In the opening scene of The Social Network the background walla and room ambiance are so loud one must strain to hear the dialog and pay close attention in order to figure out what is going on. That unusual mixing decision was by design according to Ren Klyce, supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer, who was part of the sound team that included re-recording mixers David Parker and Michael Semanic, and on set production mixer, Mark Weingarten.
“When we originally mixed the scene, the dialog was quite understandable,” explained Klyce, “But after listening to playback, David Fincher, the director, said he didn’t want the picture to start that way. He wanted it to start in a way that made the audience frustrated, and forced you to pay attention from the very get-go. And of course, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s snappy, peppy dialog was like random access on a hard drive, going from one subject to another. Add editors Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter’s rapid fire cutting – all which made an interesting opening, designed to draw you in.”
Klyce was most proud of that scene and a similar one in a San Francisco nightclub, where the music is also unusually loud. Klyce revealed, “David wanted it very realistic. The natural tendency is to mix the music loud, then fade it away as the dialog starts, but David wanted it to sound like the speakers were ripping apart!” That is how they mixed it, forcing the viewer to listen hard to understand what was being said.
Asked if working on several movies with Wall and Fincher had instigated the team to take such a risky course, Klyce replied, “It was all Fincher! He wanted the audience to feel and to hear the rock star of the dot com era, Sean Parker, having what was really a business meeting.”
The challenges in this particular film included the multitude of music and the rapid dialog. “Jessie Isenberg (Zuckerberg) speaks so quickly, and he’s speaking about things that nobody really understands,” said Klyce. “Even if we turned the music off, at a certain point the audience is going to say they don’t know what this movie is all about! We re-recorded Jesse so he had a little more energy for some scenes.”
Asked about the traits award-winning sound editors have in common, Klyce commented, “The people I admire, regardless of whether they are award-winning or not, have a true passion for sound. Beyond craft, it is an artistic expression. These people understand the rhythm of film and the contribution of sound as a part of the narrative thread of the film itself, which is storytelling.”