The audio design tips that made ‘Mank’ sound like ‘Citizen Kane’


During Covid-19 pandemic, very few moviegoers have seen the interior of a theater, let alone a large old theater like the Castro Theater in San Francisco or Paramount in Austin, Texas. Yet those who have recently watched Mank, Biopic by David Fincher on Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, may have noticed – or, more accurately, heard – something that looked old, something that looked like it came from a 1930s theater, even though they were showing the movie on Netflix. It’s strange – and completely intentional.

With Mank, Fincher wanted a movie that not only looked but also sounded like the movies produced in Hollywood during the Mankiewicz era of the 1930s and 1940s. To do this, he shot the film in black and white (of course), and also brought in sound designer Ren Klyce, who came up with a method to create an aural ‘patina’ that made all the dialogue, all the ambience noises and the score sounded as if it had been created using the methods of pictures. of the golden age. “We developed the technique by analyzing the sound spectrum of old school movies,” says Klyce, “and of course Citizen Kane was one that we modeled, and we kind of realized that this movie sounded the way it does due to the limitations of the technology.

Originally, Klyce thought it could be easy. The old gear didn’t capture the sound spectrum of today’s microphones, so he figured it could just make it sound dull, monaural, and devoid of bass and high frequencies, and that would be it. “Nothing could have been further from the truth,” he laughs. There were problems understanding the guttural delivery of Gary Oldman, who plays Mank; there were times when things were right. It was everywhere. Soon, Klyce, who’s been working on everything since Fight Club at Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and is now on lists of some people for an Oscar nomination for his work on Mank), realized that he was going to have to build a custom method. The “patina” was born.

Its creation required three stages. First, Klyce “completely rejected the idea of ​​making it look old-fashioned.” Instead, he started by making a perfect, clean mix. This allowed the audio team to find all the places where the sound was not working and fix it (so long unintelligible Gary Oldman!). Klyce also insisted that Fincher make all of his soundtrack decisions early on, so Klyce could work on it as well. It was almost a shame to see the beauty of the clear version. “We’ve mixed the movie once, all the way through, and no one will ever hear that mix,” Klyce said regretfully. But doing so also helped him understand that every audio “food group” should have its own patina. Dialogue, background music, jazz, ambience, effects, foley sounds like footsteps and clicking jewels – each needed their own personalized treatment.

The next step was to create the weathered texture. To do this, Klyce added distortion throughout, but also compressed some of it by modulating the mid frequencies. He limited the lows and highs. After doing all of that, it “sounded good, but something was missing, and what it was was the sound of old school 35mm film.” To recreate this, Klyce added crackling and hissing sounds, as well as a very low whirring motor sound to mimic the noise emitted by a projector.

But even with these additions, it still wasn’t quite right. One of the other “sounds” of old school movies is hearing them in large cavernous rooms with no soundproof walls or Dolby speakers in every corner. To mimic this, Klyce played the audio from the movie in a large empty room, recorded it, isolated the echo it was making, and then woven that sound. back in the mix. The resulting auditory atmosphere is one of the Mankthe most notable features of. It’s also an Easter egg – to hear it you have to watch the movie on a surround sound system.

Finally, Klyce came up with “26 or 27” different patinas before settling on the one used in Fincher’s film. It took a lot of trial and error. “I used to joke with my friends that he’s a guy like the one who puts on cologne,” he says. “If you keep wearing your cologne, after a while you can’t smell it anymore. Soon people say, ‘Oh my god you’re wearing so lots of cologne, ”and it’s like“ Really? I don’t feel it at all. We have always been afraid of this. In the end, it doesn’t stink.


More WIRED stories

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *