George Haddad enjoys evolving along with the projects on which he works. The sound editor has received numerous awards and nominations for his work on features and television shows as diverse as Young Hercules, Nikita and CSI: NY. He’s thrived at adapting and elevating the sound as the characters and story lines evolved. This year, he adds two more nominations to his list: Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Award nominations for Gotham and Vice Principals. Below the Line recently caught up with Haddad to discuss his nominated work.
Below The Line: George – you received Golden Reel nominations this year for Gotham which you’ve been with since season one, and Vice Principals which you joined for its final season. What it is like overseeing the sound editing on an entity you’ve been with as it evolved compared to a show you join that’s already established?
George Haddad: It’s a great experience to start a series and evolve with it. Like anything, you learn as it grows and goes through inevitable changes, and it keeps you motivated to contribute the sound and have it become a character of the series and to the characters in it. Joining an established show can be nerve racking at first because you hesitate to try new, different sounds but at the same time you want to bring a fresh perspective that can add to possible changes that the series can go through as it evolves. My thought was, if they’re hiring me then they want to hear what I can bring to the show so why hold back?
BTL: Reflecting on Gotham, how has the sound evolved as the characters and city itself have evolved and changed?
GH: The acting on Gotham has been brilliant since day one and casting continues to do an excellent job bringing in exceptional new talent. As for sound, we play off of the weaknesses and strengths that the characters go through in the show as it has evolved from season 1. When Gordon was a detective dealing with the corrupt police and city hall we had the sounds of the city and precinct play the dysfunction of what he’s dealing with. It sounded unorganized; phones always ringing (that) no one answered, voices of criminals in the jail cells yelling and giving the police a hard time etc. When Gordon became captain, the sound started changing to show he cleaned the place up. The ambience of the precinct sounded more rhythmic and proper. The same goes for people like Cobblepot. When he was in control of the underground crime world, we wouldn’t play any police presence in his scenes to show that he is in control. When he loses his reign, it sounds like there’s chaos on the streets and power is up for anyone to grab.
BTL: Gotham has roots in the comic book world. How do you and your team create a realistic sound scape in a world filled with unique characters and scenarios?
GH: I’ve been a Batman fan since Adam West, as are my editors. It’s exciting to work on a show that was inspired by something you loved watching or comics you read. That being said, we relied heavily on our imagination; of what we heard in our heads when reading and staring at the illustrations. The look and visual effects of Gotham are outstanding and that certainly helps us develop the sound of the city, characters and unique weapons or props. There’s no sci-fi, it’s all organic in Gotham. We do get opportunities for some surreal sound design and voice manipulation to keep up with the comic book flavor of the show. Can’t say enough about the amazing ideas and input we also get from our producers for the sound-scape when we start working on a new episode.
BTL: As supervising sound editor, what are you primarily focused on to create a sense of realistic sound within Gotham’s diverse locations? Is it – focusing on the action closes to the camera? Dealing with elements that occur in the background? Adjusting sound levels to capture a sense of space?
GH: Our approach is to edit and design the sound like nothing else is playing so we don’t waste time during editorial. Whether it’s on camera or off, we like to fill the room with elements to help sell the story which can sometimes be something playing in front of the viewer or away from what we’re seeing, or both. Once editing is done, I go through all the tracks and start tweaking sounds. I’ll mute some layers of sound that may get in the way of an emotional scene which will always have music to support it, or maybe add additional sounds if I’m feeling that sound is not what the script is trying to get across, ie: more gun shots to sell the danger in a scene of mayhem, more voices panicking after something destructive.
BTL: When you are pulling together a sound team, especially with a show like Gotham, what are the skills sets you are primarily focused on?
GH: T.V is a beast when it comes to getting the work done around a typical episodic series schedule. We’re fortunate that we get amazing support from our producers and sound department. For television, it’s crucial to not only have editing and sound designing skills on multiple platforms of different software and hardware equipment but to also have access to sound libraries. We have a great collection and tools at Warner Brothers Sound as well as my own personal library of sounds that I’ve accumulated over the past 20+ years. It’s been easier recently to find new sound libraries to purchase since the equipment to record and build sound libraries have been simpler to own and use. The sound effects collections give us quick access to what we need to use during compressed schedules of an episode from the time it gets to us to the start of the mix. I do need seasoned professionals to help get the show sounding at the high standards that our clients expect, but I’m a big supporter of training and giving the new and younger people a chance to learn grow and eventually help me out on Gotham and other shows. Our industry needs it.
BTL: While Vice Principals is quite a contrast to Gotham, the show’s content also focuses on characters that have extreme conflicts between good and evil, as well some action sequences and a diversity of locations. Where you able to bring a sensibility of your work on Gotham to Vice Principals to heighten these similarities in the show?
GH: We did take the same approach when we started editorial on Vice Principals. We like to layer and stack several discrete sounds to give it a thick and rich tone or impact depending if it’s sound design or ambience background sound. Additionally we provide options for the mixers and producers once they hear that and dialog playing against music composed and picked for the episode. It’s easy for the mixer to mute or lower certain separated sound effects if they think it’s too much rather than asking me to go back and edit something different. Our approach saves time in the end and we can all use that on a mix stage to experiment and get the right sound rather than waiting for me to finish a change or fix they’ve requested.
BTL: Vice Principals is also darkly comic. Does sound have a factor in influencing the comic tone of the show?
GH: Sound can definitely influence any kind of tone in the show. Anyone who thinks otherwise can harm the show and the experience for the viewer if it’s not up to par with what’s happening on screen. Subtle sounds are just as powerful as loud or effects with impact. If mixed right, the viewer will feel it subliminally or emotionally.
BTL: Thinking of the episode you were nominated for, there were scenes involving running through the corridors of a school, a tiger attacking the main characters and a general sense of hysteria. How do you wrangle sound in that scenario to drive focus while also keeping these scenes realistic?
GH: The key word is “realistic”. We’re not dealing with anything surreal, but we want the dialog and sound effects to drive the scene and make it sound right without exaggeration which can disrupt the viewer and give the wrong sense of what they’re watching. There’s nothing worse than seeing something, but hearing sound that is not connecting. We, once again, took the Gotham approach of stacking multiple layers of sound to cover everything and to make it rich enough to cut through the music. From there the mixers take over and balance it all out and find the right moments to feature certain elements to break up any monotony.
BTL: High schools typically have horrible acoustics: particularly gymnasiums, where so many scenes took place. Can you speak about how you and your team dealt with creating authenticity while zero-ing in on clear sound?
GH: We were blessed with good production dialog and the crew had time to reduce those awful acoustics built in these schools before filming. My crew and I did record and find some “school sound” libraries to have the authenticity but created our own tone and ambience that complemented the dialog and allowed us to have more discrete control of the different sound elements. The occasional dialog that came from the set with too much natural reverb and echo from the locations had to processed and reduced using iZotope RX-6 Advanced which is great for removing the unwanted acoustics.
BTL: For nearly twenty years you’ve been praised and nominated for your work. What is it like to learn of your Golden Reel nominations? Especially this year, with nominations for a show you’ve been devoted to for years, and one you were new to?
GH: Mostly, I’m just happy for my crews that I work with on these shows. I’m so blessed to be part of these talented teams and people. It’s always fun because these events are planned and organized so nicely. It’s great to spend some time with our peers away from work and see so many old friends in a festive environment, since we spend so much time in our edit bays.