Creating a Sonic Atmosphere That Lets the Dialogue of ‘Mrs. Maisel’ Hum

Watch sound editor and re-recording mixer Ron Bochar discuss balancing the cacophony of Midge's world with the zippy density of Amy Sherman-Palladino's dialogue.
Rachel Brosnahan in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"

Curated by the IndieWire Crafts team, Craft Considerations is a platform for filmmakers to talk about recent work we believe is worthy of awards consideration. In partnership with Amazon, for this edition we look at how supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Ron Bochar created the complex but clear sonic environments of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

From the beginning, the Amazon series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has raised television’s bar for ambition and audacity, with elaborately choreographed 360-degree camera movements, a broad and vivid color palette, and glamorous lighting and costumes that both invite and earn comparison with some of the greatest movies in Hollywood history. The show’s connection to classic cinema goes far beyond the visuals, however; perhaps its greatest evocation of classical Hollywood style comes in its lightning fast screwball dialogue, a longtime tradition in the work of showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino.

Getting that dialogue across to the audience without losing sight of the show’s broader aural demands is just one of the challenges sound editor and re-recording mixer Ron Bochar has faced since beginning work on the show at its inception. “When we did the pilot so many moons ago, Amy and Dan came to me and said ‘We don’t want it to sound like conventional television,’” Bochar told IndieWire. “’We don’t want it to sound like a sitcom. We don’t want it to sound like anything less than a full blown feature film. We want it dense. We want it populated. We want it busy. Oh yeah, and we want to hear all our dialogue.’ So that became the challenge, to try to maintain a balance that would make them happy and allow us to go as crazy as we wanted.”

One of Bochar’s biggest challenge in terms of prioritizing the dialogue and its clarity is the sheer amount of talk that the writers cram into each hour. “Their scripts are 80 to 100 pages, and the show is 50 or 55 minutes,” Bochar said. “There’s not a lot dropped, and you can’t get in the way of that dialogue. What I’ve learned on ‘Maisel’ is that you only get a little bit of time to sell the scene to the audience – you’ve got to do it right off the bat.”

That meant that for material like the Coney Island sequence seen in the video above, Bochar had to establish a complex soundscape immediately but then inconspicuously pull the various elements back. “Before I even got into the dialogue, I wanted to have the ambience from below to continue to waft up. There’s some music, and every now and then there are a couple of lines of dialogue from the group that work their way up. There’s the Spookarama, which is constantly going on, and there are seagulls and the ocean. When Midge is first walking into Coney Island we can go all out with crowd noise and everything, and when they first show up at the Wonder Wheel I can establish the Spookarama and all kinds of other background things. But then you have to subtly pull it all back and shape it around the dialogue – the dialogue always has to be supreme.”

Giving the dialogue supremacy is complicated further by the fact that the show’s creators hate looping and try to limit it as much as possible. “Every season Amy and Dan try to throw one more curve ball at us where we have to find a new way of doing things,” Bochar said, noting that in one instance a scene of Midge and fellow comic Lenny Bruce running through the snow was shot in the summer in front of facades on the studio lot. “There were snow machines, wind machines, you name it – everything was noisy, and there was hardly any looping aside from additional sounds of people running away. As far as Lenny and Midge went, that was all their production track. How we ended up pulling that off in a short period of time is beyond me.”

Many of Bochar’s most sophisticated sonic atmospheres are the ones least noticeable to audiences, like the many scenes in which Midge performs her stand-up comedy routines. Whether or not the jokes land and whether or not the period details are convincing largely depend on subtle adjustments that Bochar makes in the mix. Often figuring out those shifts is a matter of intuition and simply following the footage’s lead. “By the time you start working with the material, the film tells you what to do,” Bochar said. “You begin to feel the undulations and you can feel that maybe you need a little more detail here, or punch up the group sound there, or it’s not female enough.” Creating this ambience is a large part of how Bochar uses sound to reinforce the connection not only between Midge and the audience onscreen, but Midge and the audience at home. “Whenever Midge is performing, it’s never just a generic laugh. Everything is tailored and it’s all about the detail, because the sound is there to guide the transitions and emotions. It’s contributing greatly to the storytelling.” —Jim Hemphill


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