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Contenders – Sound Editors Alan Murray and Bub Asman, American Sniper

January 2, 2015 | By
American Sniper

American Sniper

Sound supervisors Alan Murray and Bub Asman delivered the soundtrack for Clint Eastwood‘s American Sniper. Murray, who has been working with the director for close to 40 years, doing every movie with him since Escape from Alcatraz, says the collaboration clicks because, “He’s very down to earth and loves people who are ambitious about the project. He lets you formulate what you want to do to the soundtrack in your own mind and present it to him.”

As the story is about a real-life person, legendary sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), it was decided that the sound would lean towards the realistic style of a documentary. This meant that the music would be kept to a minimum, so the sound designer, Tom Ozanich, had to ‘score’ the whole movie with sound. “It was a big move, not to do a traditional score on the movie,” commented Murray. “Kind of a cool idea.”

To achieve this realism, the team had to record the 27 different guns, using three recorders, with 25-30 channels per gun. The sound team had to shut down a shooting range to record the live fire of the automatic weapons.

American Sniper

American Sniper

On a weekend, after sending out messages to the neighbors warning them not to panic if they heard machine guns, they also fired blanks from the weapons around the tallest buildings on the Warner Bros. lot. It was a huge project for the sound team to sort through all those channels and present them in a timely fashion to the mix stage. “I think there were over a thousand gunshots in the movie,” said Murray.

The sound department also recorded all the Humvees and military vehicles on the Iraqi town set that had been built at the Blue Cloud Ranch in Simi. They were able to record all the vehicles on dirt streets with the natural reverb of the city, but it was in a quiet area of the set.

“We even had to call the people who made the early Predator drones to find out where we could source that engine,” revealed Murray. “We found a seaplane up in Northern California that had that same engine, so we had to go out and record that.”

American Sniper

American Sniper

All of the work was done on a compressed, five-week schedule since Warner’s execs had seen the movie and decided to move it up to a Christmas release. The mix was done on multiple stages running day and night. “We were kind of in a war of our own,” stated Murray.

The sniper gun that Kyle used posed one of the biggest challenges for the effects editors because that gun was usually silenced. “We took a long time to record real silencers and, let me tell you, they have that down to a science,” shared Murray. “Basically what you hear is the gun mechanism. The challenge was that we had to embellish the silencer gun somewhat because, compared to AK 47s and all the other guns, if we went with the real silencer it wouldn’t have any weight or strength.”

The team processed real silencers, put explosive charges in pipes that had their ends pinched, and came up with different sounds that were also processed. “We had to make the silenced guns powerful and deadly, yet be silenced,” explained Murray.

The story alternates between Kyle’s tours of duty in Iraq and his time at home with his family in Texas. There was a natural contrast between those two venues, but the sound also had to convey Kyle’s inner turmoil and the building rage that accelerated as he continued serving additional tours. Comprised of the sounds of war, such as the tanks and the treads, which were processed, the sound design not only creatively captured the character’s psychological state, but also served to bridge between the flashbacks of war and life stateside.

LR-American Sniper2“The sound designers had to come up with a sound that would communicate that, but was not something that you would recognize,” said Murray. “It had to come from within, so we had scenes where we slowly built the turmoil as his disposition changed. We did that quite a bit during the time he served at home because he was evolving into having PTSD.”

As one of the producers, Cooper was totally immersed in the film. He frequently met with Ozanich to follow the progress on the sound design and mix, even flying in from New York where he was starring in the Elephant Man on Broadway. “He got a lot of respect from everybody because he was totally committed and wanted the movie to be the best it could be. He inspired everybody to rise to the challenge.”

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