This season’s sound editing race pits the high-octane thrills of James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” racing biopic against Sam Mendes’ continuous-shot, world War I extravaganza, “1917,” and Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to 1969 Tinseltown, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
In “Ford v Ferrari,” car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) teams up with iconoclastic test driver Ken Miles to build and race the revolutionary Ford GT40 Mark I in the hopes of winning the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. Sound editor Don Sylvester embarked on a search for vintage cars and found a guy in Ohio who built a Ford GT from scratch using vintage parts. He let them trick it out with microphones and drive it around a track. That became the hero Ford GT. Then he found a ’59 Ferrari in Atlanta, whose owner let them run it through its paces (in Florida, though, because of noise limitations in Atlanta), and that became the hero Ferrari.
In “1917,” two young British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) must deliver a letter that warns of an impending ambush beyond No Man’s Land. This single-shot narrative put audiences through the trenches and front lines with them like an obstacle course . “There were two factors we needed to consider when designing the soundscape — the first was how to best help the audience inhabit the same world as Schofield and Blake by only revealing the world as it was revealed to them,” said supervising sound editor Oliver Tarney. “The second was the additional level of responsibility that we, along with music, were tasked with in affecting the overall pacing and dynamics of the film.”
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While sound and music are always integral to the movies of Tarantino, this most personal of projects contains a more complex soundscape involving the recreation of vintage TV shows and the iconic rock hits from AM radio station KHJ, the sounds of classic cars, a martial arts fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), and the violent clash with the Manson Family (including a flamethrower). “There are so many examples of songs developing alongside the action in the film,” said supervising sound editor Stateman. “And then the KHJ [disc jockeys] kind of glued it together with a sense of Los Angeles. They provided a color. Quentin described Don Steele and Humble Harve [Miller] as almost as powerful as evangelical types. Kids tuned in to KHJ not only to get their music, but to have a sense of what’s happening in their world. News and information given to them by these disc jockeys.”
For “Joker,” in which Arthur Fleck’s (Joaquin Phoenix) bullied clown turns into a vigilante folk hero, supervising sound editor Alan Robert Murray contributed to the gritty and violent New York vibe of Gotham City (circa 1981). “The first thing they hit on was we’ve gotta build the sound of Gotham: a city on edge, ready to explode,” said Murray. “So we took a lot of care in presenting sirens at key points. We built up the sounds of cars with big V8 engines. The city was always alive; we shot ADR in the backstreet here at Warner Bros., so we could get that natural reverb off the buildings. Even when you were in Arthur’s apartment, you heard off-stage arguments and yelling.”
The final five contenders are listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“Ford v Ferrari” Donald Sylvester
“1917” Oliver Tarney and Rachael Tate
“Once upon a Time…in Hollywood” Wylie Stateman
“Joker” Alan Robert Murray
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” Matthew Wood and David Acord