On any franchise it gets tough to “keep it fresh” when it comes to sound. On the fourth installment of Walt Disney Pictures’ Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, three-time winner and nine-time Golden Reel Nominee, supervising sound editor Shannon Mills puts it like this, “We wanted to come up with a fresh perspective on an old idea. We did a lot of recording, including a lot of new sword recordings, because we really wanted the swords to sound different, and there were a lot more magical elements in this one, they weren’t so prevalent in the other movies.”
He should know, he’s worked on all four of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He was also aided by technology. “We were using a new version of Pro Tools, version 9, that had unlimited tracks, so we didn’t have to have multiple sessions opened!” he explained. “That saved time.”
The big change on this picture, however, was the director, Rob Marshall. Marshall is known for his passion for music, as evidenced by his past pictures like Chicago and Annie, where he was not only the director, but the choreographer as well. Mills elaborated on the challenge, “We had to bob and weave with the music a lot more, because he’s such a musical guy. It was like a dance: sword, sword, now orchestra hit! You get the idea.” He went on, “Especially with the magical type of stuff, some of the things we were doing sounded like music, and some of the stuff Hans Zimmer, the composer, was doing, sounded like magic! So the line between us got really blurry.”
The biggest challenge according to Mills, were the mermaids. They had to be believable because they were basically pretty girls with fish tails, but they were also capable of tearing men apart. Their voices had to be strong, but not piercing enough to hurt your ears, or dominate the mix.
Add to that difficulty the fact that the release date was set before the decision to make the movie in 3D. Since the 3D aspect of the project would take a lot more time, it caused the dreaded condensed schedule. Fortunately, as Mills was quick to point out, they had Paul Massey, a really great dialog and music mixer, and another Pirates of the Caribbean movie veteran Chris Boyes, who was mixing sound effects. Mills highly praised them both.
When asked for his proudest moment in the film, Mills offered, “Not many people would notice it, but the first time they go into the jungle after the mermaid scene, where they are carrying the mermaid in the glass container, the ambience in that scene is so cool! It’s so lush and relaxing, I want a CD of it to sleep to at home.”
Mills summed it up with, “One of the most important things in filmmaking is to move the story forward, to help tell the story with the sound design as much as possible. But, filmmaking isn’t about just sound design, so sometimes you’ve got to step back from your sound designing role, and take a look at the whole picture.”