Post Magazine

November 2011

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in the mix Hell on Wheels on track with creative audio H By RANDI ALTMAN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Sound is no afterthought for this new series on AMC. OLLYWOOD — AMC, the net- work that hosts the critically acclaimed Mad Men and Breaking Bad, has a new series determined to wow viewers and critics alike: Hell on Wheels, which premieres this month. The show is set just after the Civil War and revolves around the expansion of the Union Pacific Railroad. AMC, as well as the show's creators Tony and Joe Gayton, have an eye for detail and realism that follows all the way through to the show's mix. One half of their mix team includes Aus- tralian-born re-recording mixer David Raines, who has been working in television and film in the US for nearly 10 years. His resume boasts stints all over the world. He mixes where the work takes him, and currently he and his mixing partner Mark Server are at Larson Studios (, lending their talents to this new series. Larson takes care of the editorial work on the show as well. Hell On Wheels is a one-hour drama focusing on a small town, called not so coincidently Hell On Wheels, that progresses along with the rail- road's construction. The story is rife with conflict. There are people from the north and the south working side-by-side building the railroad, there are Native Americans and emancipated slaves, POST: This is a period piece, so that must affect the audio? DAVID RAINES: "It's one of the things that makes the sound great, but it's also one of the things that makes the sound very, very difficult. The producers on Hell on Wheels have made sound a priority on the set for the production sound crew in Calgary, Alberta, where it's shot. "Mike Playfair, the pro- duction sound mixer, is fantastic, so the dialogue we receive is the abso- lute best they can shoot. But it does mean there is some physics to the sound we are dealing of collaboration. Here, Raines talks us through the process. dramatically bring a lot to the story. "Our sound effects crew, led by sound designer John Peccatiello, spent a lot of time shooting trains. From the beginning, the cre- ators were very adamant that they wanted trains to be a real character in the story. So our sound effects guys spent a lot of time research- with, and the physics of the locations in terms of background noise and rules we can't break, since this is set before the industrial revolu- tion. So some of those unique physical rules are constantly being challenged by the real world, and the production sound crew does an amaz- ing job delivering us some- thing we can work with in the mix stage." editorial crew is POST: Can you walk us through the workflow? RAINES: "Our sound led by John Kincade of Larson Studios, they are generally receiving material a week before the mix. They get about five to seven days to go through all the dai- lies, edit all the dialogue, find the best takes and alternate takes that are going to work with the story and dynamically with the other sound ele- The show is mixed on Avid ICON consoles in six-track surround. 16 and there is also a political element. The first season is 10 episodes long, and Raines says the creators and network liken it to 10 feature films as opposed to 10 series episodes. That involves a lot of work and a lot Post • November 2011 ments within the track. There is an entire crew of Foley guys, led by Foley mixer Andrew Morgado, who do an amazing job of coming up with unique and interesting Foley sounds that are historically accurate but also Sound designer John Peccatiello insisted that trains be a character in the show and made sure what they recorded was authentic. ing what these trains sounded like and shooting trains and other elements that are part of this story. There is livestock and unique wildlife as well, so it's bringing all of those elements in and in a way that is creative and contributes to what's happening in the story from moment to moment. Once they have it all together, our associate producer Scott Schofield brings it all to the stage with John Kincade and we get a few days to mix it and produce it." POST: Are you working on your own or are those guys on the stage with you? RAINES: "A little of both. There is always a certain amount of 'housework' that Mark and I need to do. We are dealing with the locations and the background noise. On the effects side, when it comes to action sequenc- es — and same with the music — the mixing process is also dealing with the physics of the delivery and how much our ears can per- ceive at any one moment. So the housework takes time and can't be rushed. Often, the producers are not there for this section of the mix. They know they'll get a more cre- ative track and a better track if they don't rush it. When that's done we can move into the area of pushing the storytelling beyond the obvious from a sound perspective, and that's when they get involved and it becomes really fun for everyone."

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