“The Hunger Games” Panel Sounds Off at The NAB SHOW

Published On April 24, 2012 | By admin | Blog Post, film production, filmmaking

One of the most popular sessions among filmmakers attending the NAB Show featured Supervising Sound Editor Lon Bender and Sound Designer Bill Dean from the smash hit “The Hunger Games” on a panel moderated by Associate Features Editor David Cohen from Variety.  Both speakers are highly regarded in their field with Bender having received an Academy Award, British Academy Award and Golden Reel Award for his efforts on “Braveheart” and Dean recently co-supervising the action-packed “Abduction” for Lionsgate.   It was originally announced that director Gary Ross was to be the headliner at this Creative Master Series event, but unfortunately he didn’t attend. 

Even without Ross, however, the room was full as Bender and Dean shared clips from “The Hunger Games” and discussed their take on aspects of creating sound for the film.  Two familiar themes constantly resurfaced during the session.  One was the constant experimentation they tried in order to achieve the desired effects and the other was the need to keep it simple.  Dean said, “We tried different types of crazy resonances and all other kinds of overtones” and both gentlemen admitted trying everything in order to create sounds they were happy with especially when it came to developing bird noises such as the mockingjays and crackerjackers depicted in the film.  Bill believes that you find things through the experience and that with sound you discover what works in a certain type of moment and identify it.  He also feels sometimes you can use something similar from an earlier project that you’ve worked on which is helpful because then you can go right to that type of process and try to improve on it.  

Lon said that it comes down to constantly adding new ideas and often times beating the one that’s the current favorite.  However, he added that the sounds created for the crackerjackers and mockingjays were quickly embraced.  He thinks they made it believable having the same bird calls in the background and that since the audience heard those birds in their natural state and then later when they evolved it was very natural for them to come in and out of the background.  “That was a pretty key element in making the movie.  Often times taking a sound and integrating it and sort of getting it to become part of the bigger picture helps the suspension of belief,” he added explaining that they made the sounds for the mockingjays early on because they were needed for several sequences.  

There are a number of places where sound also plays an important role in conveying the film’s mood.  Lon said, “In District 12 they were all things that were alive and living.  When she’s (Katniss) in the forest there’s lots of detail.” He went on to explain, “When she goes hunting in the beginning she hunts with a spear.  They are all things that are all very specific.  In the capital we stayed away from all those types of things.”

Dean also addressed different types of techniques that were utilized particularly in scenes like the trackerjacker sequence. He talked enthusiastically about how equipment like the 7.1 surround sound speakers lend themselves to directionality in sequences like these thus enriching the audience’s theatrical experience.  “You’re in that moment.  You’re with Katniss and things are coming around and scaring you and that kind of thing.  So it’s okay to pull the ear so to speak away from the screen,” he explained although he warned against doing this constantly, which is why he likes the 7.1 not just for tight action sequences like this one, but for the background as well.  “We can put things in those side speakers and broaden the field or increase the reality of that space without pulling your face out of the movie,” he continued before warning that sometimes when the audience hears background sounds their heads tend to go back out of curiosity, which is something that needs to be addressed editorially when doing those types of sequences. At this juncture Lon stressed the need for monitoring during editing.  He said that at this point Bill was able to actually see how far back things worked in that space and put specific items into the sidewall.  Bill added that everybody working on the films liked those side speakers because of their discretion.  “You can just feel yourself open up and you’re completely absorbed in the movie,” he said.

Despite the experimentation needed for sound design both men felt they had ample time allotted for the project.  “No, we didn’t sacrifice anything on this movie.  We had more time than on any other movie that I’ve ever done before,” Lon said commenting that they started way back in pre-production and had their team recording all during the summertime.  When it came to doing the editorial they had a small team of three and adopted a long type of process.  “The three of us were on it for many, many months before we ever got to the mixing stage.  We also spent 2-3 weeks mixing it,” he continued.  Bender sat with the director blocking out the movie and getting it to where they understood what all of the segments and conditions were going to be.  He went on to say that another benefit was having other production staff such as special effects in close proximity making it easy for all of them to work together.  “We had a lot of interaction from the workflow standpoint with all the creative people,” he continued.  They made the movie for approximately two calendar months, but it could have been three months in actuality because the last 27 days they worked 7 days a week from 9am till 10pm without a day off.

Both men are very satisfied with the end result believing that while the sound may be overwhelming in some sequences it is also very tender when it needs to be and can also be very quiet.  Bill said, “We’re very, very happy with it.  It was a great process.” He believes it was great they began working so soon in the editorial process since they were working on the first cut while being given the first reel and were already doing sound as soon as the editor’s cut on the first reel was finished.  He also enjoyed being in close proximity to the other creative teams remarking on how easy it was to send things back and forth for editing and determine what was working.  “That’s the fabulous advantage of being in the same building cause when Gary had 15 or 20 minutes and wasn’t doing something he doesn’t have to get in a car and drive 20 minutes across town.  He gets in the elevator and he’s there in 5 minutes,” Bill said explaining that this made a huge difference in making decisions.

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One Response to “The Hunger Games” Panel Sounds Off at The NAB SHOW

  1. Joe Dean says:

    I enjoyed the comments from Bill and Lon on the sound production of Hunger Games. We, as members of the audience, don’t realize the work involved in producing the sound tract but we do know what sounds make sense and which sounds aren’t realistic. The sound effects and visual effects were well done and they made the movie enjoyable for us.

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