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Have You Heard? Here’s How ‘Making a Murderer’ Employs Sound in its Sprawling Narrative

Have You Heard? Here's How 'Making a Murderer' Employs Sound in its Sprawling Narrative

Right now, there’s a conversational icebreaker, brought to you by the ubiquitous Netflix, that’s guaranteed to spark no shortage of intense conversations: “Have you seen “Making a Murderer?”
Filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi have taken a magnifying glass at the story of Steven Avery, and his inescapable quagmire in the justice system — the 10-hour mammoth viewing experience chronicles, with deliberate precision and pacing, Avery’s conviction for murder and his unjust 18-year imprisonment (which is only the beginning of his legal troubles).

The series has invaded every nook and cranny of the pop cultural collective, and riding that wave of relevance is A Sound Effect, a sound effects resource and blog. In an interview with “Making a Murderer’s” veteran sound designer Leslie Shatz, titled “Behind the Sound For the Shocking ‘Making a Murderer,'” writer Asbjoern Andersen finds a new angle on the trending topic.

In the interview, Shatz went into detail describing complications in the world of aural cognizance and the importance of balancing sound in documentary filmmaking. After he began working in the sound business in ithe 70s, he obtained his first documentary credit on a film about early American auteur John Ford, “Directed by John Ford.” Shatz’s career since has included films as varied as “Milk,” “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and “12 Years a Slave”; he was nominated for an Oscar for his work on sound designer for his work in the 1999 remake of “The Mummy.”

In his interview, Shatz relates his appreciation of imperfections from sound in both archival and recorded interviews, as one that he had to learn to embrace. “The dirtiness and lack of technical quality of the original…I tried to enhance this feeling to help support the story,” he said.

Initially, Shatz sought to add ploys and methods from fictional films that would accentuate real-life drama and conflict for emotional effect: “I wanted to apply my techniques from feature film work, but I quickly reevaluated this approach when I discovered that it was easy to overlay a foreign aesthetic onto the material that was incompatible.”

That’s not to say that Shatz completely ignored the use of traditional sound techniques normally associated with fictional films. Shatz used Foley sounds (those recreated in a studio and added in post-production) to accentuate certain subtle elements in the story. These sounds enhanced the moment and realism, but would not call attention to themselves or distort the verisimilitude of the documentary — avoiding what Shatz called “intrusion.”

Shatz highlights the sound of the prisoner’s leg irons and the sound of the stenographer in the courtroom, as enhanced through the use of Foley. Foley use in a documentary can tread a bit on the side of truth distortion, especially in terms of documentary and investigative reporting, as it distorts certain aspects of what is supposed to be a raw and “unedited” series of facts. However, Shatz was aware of such concerns, and advised his “Foley artists to try to only create the realism inherent in the material, and not overdo it.”

You can read the full interview here, which is much more in-depth and technical, and focuses on the complications that arise from such a sprawling and encompassing work like “Making a Murderer.”

“Making a Murderer” is streaming now, only on Netflix.

READ MORE: Netflix’s ‘Making a Murderer’ Helps Generate Two Petitions to Free Steven Avery

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