Summer 2015

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20 CINEMONTAGE / SUMMER 2015 The film, tangled storylines and all, was not particularly difficult to mix. "It had a scope, but in and of itself, there were no big crowd scenes, no big effects scenes," Blake comments. But it nonetheless represented a turning point. "It had the most influence on my career in that it was the second movie I mixed completely in the box, within Pro Tools, and certainly one of the first major movies that anyone ever mixed in the box." What's more, the film was final-mixed, in the fall of 2000, at Blake's Swelltone Labs in New Orleans — a newly formed company that had begun its life as Ultrasonic Digital, owned by Jay Gallagher. That year, Blake became the co-owner, with Gallagher, of the renamed company and, after Hurricane Katrina, its sole owner. The groundwork to this turn of events was laid the previous year, when Blake worked on Housebound (1999). That "sound- design intensive" project was mixed at Ultrasonic Digital, and it was Gallagher who encouraged the use of Pro Tools. "Jay just persisted in convincing me that mixing virtually was the way to go," Blake says. "Pro Tools and the fundamental principles of mixing in the box were very evident, even though the technology at that time was very primitive compared to what we have today." In July 2000, with the principal photography of Traffic complete, Blake broached the possibility of mixing in the box to Soderbergh. "I brought up to Steven the idea that we could mix in this manner, where the Pro Tools sessions would contain all the mix data — EQ, level, reverbs, reverb sends, panning — and that we could then conform it throughout multiple versions," Blake recalls. "To this day, its efficiency in moving from temps to finals is one of the inarguable benefits of this approach." But the decision meant moving sound editing and mixing operations from LA to New Orleans, where Blake made his home and where the team would set up shop at Swelltone. "We went there because we were lashing together four Pro Tools workstations with other automation and mixing right out of the original edit sessions," Soderbergh said in a 2001 interview with Directors World, adding, "It's still hard to find [a] mixing stage in LA that can do that." Blake notes that today, while mix stages built around Pro Tools control surfaces are common, they are still not the norm. "When Steven did say that he would commit to this approach," Blake says, "we bought a lot of equipment, including a pair of new Pro Control control surfaces, and then we set about mixing the movie in New Orleans." Traffic is a strikingly quiet film; at times, every sound in a scene seems meant to be heard. Early in the film, for example, the audience registers the noise made by the glass in which Robert has a drink — a harbinger, perhaps, of the countless scenes of addiction among other characters to follow. Blake particularly cites the work of production sound mixer Paul Ledford, who used a two-track DAT recorder, and boom operators Joseph F. Brennan and Keenan Wyatt. "It seems like so often production tracks — either because of the design of the movie, the lack of care of the director or a lot of effects that are not organic to the shooting of the movie — are sort of pushed by the wayside these days," he says. But that was not the case on Traffic. "Paul's production track is such a huge part of the sound of Traffic that it cannot be understated." Even one of the film's rare action scenes — a kinetic, chaotic shootout between Cheadle's and Guzmán's DEA agents and drug dealer Eddie (Miguel Ferrer) — made it to the screen primarily using Ledford's production tracks. "We did sweeten it with real gunshots," Blake concedes. "I'm not going to say we didn't, but it certainly felt right with just production." Blake himself was present for about a quarter of the shooting, recording backgrounds in Ohio and California locations, as well as in Tijuana and Nogales in Mexico. "The backgrounds, especially in Nogales, were integrated seamlessly with Paul's track, because not only do you need them for the usual creative reasons, but you need to have some sort of cohesive bed on which the movie sits for foreign-language versions," the re-recording mixer explains. MY MOST MEMORABLE FILM Larry Blake recording sound in the desert for Traffic in 2000. Photo by Bob Marshak

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