Oscar Nominees Mary H. Ellis, Tim Cavagin, and Julian Slater Create An Aural Perspective With Sound Mixing in Baby Driver.
When considering mixing, combining the elements to be pleasing to the ear is what certainly comes to mind, but sound mixing always starts in production and segues to post-production. Baby Driver’s sound mixer, Mary H. Ellis (Remember the Titans) is the audio specialist who initially recorded the production sound before passing the reigns over to re-recording mixer, Tim Cavagin (World War Z) and sound designer/supervising sound editor, Julian Slater (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) to assemble the elements with precision to create an aural perspective for the master mix.
Before any sound is mixed, technical location scouting occurrs first. Ellis strategized, “On this one, I actually took a recorder with me on the tech scout. On the shoot day, in the noisy downtown locations, I put a boom microphone on a stand somewhere since that tech scout recording was our ambient sound, but not close enough to capture dialogue. Basically, every time we rolled, we had a room tone to match those takes.”
The production sound was recorded in an unconventional method as the music was playing simultaneously while the microphones were attempting to capture the cleanest dialogue possible. The sound mixer used an array of microphones ranging from wired, booms, and planted ones; especially in the cars, to have a viable option without the clothing rustle and skids.
“Jamie Foxx (Bats) was a challenge because he likes to whisper and then suddenly he’ll scream mad lib, so we’d give him two channels: for one channel I thought it was going to be at, and then another channel at -10 or -12 decibels, just in case he clipped us,” Ellis referenced.
The film is a testament to the exceptional production sound mixing as most action movies require more than 60% of the dialogue to be replaced through ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement). On a podcast, re-recording mixer Tim Cavagin applauded Ellis by stating that very little ADR was actually done. In fact, 80% of Ellis’s original production dialogue was kept intact for the theatrical release, meaning only 20% was swapped out for ADR.
The final mix process included around 40 pieces of music. Slater explicated, “We only had the stereo masters of each music cue and we needed to up mix to Atmos, which is the speakers in the ceiling – what’s called a 9.1 – as the speakers are in the front, rears, and the height. There was a question of remastering each music cue to make it sound sweetened and then trying to mix it in a fashion so that you perceived it as being loud, the music running through and giving energy, yet picking up moments to hear the various bits of sound design at a particular moment. That itself was quite a challenge.”
As the perspective is centralized on Baby’s (Ansel Elgort) aural perception, the re-recording mixers must navigate the direction where the sound is emanating from. “When Baby is listening to the music on his earbuds, it would be much more surround-heavy than even when the score was playing. We used the height speaker when he’s listening on his earbuds. We did little tricks with filtering the dialogue of Debora (Lily James) speaking to him when he just had his ear shot out. The tinnitus is something that we worked on quite a bit, so it doesn’t annoy the audience because the high-pitched whistle throughout a movie could end up alienating the audience as opposed to making them feel they’re part of the movie,” articulated Slater.
The sound mixing in Baby Driver is transcendent with a great talent such as Mary H. Ellis, who is one of the select few women nominated for an Academy Award in the Sound Mixing category since its 90 year inception. She provided masterful, well crafted sound to the brilliance of Tim Cavagin and Julian Slater as they perfectly balanced every element to generate an aural perspective within sound mixing.