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  • Writer's pictureApocalyptic Thanksgiving

Do you hear what I hear?

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

Holly and I were so fortunate to have worked with James Morioka on our team as Supervising Sound Editor. How important is sound for a movie? It’s 50% of our experience in a theater. Watch a movie with bad sound. Oh wait! We already listen to tons of YouTube podcasts that are poorly mixed. Sounds Matters.

What is the final mix: Stereo, Dolby 5.1, or Dolby 7.1?

James would ask Holly and me except we didn’t know at the time. James shared with us that nowadays, 90% of video content is devoured on some sort of device. Most film festivals showcase their movies in stereo he let us know. So, it would be most likely you would end up in remixing it to stereo. In the end IF you’re showing it in a theater you need at least Dolby 5.1. Distributors will eventually dictate what they need. Our distributor was FreeStyle Media. They asked for a stereo mix AND a Dolby 5.1 mix.

At our cast and crew screening at Whitefire Theatre, our movie played in stereo and it sounded amazing.

My Apocalyptic Thanksgiving at Whitefire Theatre
My Apocalyptic Thanksgiving at Whitefire Theatre

Thank you, James!

James Morioka - Sound Editor at Sony
James Morioka - Sound Editor at Sony

Things that James taught Holly and me.

  • Filmmakers have to realize that they have to budget for sound. The sound budget should not be whatever is left over from the production budget.

  • There are many aspects to sound like Foley, ADR, conforming, and mixing that are not as familiar terms to people outside of the entertainment industry.

  • Sound Department needs time and effort.

  • James brought in sound other people such as Foley Artist,Colin Lechner and Foley Mixer Marinna Guzy here in Los Angeles. Doug Siebum worked remotely as our sound designer and sound editor.

  • Dialogue editing. I never knew how vital these things worked until James worked his magic of sound and dialogue editing.

Atmospheric sounds

We learned so much about the different aspects of the overall sound editing job along with more specifics. He was patient and a good teacher.

We would watch a scene where he would take apart the different sound layers. Each would create a completely different feel. An example is how can atmospheric sounds can get you think about a specific kind of neighbor. Ours would need the sounds of the 10 Freeway along sometime Los Angeles Police Department helicopters, Los Angeles Police Departments sirens and of course... California Highway Patrol. Ah, city life.

And people in Montana may hear things like birds chirping, dogs barking, and kids laughing.

Even if you knew what the scene took place, the atmospheric sounds always give more texture to scenes. Like in the prison scenes: things like buzzers, keys on a chain, footsteps in an empty cement hallways, and metal doors slamming shut add more authenticity. The hospital and school scenes needed people murmuring when the door opened and closed. Let’s also not forget the sound of someone’s heartbeat and the beeps from machines monitoring them in hospital scenes involving dying people.

It was pure joy listening to the sound mix on James’ studio in Dolby 5.1.

Dialogue and Mixing

A major part of the sound department is to clean up the sound and mix it all to the correct levels. This is specific to all the sound captured during the filming of the movie or other project. The dialogue must be brought to the forefront so that the music and sound don’t drown it out. Now that I am aware of this, I notice this on lots of podcasts.

Holly and I would watch a scene or sequence together. We were hyperfocused taking in every sound, score, dialogue and even silence. Then he’d pause and ask us if we wanted any changes? We’d defer to him because he’s a rockstar. But he would run things past us since it’s always good to get feedback no matter how much you’ve mastered your craft like in James’ case.

Two scenes that we struggled with were ones in a tennis court and the alley. The Tennis Court scenes were filmed right next to the freeway. As skilled as James was in cleaning the dialogue, we eventually cut out the dialogue. Cutting the dialogue out of the scene actually helped the film breathe since it would have been speeches from the same character for two scenes in a row. This would feel like the same beat. And the speech in the scene after the tennis court fit better with the story anyway. The alley scenes were a nightmare because we filmed underneath the airport landing path. James and his team ended up finding dynamic ways to clean up these scenes.

Sound EFX - James

We were very lucky that James continued to work hard even through the lock downs. He didn't quit.

Foley sounds. He makes it look so easy.

Zombie Toys handled Marcus & Marcus opening the safe.

We also helped to ascertain which phrases were important. “Your mother’s in Lompoc Prison” was a key piece of dialogue. As a result, it was important that it popped in the scene by cleaning up the sound. It was also key in the trailers which I cut.

Like our Composer David Glen Russell, James stressed silence. So, we don’t have music or anything beyond minimal atmospheric sounds in some scenes to let people really hear the scene’s dialogue. When Marcus is imprisoned, James wanted the atmospheric sounds and music to add dramatic effect.

What does it mean when James cleans up the dialogue? All our dialogue was from the set. It was not recorded later and added back into the movies Some actors tended to smack their lips or had ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ in between words. Sometimes there was dialogue that was unintelligible. There is one line in particular line that Kim, Chris Wu delivers. I remember when I did the English subtitles, I couldn’t figure it out either and made something up. It wasn’t in the script which I wrote either. I was completely baffled. It’s an early scene when Kim is introduced and picks up the laundry from the group home. Marcus asks him if he could work for Kim. When you watch the movie, what do you hear?

23 years of hard labor is a ::mumble::

It sounds like

23 years of hard labor is the initiation fee to get into our family.

At his work, they were testing him multiple times a week. The whole pandemic was a blessing and a curse. It slowed post down, but James kept going. He had his entire studio setup at his house. It reminds me of some of the control centers on the different battleships in Star Wars movies. Totally cool!

James also gave some sound career advice: Read this book, Peter Grubert’s “Tell To Win.” It’s an amazing book about to pitch anything in your life like a job, a book, a movie, and even yourself. I asked him how he’s used it. During an interview, a hiring manager explained at length the position. James responded simply by saying, “I’m your man.” and then he was immediately hired.

James Morioka celebrating with tacos
James Morioka celebrating

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