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HomeCraftsPostproductionPP-Sound Supervisors Kevin O'Connell & Greg Russell-Talledega Nights

PP-Sound Supervisors Kevin O'Connell & Greg Russell-Talledega Nights

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Will Ferrell’s NASCAR comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby may be cleaning up at the box office, and getting him in trouble with fundamentalist film reviewers at Movieguide.org, but one thing it’s not doing is relying on “aural history”—sound mixing tricks from the past—to make the movie sound authentic.Greg Russell and Kevin O’Connell have long pedigrees as postproduction sound mixers, which between them includes stints in the old west (Tombstone, Wyatt Earp), outer space (Starship Troopers, Stargate), the future (Terminator 3), the past (The Patriot) and a web-filled New York skyline (the Spider-Man movies), a conspiracy filled “old Europe” (The Da Vinci Code) and even one previous stint on the NASCAR circuit—for the Tony Scott-directed, Tom Cruise-starring, ultra-serious Days of Thunder.A lot has changed since that 1990 opus, especially in sound technology itself; Russell recalls needing to dub “hundreds and hundreds of trucks and cars” in order to mix down the film’s tracks and “create layering for the races.”There were also lots of “super sweeteners” added, “animal growls, explosions” to make those “thunder” cars sound, well, as thunderous as possible. “Cars would go ’round tracks on animal growls alone,” Russell recalls.But now, in returning to the fast blacktop—and despite a subplot involving Ferrell’s character fearing cougars sitting in his car—Talladega’s race sounds weren’t “hyped with a lot of sounds that would not be there.”No polar bear growls under the hot Alabama sun.O’Connell says “I learned a lot on all those Bruckheimer and (Michael) Bay movies—they were so hell-bent on breaking people’s eardrums. Those guys wanted every ounce of balls from the soundtrack.”That contrasts to what Talladega director Adam McKay was after, in Russell’s estimation, which was simply to “focus (on) telling a funny story.”That dovetailed with a kind of ethos which O’Connell, along with Russell, brought to this and other recent films, having to do with both practical and aesthetic aspects of the mix.The two have sound divvied up. “I’m dialogue and music mixer,” O’Connell notes, “Gary is sound effects mixer.” Both agree on levels that are not, in the words of comedian Stan Freberg, “too piercin’, man.”“Most of our films live in the 7s and 8s,” Russell says, referring to the mixing levels the duo aims for, “so when you do go to a 9 or 10, it has some impact.” Especially in a film like this, which is “about fun, not how cool that ‘car by’ is.” Besides, “if you played everything that was prepared, at all times, it would be a mess.” Additionally, “if your dialogue is in your 4 or 5 range, everything (else) is shaped around your dialogue. The dynamic range,” he concludes, “has to be respected.”And in a further show of that respect, Russell and O’Connell bring their favorite tools to the job. “Sony (Studios) is the best facility on the planet,” O’Connell enthuses, “and the Cary Grant Theater is the best mixing room on the planet.” He’s especially enamored of the 350-seat house’s ability to replicate theater conditions. O’Connell refers to too many aural “surprises” back “when I used to mix on smaller stages.”“I was in the Kim Novak theater,” Russell says. “I pre-dub all the sound effects, all the background, and all the foley as well.” By then, O’Connell is “usually done a week early on his dialogue, then he’ll start” pitching in on the foley sounds—footsteps, doors, tire screeches, etc.—before the two join for the final mix.That mix happens on Sony’s preferred board, with O’Connell maintaining that the Harrison MPC Console is the “best console around,” providing the “horsepower for mixing.”And while a lot of tracks and sounds might be captured or created using Digidesign’s ProTools, when it comes to crossing first under the checkered flag, O’Connell also adds that ProTools “isn’t ready for the mixing world quite yet. [The software] is going to have to get a lot better for me to want to mix on it.”Besides being enamored of his console, he also has high praise for the people he worked with: “(Supervising sound editor) George Anderson is incredibly talented,” and also intrepid, going so far to record lots of source material on the tarps and pits of Talladega itself.“We’ve worked with him before,” Russell notes, also crediting editor Brent White for doing “a great job with the film pictorially.”Anderson and White may get the credit for giving the duo great material to work with, but after they finish their pass at the final mix, what Russell terms the “creative backfield”—the director, etc.—comes into the room, though he’s pleased to report that “everyone is usually very happy.”In this instance, the result sprung from the mixing pair wanting to be “true to NASCAR” as Russell terms it, something that prompted him to watch and listen to NASCAR by way of prep.“We wanted it to sound the way it sounds,” Russell says.

Written by Mark London Williams

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