One of the many pleasures of the Oscar-nominated Anomalisa is the emotional journey from feeling trapped to momentary joy back to the mundane. I spoke with the sound team of Aaron Glascock & Christopher Aud and editor Garret Elkins about their unsung craft on the acclaimed stop-motion feature from Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson.
Bill Desowitz: The opening on the airplane is a wonderful setup and precursor for Michael’s journey. How did you approach it?
Christopher Aud: I had put in the airplane rattling in a couple of spots and boy [Kaufman & Johson] really loved that. They wanted to add more to unsettle and make it less safe for Michael because it was so much more representative of the emotions that he’s going to be going through later.
Aaron Glascock: They were waiting for this transformation to happen when we put these kinds of sounds that you feel into the story. It’s a different kind of animation and it’s a different way of seeing a Charlie Kaufman story, which, I think, some people have challenges with. And this may be key to a greater audience understanding and being able to hang on. You have to unlock or enter a different part of your brain to experience it.
BD: And for Michael, he’s trying to understand what’s going on in his mind during this unsettling experience of the plane shaking.
AG: We called that “The Mind Fist.” You hear your blood pressure swell. We weren’t sure how much of that to show, but it is the property of the plane shaking. You are the blood in the brain.
CA: And the hotel does some of that too. You hear the lights vibrating or moving by you. Because this movie gets so quiet so often, we wanted to present a heightened sense of awareness throughout that hotel that Michael could be experiencing. And there was the hand-crafted element at the breakfast table.
AG: When the transition takes place over breakfast and we feel her slipping away, after some experimentation, we arrived at a very simple approach that was very close to the original approach, which was two actors reading the lines at the same time. And it very easily could’ve been morphed together as modern sound design. But it’s the most effective as it can be. You can pinpoint both characters in one moment, which is it’s value point.
BD: And the sex scene?
CA: The only thing that happened beyond those performances was he says to her to make some sounds. We had a couple of options from her on that and we think we landed on a funny one with the her hitting the headboard. But we leave it very intimate and vulnerable for those two.
BD: Lisa’s performance of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is one of the highlights. What was that like?
CA: It’s almost heartbreaking. One of my favorite things about that is when she’s singing all by herself, we led up some sound to that moment. So that when she begins to sing, the audience has that feeling of being in that space with her. She’s really jumping off a cliff there. And once she does, we take the audience up there with her and we all jump off together.
BD: And the conference breakdown is interesting sonically. Talking about that challenge.
AG: We were playing with a variety of sounds there and were playing with a much more boisterous section rolling into his outburst, turning around at the podium and basically assaulting the audience. But as we tried it with Charlie and Duke — and they were really supportive of us going down this road — we eventually came to the conclusion that we tried too hard and did too much so we scaled everything back and allowed the character to motivate and move through that moment. So instead of playing sound design, we get very intimate with the lights and the sound of the audience, the podium creaking to allow that tension to arise within him as opposed to doing an almost score ramp up into his moment.
BD: What was your editorial approach?
Garret Elkins: Trying to be very delicate and conveying how mundane Michael’s life had become. Also, you don’t want to lose the audience at the beginning of the movie. It’s a delicate thing. We wanted the pace to be regular, experimenting with sound to see how that might play a part in this world. Like the plane and even the hallway. What does it feel like and how is this world encroaching him? It’s funny: while we were showing people early cuts as we were putting it together, they would pick up on it in different places, so it was nice to subtly lay that ground work.
BD: What was challenging about the dream sequence?
GE: Going into that, how do we slightly put this world out of kilter and how do we slightly adjust the pacing in that world because it becomes more heightened? Ultimately, we relied on sound and [Carter Burwell’s] music to be the carrying force.
BD: And then when Michael meets Lisa, the tone changes.
GE: Once we get to Lisa, it takes a more leisurely pace because this moment of hope and something different is out there. Through that, we’re able to hear a new voice and Michael running down the hallway and comically putting his clothes on. Then, the music becomes more light-hearted at that too.
BD: And the sex scene?
GE: We wanted to make that as human and regal of a sex scene as possible. So we spent a lot of time in the animatic phase just trying to find what those human elements were. And putting in something simple like her bumping her head on the head board. It gives the audience a chance to laugh and release the tension of watching this sex scene and become more engaged in it.
BD: And then the total breakdown with the speech.
GE: That was another one where we wanted to explore, through his breakdown, how the sounds were encroaching, how the audience was peeking through and commenting and being at the discomfort of his speech to help heighten that moment.