31 MPH / Now Hear This

Crafting Oscar-winning sound design in record time

Speed is inches away from the finish line with a June 10, 1994 release date looming on the horizon. The final touches will involve a race against the clock to meet that date as a seasoned team of sound mixers and sound effects editors dive into the fray to craft what will ultimately be Oscar-winning work in just three weeks.

“I said, ‘Ow, man, what I’m seeing as far as sound effects-wise in this movie, all these quick cuts,’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘How are we going to do this,'” sound re-recording mixer Gregg Landaker recalls. “I said, ‘The only way we can do this is have Steve Maslow over at Skywalker South do the dialogue. If we can get ahold of Universal, I will go over to Universal and I will do all of the key sound effects on a dub stage.’ I said, ‘We’ve got to farm out the backgrounds and the Foley work.’ So, we had Sergio Reyes and Tenny [Sebastian] over at Fox doing stage work over there. I said, ‘This is the only way this is going to come together.'”

It’s an unusual proposition, to have virtually every sound stage in town working on the project. But it would indeed be the only way to make the turnaround, and Fox lets it be known that “the bank is open,” as dialogue editor Elliott Koretz puts it.

Speed Elevator Sound Design
The elevator sequence in particular stands out for its sound design.

Speaking of dialogue, on the other side of the console, mixer Steve Maslow would run into his own share of challenges, given the rough-and-tumble nature of the production track delivered by production mixer David Macmillan.

“I remember I had a unique problem with the dialogue because every angle had a different gear whine to it,” Maslow recalls. “So, it would be from Sandra, ‘[high pitch gear sound],’ and over to Keanu, ‘[low pitch gear sound],’ so it was hard to join the dialogue to make it appear that it was all shot at the same time. It became fairly obvious.”

On the effects side, supervising sound editor Stephen Hunter Flick needs just as much help wrangling all of the material, going on recording expeditions to capture bus audio and elevator sounds, things like that.

“Jan wanted a believability, but not with the neurosis of a Paul Verhoeven,” Flick says. “I think Speed is the first modern edited picture. If you look at the truck chase on Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s slightly evolved from George Stevens-style shoot. This, this, this. The interior and exterior scenes are all really well defined, but they’re not quite simultaneous. Speed has an operational field of simultaneous events, and the job of the sound design is to bind it together.”

This journey has it all: tons of heavy lifting, many lost hours of sleep, and in the end, even an Oscar season controversy. All of that and more on this week’s episode of 50 MPH!

Episode 31 Transcript

Kris Tapley Your Host:

Kris has covered the entertainment industry for nearly two decades, with bylines at Variety, Vanity Fair and The New York Times. He now works as a writer and consultant in Los Angeles, where he lives with his loving wife, lively son and lazy cat. He likes Speed.