time Square, so the difference is striking. While I’m missing daily lunch in a booth at the Edison Hotel, I’m getting used to waking up and looking outside my window at the sky and gentle mountains. Everything feels top notch up here, most of all our sound designer/mixer Kent Sparling, but including the espresso machine and the conversation at the lunch tables.
We are 1 of 19 films that have completed sound at this facility that are heading to Sundance — I believe a Skywalker high — and a number that has a lot to do with their very close relationship with the San Francisco Film Society, which — thanks to the generosity and vision of philanthropist Jen Rainin, and the leadership of Michele Turnure-Salleo – has transformed the landscape of possibility out here. The SFFS gives away $1 million a year to independent films, which makes them, along with organizations like the Austin Film Society and Cinereach – and of course the Sundance Institute – the American alternative to government support. There would be no “Fruitvale,” no “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” among many others, without these folks.
We are mixing our sound next door to tentpoles like “Captain America 2” and “Rio 2.” I’ve seen Walter Murch in the hallways, who sound designed most of Coppola’s greatest films – including “The Conversation” (“he’d kill us if he got the chance”) and “Apocalypse Now” — and whom my editor Michael Taylor and I have named an editing term. To “Murch” is to run through everything at a fast pace, linearly. To let the eye be reminded of cuts and rhythms. It’s something you had to do on a Steenbeck, but you do much less often in non-linear editing. There’s a lot of things lost in the Digital Age. So it’s fun to see Murch himself here in person.
But more than Murch, who I didn’t have the nerve to say hello to, what’s been great is to have a few other indie directors around, including Mike Cahill (“I Origins”), Thomas Allen Harris (“Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People”), Cat Kandler (“Hellion”), Cutter Hodierne (“Fishing Without Nets”), all of us spending our days in dark rooms mixing our movies. All of us with premieres in Park City only a week or so int the future. There’s an environment of anticipation, and excitement. It makes me feel young, I have to admit.
Here in the darkness, with Kent and Michael, Lucas and Jay, the days are filled with questions like “When we enter that room do you want to hear the traffic outside, or do you want to hear more rain?” Or “Can you lower the volume on that door squeak?” Small details that add up to big things, and what in the end makes the film “sweeter.” There’s beauty that comes with sound, and also strong effect. I noticed today how a scene gathers energy by hitting the right volume level. I also remembered how important it is to occasionally surprise the audience, to have some sound be louder or more brutal than you might anticipate. It’s that occasional messiness which keeps a film from being airless, that gives it life.
Sound is the last stage of the process, before we share the film with the world. I was asked by someone today if I got bored of the film, watching it time and again in the process of making it, and I realized I never do – until it’s done, when it becomes something frozen in time. Until then, it lives and breathes, it has conversations with you, you argue with it, you comfort it, you worry about it, and, hopefully, you keep making it better.