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Contender – Sound Mixer Mark Ulano, The Hateful Eight

January 7, 2016 | By

LR-Mark Ulano-email

Mark Ulano

Mark Ulano

There are dozens of remarkably accomplished and intelligent production sound mixers out there – Ed Novick, Stuart Wilson, Ron Judkins, Tony Johnson, Gunter Sics, Willie Burton, Stephen Tibbo, Ben Patrick, Mark Weingarten, Peter Devlin, Jeff Wexler, Jan McLaughlin… to rattle off a few, but if the community had a philosopher, it would be Mark Ulano. Sitting a mere five minutes with the sound mixer makes you understand why filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino want to work with him.

The Hateful Eight, written and directed by Tarantino, is his eighth film that almost didn’t make it to print. After a leaked script and a filed suit against Gawker Media for copyright infringement, the director nixed the project. It wasn’t until things settled down and a successful live reading of that script enticed Tarantino to announce he was moving forward. “I wasn’t able to attend the live read but I was happy when it happened,” said Ulano. “It helped Quentin transition away from being upset when the incomplete script got out too early. I knew he wanted to make this movie. It was irresistible to him and I am very delighted that it was.”

The narrative follows bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russel) as he travels with his latest captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the town of Red Rock for her eventual hanging. Trying to out ride the billowing blizzard behind them, Ruth runs into two stranded men – Major Marquis Warren (Samuel Jackson), a former union soldier, now bounty hunter and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a rebel who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Ruth agrees to give them a ride where they seek refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery until the storm passes. After they arrive, things start to seem different from the normal way they ought to be…

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight

Shot during the height of winter in the mountains of Telluride, Colorado, The Hateful Eight was a prep-intensive project for the production mixer that had him working closely with other departments on a few other levels. “We had to really have inter-department collaboration on this project because of the things necessary to do that nobody knew how to do.” One of those unfamiliar things was the stage coaches. “There were two in the film which were built from scratch by Ben Edelberg, who is an amazing guy,” said Ulano. “We were partnering with the art department easily two months before to learn and understand the installation materials – where the wood to metal contacts were, the stress points, how they worked in snow or on a hard road – we needed to learn these things so we could minimize the more intrinsic kinds of noises that would happen with the stage coach.”

While the movie showed two different stage carriages, production worked with several variations for filming. “We ended up using four different carriages on set. They had one called “The Buck” that was a tow version they could attach to a vehicle in order to bring it up through the mountains. The stage coach for the six horses, which in itself is insane, was a tremendous feat. Talk to any stunt people – they will tell you ‘Six?’. There’s really only a small group of people that can manage a team of horses that size, and to do it in deep snow without rehearsal – ’cause one rehearsal blows the pristine snow – it’s quite amazing.”

THE HATEFUL EIGHTRecording sound inside the carriages had its own set of challenges. “None of the stage coach work is process. It’s all out there in the elements – in real places. Sometimes the choice to blow out the windows may hide the fact that we are at 11,000 feet, but we were there,” asserted Ulano. “We had to figure out how to do it in a way that never trashed the dialogue. This has happened on every Quentin film I’ve done, but not a single word has been is replaced in post. Not one.” The sound mixer doesn’t say this as an ego flag, but a more in wonderment himself. “To quote Galaxy Quest, you never give up, never surrender. You’re in there and you’re going to make it work. You’re going to have continuity and context and everything we do will eventually make sense as a whole piece when it’s cut together. Our goal was to capture the performance so you will feel what we are feeling on that day when you see this in the theater.”

Communicating with Courtney Hoffman in the costume department was an intricate part to prep as well. “There was a lot of complexity to the costumes. Things were being farmed out to different countries and it was a stressful and challenging situation for them in particular. We were one more element of collaboration,” said Ulano. “On top of committing to certain designs, they had multiple versions of what Sam Jackson was going to wear up to the week before principal. So while that was all evolving, we had conversations on what we thought was going to be, and if it changed, we would revisit the conversation.”

LR-th8-ac-00099_lgUlano admited the weather conditions were a test. “You have to stay civilized. Psychologically, you want to have some touch of civilization in an extreme environmental circumstance. It warms everybody up and brings out the humanity and diminishes the shock on your body being in those harsh environments. When you stop and realize this day comes but once you begin to really appreciate it. Like my dad used to say, ‘there is no budget for a bad day’.”

An interesting note to the location shooting happened when they needed it to snow. “There was a lot of disappointment early on because it was a dryer season than usual. So a lot of the snow expectation impacted what we were going to shoot and what we weren’t – also how much and what kind,” said Ulano. “Then fairly late in the game they did this amazing thing. They got this Native American woman; she was a double doctorate, incredibly educated. She came in full regalia and did this snow ritual. I am not going to judge, but two days later, we had some of the heaviest snows imaginable. We had a couple days of winds in the 60-80 mph and everyone was out there with no shelter.”

Helping Ulano through those challenges was Tom Hartig, Patrick Martens, and Mitchel Gebhard. “Tom and I have had such a long relationship together and Patrick and Mitchel, who are such wonderful people, came from Glee (Phil Palmer sound mixer – another one of those “dozen”). What ended up happening was Tom’s father passed away and Patrick stepped up when he had to leave. Tom ended up doing the first half, Patrick the second.”

THE HATEFUL EIGHTThe sound team tied their workflow to the blocking with Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson using a single camera approach (Panavision Ultra 70 – ratio 2.76:1). “When we got inside Minnie’s Haberdashery, we lived in the rafters which were not at all easy or comfortable. There was a lot of blending between cross points. Most of it was boom to boom, a fill mic or a plant,” said Ulano. “We had a constant flow of communication of what we were doing right now. Our decision was to hang loose, be flexible, and have ten things in play. Even if only one of them comes out to play, at least we are there and ready. We didn’t want to stop this thing that was moving and we didn’t want to interfere with the flow of what is going on with the actors.”

When sound was braving the elements it depended on the shooting day exactly where or how they would be recording sound. “All of the outside stuff, we had minimal shelter. Occasionally we would get dropped off in what was like a Gator with treaded tires in order to climb up a hill a quarter of a mile with guide ropes. There were a lot of snowmobiles which meant no sound cart. When I was able to have some sort of a traditional setup, I was in the back of a stake bed truck remoted with Aviom digital snakes to the set. There was a lot of freezing our asses off, but it never felt that way. When you go on a very challenging or difficult journey like that, you love that you had the journey in retrospect. Even during it, it felt so amazing we were doing this no matter what. Every time I am on the most hard and grueling shows I look back at them as a gift. You don’t know what you can achieve until you’re up against it and then you look back and say ‘wow, you did that’ – it’s good for the mind and the spirit.”

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