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Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

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HomeAwardsAward Contender-Leon Johnson-Sound-Capote

Award Contender-Leon Johnson-Sound-Capote


It’s a familiar story. When the producers and director of Capote were prepping to film the story behind the author’s book In Cold Blood they sat down to consider who they could draw from the local talent pool in Winnipeg, Canada. Among the prospects was Leon Johnson, a sound recordist with extensive credits in features, television series and commercials. However, Johnson’s most acclaimed work was in documentaries, particularly some of the most physically grueling and logistically challenging work produced by IMAX in the past two decades.“I came in to talk after reading the screenplay,” says Johnson. “My thought was to make it as authentic as possible much in the way we did the Canadian sections of The Constant Gardener. It was a very good script—simple, subtle, very disturbing and intimate. It was the sort of material that demanded real sound. You want to hear the voices without sweetening; just the sound of that prairie wind in the background when they’re in a field. If it’s done right it doesn’t need anything extra.”Johnson uses a Nagra D to record. It’s a piece of equipment he adopted for rigorous subzero Arctic shoots because of its four-channel sound and dependability. He likes the versatility it provides for separating voices, background and ambient effects and the clean, distinctive results it produces. He says virtually the entire film was “done with a pole” by boom operator Stan Mak, though he fell back on radio mics for long shots when the option to get in close was removed.Unlike the challenge of lying on the tundra for hours to capture the sound of caribou herds or diving under the ice to communicate with polar bears, Capote’s daunting task was being able to record without interruption. Johnson says that for some of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s scenes he had to be ready to tape for up to an hour.“I’ve never worked with an actor as prepared and consumed with his role as Hoffman,” he says. “It was an exceptionally professional cast that were ready to go at an instant. They didn’t want to be slowed down by anything mechanical and we all worked very hard to make that happen.”In the end he reckons that about 80 percent of Capote’s soundtrack consists of his location sound recording. Director Bennett Miller was delighted with the work and Johnson says with a wink that he thinks it wasn’t simply because of the money he saved in postproduction. He also has high praise for Mark Berger’s (Munich, The English Patient) studio re-recording that stayed true to the painstaking efforts expended during filming.

Written by Len Klady

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