Soundelux's Michael D. Wilhoit
Wilhoit began his career three decades ago with The Blues Brothers
and, since then, has racked up an impressive credit list that includes For Colored Girls, Vanilla Sky, JFK, Almost Famous, Home Alone
and a string of Tyler Perry movies. He spoke to Creative COW about creating the sound track for this demanding and dynamic film.
End of Watch
is told as found footage movie. The two young beat cops, Brian Taylor (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (played by Michael Pena), are using handheld HD cameras to secretly record their shifts in a gritty south Los Angeles neighborhood. This way of telling the story gives the movie a sense of urgency, immediacy, reality, and it was something we had to match with the soundtrack.
From the beginning, the director David Ayer was very hands-on; he was interested in the sound and very interactive as it evolved. We didn't start with a plan so much as a concept, of replicating the low-tech way the movie is ostensibly recorded. It had to be realistic, so at times we recorded sounds through low-end video cameras like the ones the protagonists are using. That's something we ordinarily would never do, but it added to the realism.
David stressed the importance of that realism. For example, he wanted the sounds of real police cars, not from a sound library, so he was able to hook us up with people in the police department and we spent a day in an LAPD car lot recoding the police car engines and sirens of the exact same kinds of cars in the movie. Instead of hiring a voice actor to record the police dispatcher, we bought in an actual police dispatcher to Soundelux to record that audio for the movie.
Our team -- which included dialogue editor Kimberly Wilhoit (yes, my daughter) and sound designer Roland Thai -- also spent time in the field recording authentic firearms. Real guns don't sound like movie guns. A realistic gun sounds like a firecracker -- pop, pop, pop -- almost like a toy. In the movies, guns are overdone and sound like cannons. One of our toughest job was the guns. We went out in the desert shooting AK-47s and M16s. That's where it's safe to shoot and record, but it also doesn't sound like you're in the city. It doesn't have an urban feel.
Director David Ayer stressed the importance of realism.
The toughest part was to get the gun battles to sound like they're really happening, to make you feel the danger. The trickiest scene in the whole movie was when the cartel sets a trap for the two heroes in the apartment building. In the production, they recorded a lot of great sound by using guns with blanks in them, and we used part of the original recordings. Usually, you replace all those sounds, but we used a combination of our field recordings and the production recording to finally get something that felt and sounded right.
The trickiest scene in the whole movie was when the cartel sets a trap for the two heroes in the apartment building.
As we experimented with sound design, we got a bit surreal at times and changed the rules a bit. What started as realistic became hyper-realistic and, at other times was very simple. In the action scenes, where there's more tension, the sounds can become hyper-realistic, but when they're doing normal things -- in the police car, back at the police station, the wedding, the quinceañera -- the sounds are very real, as if we're there with them.
But whenever a stressful situation comes up, such as them breaking into the crack house, all our rules changed and the sounds of the guns and everything else becomes louder and hyper-realistic. We want the audience to feel like they're with these guys and dealing with the same danger.
In the action scenes where there's more tension, the sounds can become hyper-realistic.
We would create sounds for a particular sequence and David would come in and review. It was a collaborative effort. He came to some of the Foley recording where we worked with inexpensive microphones so that our audio would sound like it came through the camera that the police officers are using. David attended many of our recording sessions. We wanted people to take notice of the sound design on this film and David took the time to work with us to bring the final mix to the next level. That's really the dream of a sound designer when the director understands your craft and is able to enhance the process.
What was a bit harder for all of us was to not do what we would ordinarily do: enhance or replace production recoding. We're always trying for the best quality possible but in this case we were trying for the realism that was so crucial to this story. For example, at the quinceanera, the clapping and music you hear in the film is the original recording, the real production sounds. Ordinarily we'd replace or augment them, and it was tough to leave it real with the imperfections of the original recordings. We're so used to fixing everything. But by not overproducing the soundtrack, it seemed real, and that's what we were going for.
Michael sought to reproduce an urban realism in sound crucial to the story.
The music -- by David Sardy -- was awesome. He's a very different kind of composer. He had our sound as a template and was vey aware of what we were doing, so he wrote his music with the knowledge of the sound design. Rather than wiping out our work with his, he wrote music that worked with the sound design. That was David Ayer's plan -- to make sound design and music cohesive, work together. And they did.
The entire minimalist approach stayed true to the final mix, which was done at Todd-AO Hollywood by re-recording mixers Joe Barnet and Christian Minkle. They made it appear as though the sound is coming directly from the cameras the characters are using. They also got David Ayer's direction to make it sound great but not overdo it.
His keen interest in sound and his collaborative involvement with it throughout the process was great. We all welcomed his involvement, and he got exactly the sound job he wanted by being part of it. Keeping him in the loop made this a really fun job.
Scott Garfield. ©2011 Sole Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.