The Tree of Life, this year’s winner of the Palm d’Or at Cannes, marked a triumphant return for director Terrence Malick, whose last film, The New World, appeared in 2006. It also signaled the auspicious rebirth of one of the most treasured sound facilities in Hollywood.
Final mixing for The Tree of Life, was completed at Audio Head, a sound company that opened in 2010 on the historic studio space known as “The Lot.” The company’s facilities, which include four large dubbing stages, Foley and ADR stages, production and editorial offices, and a 130-seat screening theater, once housed the sound department of Warner Hollywood Studios and prior to that was home to Goldwyn Sound. The mixing stages have been used to complete sound work for some of the most memorable films in history including The Godfather, Raging Bull, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars and West Side Story.
“The buildings, the stages, the history of this facility have more soul than any sound facility in town,” said Audio Head executive vice president Ricky DeLena. “This is the place!” DeLena added that part of the facility’s appeal is its location on a lot, whose amenities include 24-hour security, on-site parking, a commissary and relaxed studio vibe.
The new owners of Audio Head, who also own the nearby postproduction facility Picture Head, have enhanced the facility with updated technology while maintaining the ambiance and acoustical qualities of the historic stages that have made them a favorite among the industry’s top mixers. That has included upgrading the Neve mixing consoles used in two of the dubbing stages to latest generation Gemini platforms and updating the software used by the Avid ICON consoles installed in stages B and C. Cosmetic remodeling was performed to improve client comfort and amenities. New production and editing offices were also built. The facility also provides a home to Martell Sound, a leading specialist in sound services for movie trailers.
“It’s a new world for production,” DeLena observed. “What we provide is an environment to be creative. Filmmakers can come here, cut picture, cut sound, mix, do the ADR and Foley, and host screenings. We provide the space, the talent and everything in between for the whole process. Clients appreciate the convenience and creative benefits of having their entire production operations located in a single, secure location.”
The Tree of Life was the first production to give Audio Head a test drive. Malick and his sound team, which included re-recording mixer and supervising sound editor Craig Berkey and sound designer Erik Aadahl, moved into production offices for a projected five-week stay that eventually stretched to ten months. In addition to mixing, the production used Audio Head’s facilities for ADR, sound and picture editing, and screening. “They were with us for an unusually long time, but Terrence Malick was intent on making a very special film,” DeLena noted. “The opportunity to host his film for nearly a year was spectacular.”
Following The Tree of Life, Audio Head has played host to several more film productions, including Paranormal Activity 2, Hop and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. “We’ve had a consistent run of number one films; it’s been good,” said DeLena. “The facility still has the same heart and soul, and we view Audio Head as an extension of its glorious past. We’re working with great filmmakers and great projects, and we plan to keep it at that high level.”