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Emmys FYC: George Haddad On Creating the sounds of ‘Gotham’

The Emmy®-nominated sound supervisor of Gotham talks to Awards Daily TV about creating the sounds of a broken city in the hit Fox show.

How did you get involved in Gotham?

Danny Cannon is the show runner and executive. He comes from the CSI days, and I was one of the sound designers on CSI: New York. I’ve been in that network since, and we’ve done a few shows. We also did Tomorrow People which lasted one season, but Danny had Gotham in the works for a while. When it came time to put a sound crew together, we were fortunate to be available. There were some opportunities, but we learned a lot and had some good success working with Danny.

What did they say to about Gotham?

They’re taking a different approach. You don’t see iPhones and modern cars. They are trapped in time. For the sound effects, we have carte blanche as to what we want things to sound like because there is nothing significant about saying this is 1980 or 1970. Gotham is a broken city. There’s so much dysfunction. There’s so much underground crime. The cars and weapons are all custom made instead of the regular 9mm gun, so we had a lot of room to help sell the visual of the broken and lost city and of the people who live in it. Whether it’s sound design or the background voices, we take the approach that it’s not the sounds we hear on a daily basis, so we have that room.

Is there a bank of sounds you have for Gotham? What is your process?

There are a lot of common locations, and we’ve established what we want that to sound like with the footsteps and cops on the phone. Again, it’s a dysfunctional city so we’re not saying, “Hold on, I’ll pass this call on.” It’s like, “Ma’am, I have no time to get the cat from the tree.” We try to add some comedy to sell the dysfunctionality of it.

We will design from scratch, or we’ll record sounds. We’re doing an episode a week, so we rely on a huge sound library at Warner Bros. that we personally own. As much as we like to go out and record, we also build and make an ally or make an underground place sound the way we want with existing sounds we’ve used in the past just so we can keep up with the schedule and time.

This season was “Mad City” and “Heroes Rise.” There were a lot of exciting sounds.Was there any one sound that was hard to create?

We have a lot of support from Danny, and they tend to warn us if there’s a big scene. They’ll give us the footage ahead of time. My crew and I have been doing this for over 25 years. We never panic because we’ve been doing it for so long. We also know we have the library that we’ve built.

When we see something that we see is going to be new or different for the show, we attack it with more than one person to get it done and then we send it to the producers to hear ahead of the time. That way when they get to the stage, they’re not hearing it for the first time, and if they want to make changes, we’re not trapped by time constraints.

To avoid any stress with the schedule, we’ll set up a template where we start early where we can start something unique.

Even over the years, there’s so much great software that we collect as we go along. We learn about it through the sound community, and we apply it to whatever episode we have. We stay on top of it to avoid that panic because TV moves fast. In reality, we have 22 episodes to do in 10 months.

How would you say the show has changed in term of the sound over the course of three seasons?

The sound changes based on the writers. They’re constantly coming up with new things along with the visual effects. It’s not a procedural show, and that’s what I love about it. It isn’t going to be the same kind of crime with different people. It’s different villains. There are different challenges for the actors as they come about to what eventually will be Batman, so I think we’re growing with them and we’re at the same pace.

Each time a new season starts and they come up with a new storyline, it’s exciting for sound too as we want to change with them too. Hopefully, that’s what the sound community sees when we get our nominations, they see that it’s not a typical sounding cop show. Changing with the visual effects and the storyline has helped get us these nominations, and we’re grateful that our fellow sound people have nominated us.

My favorite episode was the episode with Cobblepot and the poison drink. What were some for you?

Gotham has the best stunt coordinator who was also nominated, and the action sequences he puts together are just unlike anything I’ve seen on TV. So for me, it’s fun putting sound to the stunt moves whether it’s five people fighting in an alley or two people fighting in an alley. It’s just so much fun what he does with the punches, the guns. When they fight in the precinct, they’re on one desk and flying through the air. There’s just so much sound opportunity and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had on any TV show. We get to see a lot of that stuff a lot.

Was there a revelation that happened for you this past season?

There’s great casting in the show. So, when they brought in Michael Chiklis and just to see him evolve from a police captain to an enemy type villain. I really enjoyed that and having met him when we do ADR. He’s a seasoned actor, and his arc to me was exciting. To see someone transform into a villain was a lot of fun. When you watch him have supernatural powers, that was great. They’ve done it a few times with the Joker character, and they did it with The Riddler who was working at GCPD.

Season 4 is around the corner.

We are mixing the first episode, and Scarecrow is back more than what we see in the past. So, our current challenge is to come up with a signature sound for the person who will eventually turn into the Scarecrow. We’re working with Danny and sending him samples to get it right.

Were you a Batman fan growing up?

I was a huge Batman fan growing up, but I think I’m going to age myself. I loved Adam West, and I’ve seen all the movies. At heart, I’m an Adam West Batman person, and that probably throws my age out there.

Well, as you’ve done that, so will I, that was my first introduction to him.

Look, it’s the Adam West, it’s the visual effects of Boom. Pow. That got me into sound effects because I loved seeing those words on the screen, and I’d run around recreating those fight scenes saying, Bash. Boom. Bang. Here I am 40 years later working on a prequel to Batman and it’s exciting for me.

 

Consider Gotham in Emmy voting for:

Stunt Coordination for a Drama Series, Limited Series or Movie

Sound Editing for a Drama Series