The multi nominated film 1917 portraits two british soldiers who are sent to deliver an urgent message to an isolated regiment. If the message is not received in time the regiment will walk into a trap and be massacred. To get to the regiment they will need to cross through enemy territory. Time is of the essence and the journey will be fraught with danger.

Sam Mendes, director of the film, managed to form an elite team for the sound of 1917. The multi-nominates by the academy: Stuart Wilson, in charge of sound in the trenches, and Mark Taylor, in charge of the studio, achieved to be winners in Best Sound Mixing in 2020. 1917 was nominated too, as best sound editing by the academy featuring the work of  Oliver Tarney and Rachel Tate.

Stuart Wilson & Mark Taylor

Sound Mixing

In an interview with the Dolby Institute podcast, Stuart Wilson shared some of his experience in 1917. Sam Mendes, the director, sent the script in June 2018 with the plan to shoot in april 2019, quite an unusual situation, as he sent it within 10 months in advance of the production. The planning of Sam Mendes, gave Stuart Wilson enough time to secure the crew that he wanted and to start contacting the other creative departments.

“I like to be involved with film as early as possible because preparation is key.”

Stuart Wilson

The biggest challenge on set for the sound mixing team, was to ideate a way to keep recording the sounds of the characters in a continuous way, even when sometimes it was impossible to be physically near the camera, and while doing it, being able to transmit the real-time audio to other important members of the crew as the director, the director of photography, the special effects team and other key people. 

Having different antenna networks for each scene  and being able to cover the huge area with them, were one of the best decisions they could make.  That way, no matter where the character went, whether it was down into a deep trench or the building, the antenna network would be able to pick them up and cover them.

After having a conversation with the supervising sound editor Oliver Tyranny, the sound mixing team decided that they would use stereo booms because they wanted to capture all the width across different landscapes with the main characters traveling through them. The lead actors had at least 2 body-worn microphones and another one in the helmet.

Sometimes, more mics were added so they could record the footsteps, the breath, and other aspects as the sound of the body moving, at the same time.  For those mics, the collaboration between the sound mixing team and the drapery team was important as they needed to find the best fabric for the uniforms, that allowed them to record a better quality sound.

Oliver Tarney & Rachel Tate

Sound Editing

Oliver Tarney and Rachel Tate were nominated for best sound editing in "1917" film by the Academy.
In an interview for the Dolby Institute podcast, Rachel Tate shared about the complexity of the work.

Thanks to the incredible work Stuart Wilson did in the trenches, the sound editing team had a lot of different tracks to work with.
“There might have been two booms, each guy had at least three mics. Also there's a mixed track at the top that Stuart prepared so the director on set could hear it, and below the lead actors, there were also the mics of any other character. So sometimes we have 14-18 tracks to work with at the same time. And you have to go through everything because you can’t miss anything”

As a continuous take, 1917 had some special challenges, in sound editing, we could think ADR (re-recording dialogue by the original actor) would be a continuous solution, because of the problems that might occur in the production set. But it wasn’t the case in the film.  Only two lines were needed to re-record. Thanks to how well Stuart did at the begining on set,  the breaths, the footsteps and many other sounds during the film where able to be used as they were performed in the real moment. 

“We worked hard at making sure there were always multiple layers of detail in the work we were doing,” Oliver Tarney (supervising sound editor)  in an interview with IndieWire said. “We had to make sure the audience wouldn’t get fatigued. We built in a softer soundscape after each of the larger events so that we could build the tension up.

“A great example,” he continued, “is after the mine explosion, the Foley and backgrounds are all made up from subtle elements to ensure the viewer could ease back into focusing on the relationship between the two lead characters. It was a challenging discipline to adhere to, but I think the results play really well in the film.”

In order to create World War I military authenticity for the crowd recording in the trenches and on the front lines, Tarney and Tate went to museums, cementaries, trenches a many other relevant places in France and Belgium.  The voicework of the crowd was recorded by actors and also real soldiers who where hired to give even more reality. 

Interview with Sound Mixing and Edition by Dolby Institute

Watch Now!

Dolby Sound & Image Lab Podcast

Listen this awesome podcast!

Leave a Reply