Interview: Spectre's supervising sound editors

Oscar winners Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg on dealing with the pressures that come with working on a Bond film.
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With five Oscar wins between them, supervising sound editors Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg are no strangers to delivering the goods for the most high-profile of projects. But how do you tackle the challenge of a Bond film? Matt Fellows asks the duo about their work on 007’s latest outing, Spectre.

One of the biggest franchises in movie history, the James Bond film series carries with it the highest expectations of cinematic quality. Released in 2012, the 23rd Bond movie Skyfall went on to break box office records and draw praise from critics and cinemagoers alike.

Three years on and follow-up Spectre has been making just as much of an impact, thanks in no small part to supervising sound editors Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg...

How did Spectre compare to its predecessor Skyfall in terms of your respective roles?

Landers: Our basic setup, how we work and our roles on a project do not really change much. However, we do adapt and adjust our plans as we go, depending on the needs of the project and filmmaker. When it comes to the creative part of the work, it is always a team effort; not just between the two of us but also with the rest of our team.

Hallberg: Every film has its own special challenges. On Skyfall, it was our first time working with Sam Mendes and the first time on a Bond movie, so it was a bit of a learning curve. On Spectre, we had a better understanding of how to achieve Sam’s sonic vision for his film. The challenge this time was how to top what we did on the last one.

What was it like working with Mendes, and what’s his view on the importance of sound?

Hallberg: It is a pleasure working with Sam; he is talented, he is passionate, he is intense and he is a master storyteller. His view on the importance of sound is that it is there to support the story – to complement, not take over. Nothing is a mistake – if it is in there, or if it’s not in there, that’s Sam’s choice. He is very clear on where the focus needs to be.

Were you required to do things a lot differently this time around?

Hallberg: The biggest difference between Skyfall and Spectre would have to be the schedule for all departments. For us it meant that we did not have as much time to prepare our tracks as we did on Skyfall. Basically, the creative process and our interaction with Sam was compressed, meaning we had to get it right a lot sooner with less feedback.

Most of all, it put Sam under a lot of pressure. During our final mix, he was going from score sessions, score mix downs, visual FX, colour timing, ADR sessions and to us for the final mix. Everybody wanted and needed his time. Thank God for him being very decisive and knowing what he wants.

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SPECTRE © 2015 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq, LLC and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved

How does working on a Bond film compare to the other big movies you’ve helped create?

Landers: It’s Bond – you can’t screw that up. On every film you want to make something new, special and different, but when it comes to Bond there is so much tradition and expectation that you feel you need to step up the game.

Which of the film’s large-scale set pieces did you find most demanding?

Landers: All the large-scale set pieces had their demands. However, the opening sequence in Mexico City was probably the most demanding of all. From the changes of music, to the different flavours of crowds, explosions, the helicopter fight, etc., we had to weave a tapestry of sound and music that was exciting, but did not get in the way of telling the story.

What do you think makes for great sound design on action films of this magnitude?

Landers: It needs to be fun and exciting. It needs dynamics and clarity. Our job, above all, is to help tell the story, and to put the audience in the time and place where they need to be.

How did your chosen equipment and the other key members of the audio team aid you on this particular project?

Hallberg: We are all working on Pro Tools 11, but what is more important to us is the talent and creativity of our crew that use this system rather than the system itself.

Landers: It’s important to us to recognise the contribution of our crew, and a project like Spectre can only be pulled off through collaboration and teamwork.

Hallberg: Most of our crewmembers have been working with us for at least 15 years, which creates a safety and shorthand that is irreplaceable.

With a tough legacy to follow, how would you evaluate the work you did on the film?

Landers: We’re very proud of the work that both of us as well as our crew did on this film. It was a great collaboration between us, the mix, the music and the picture teams. Hopefully it entertains the audience and helps take them on the ride with Bond.

Main Picture: Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers. Photo by Joe Klamar - © 2013 AFP - Image courtesy gettyimages.com

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