In Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by George Clooney, a number of characters emerged from 50s footage and interacted with TV journalist Edward R. Murrow and his team at CBS News. They included House Un-American Activities Committee chairman Sen. Joseph McCarthy, other senators and committee members, and assorted personalities like Milo Radulovich, Annie Lee Moss, Roy Cohn and Liberace who were part of the film’s story and the culture of the times Their presence on the screen was not portrayed by actors but derived from archival television footage, giving the film a rare reality. Through the experience and ingenuity of Aaron Glascock and Curt Schulkey, who served as both supervising sound editors and sound re-recording mixers, these characters’ sound narratives were seamlessly interwoven into the film’s present tense. For Glascock and Schulkey, this was a second outing with Clooney. Both were supervising sound editors on the actor/director’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. “George is a passionate director, a good leader and communicator who can effectively articulate what he wants,” says Schulkey. “He has a strong sense of visual style.” The audio of Good Night, and Good Luck had its own complexities because of the various formats mixed with live production, and “George had a hands-on approach in the post process,” according to Glascock. “He communicates and trusts you.” Glascock mixed music and effects, Schulkey mixed dialogue and Lance Brown mixed foley. For Glascock and Schulkey, bringing the considerable amount of archival television footage into the film presented some challenges. “Cleaning up old, degraded and dirty sound was not new to us; cleaning it up to be clear and audible and true to the sound of the era, was,” Schulkey explains. “We were working with a variety of formats. We had some newsreel footage from 16mm and some television footage from kinescope recordings.” Kinescope, the process of photographing a live television broadcast onto film off of a video monitor as it is being broadcast, was the only technology at the time that allowed the recording of TV programs. “The Alcoa and Kent commercials [shown in the film] were originally filmed on 16mm but [then broadcast and] recorded on kinescope,” Glascock explains. This posed an extra wrinkle. Throughout the process, Glascock and Schulkey were mindful of replicating the sound of the period but also creating a clear and audible track.McCarthy accusee Radulovich’s emotionally effective speech outside his Wisconsin home was originally shot on 16mm as newsreel footage. “His voice was on a narrow and lean track so considerable boosting was needed,” says Schulkey. “The worst sounding audio was the Washington hearings,” adds Glascock. “Although it was shot on 16mm, the recording had not been well preserved. There were splices and the dirty optical track had plenty of pops and hisses. There were lots of people in the room who were not properly miced. People were moving around, bumping chairs, dropping books and so on.”The task of incorporating dialogue recorded half a century ago, making rough audio clean and putting it all in the same space made good use of today’s technologies. Among the plug-ins used in the Pro-Tools sound editing and mixing domain were those from Sony Oxford Restoration and the T.L. Space Convolution Reverb.Crosscutting between the “live” Murrow, played by David Strathairn, during his Person To Person interviews meant cutting the original voice of Edward R. Murrow out and cutting in Strathairn’s voice. During Murrow’s interview with Liberace, “Ed Murrow and Liberace had to exist in the same world,” says Schulkey, “and look ‘;live’ at the same time.” The character of Joe Wershba, played by Robert Downey, Jr., had to be filmed, then played back on a television screen, then filmed in the production. Then the editors intercut the filmed Wershba (Downey) with the archival footage, again meeting the demands of the sound realities of vintage broadcast and production. In keeping with the kinetic energy and reality of a newsroom, Clooney made a stylistic choice that “dialogue would overlap dialogue,” continues Schulkey. “Normally, a line will end and the next line will begin. But by overlapping lines, Clooney gave the audience a sense of what the live broadcast CBS Studio was like at the time with all its frenetic energy.” The melodic jazz singer (Dianne Reeves) and her band’s performances were recorded live, in a studio and a style very similar to the way they were produced during live television broadcasts in the 50’s. “It was not overproduced,” states Glascock. These music performances worked as transitions between segments so they had to have the precise timing and smooth blending to not jolt the audience out of the flow of the film. “One of my favorite sound moments in the film is when two secretaries step out of the elevator and they enter the studio and you hear Reeves’ voice singing,” says Glascock. “It was a smooth transition that took you from their conversation in the elevator right into the music performance in the studio.”The film was mixed on the DigiDesign ICON Integrated Console at Warner Bros. Stage 6, which is the largest installation of its kind. It was mixed “virtually,” meaning that the system recorded the movements of all of the controls on the console and re-performed the movements every time the film played forward. Once the mix was finished and approved, the audio was re-recorded, producing the final soundtrack. Glascock and Schulkey have collaborated on Insomnia, Blade; Trinity and Under the Tuscan Sun. For Good Night, And Good Luck, they and their sound team were able to transport the audience on an audio journey through live television of the 1950’s, avoiding any uncomfortable scratchiness yet remaining true to the era they were depicting.
Written by Kathy Anderson