Supervising sound editor Sergio Diaz spent months collecting the sounds we hear in Roma. Whether it was finding the right birds or the right planes or the precise horns and engine noise of the traffic we hear in the film to capture the 1970s for Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma.
For sound designers Skip Lievsay and Craig Henighan, Cuaron’s Roma posed new challenges. Having worked with Cuaron before on Gravity and Y Tu Mama Tambien, technological advancements in Dolby sound were the challenges here. Henighan says Cuaron would tell them, “’I want this to move discretely from a speaker on the left side all the way down to the front and then it’s going to come overhead and then down,’ [Dolby Atmos] is the only format you can approximate that discrete sort of ability.”
Talking to anyone on the film, you’ll understand how personal this film was to Cuaron, but Lievsay says talking about the way they approached Roma’s soundscape, “He wanted everyone to dig into the project and use our own instincts as well.”
It all begins with Diaz’s sound. Henighan explains that Diaz would “record as much as they could in Mexico City. We’d embellish them.” He goes on to say, “Cuaron would want specific sounds for the birds or the traffic especially when they go to the cinema.”
Lievsay said, “Because of Sergio, we’d have these great textured tracks of Mexico that were just so unique. They had so much real depth and we’d work those in.”
On the background sounds, Henighan tells me Cuaron brought in 300 people to capture the Walla and they’d do the ADR for the film. “Everything was written. Everything.” He goes on to say, “There would be laser pointers for each character.”
Lievsay discusses the sounds of the hospital where Cleo gives birth. “For that, we had recorded women giving birth”
Cuaron didn’t use a film score for Roma. Instead, the soundscape was designed for “the viewer to feel as if they were part of the scene.” Henighan says. “If there’s music in the film it’s coming from the radios.”
Whether we’re walking down the street with Cleo. Hearing the marching band. Or hearing the barking dogs in the background, the sound designers used Dolby Atmos to precisely place the sounds around the audience. “Atmos lends that immersiveness that Alfonso wanted. The sound extends the visual.” Henighan says. “It takes Alfonso’s visual creation and we put it around the audience.” He goes on to say, “We panned all the main dialogue, the background dialogue, and the mid-field dialogue. Everything moved around and that’s what we wanted, everything moving as much as possible.”
On the collaboration process, Livesay says, “Alfonso would say, ‘I like this. Could we maybe move this over here? Let’s make this later. Let’s make this quieter.’”
Roma is Cuaron’s memory, the sounds we hear in the film are sounds from his childhood. They’re unique sounds that we hear. Sounds that help immerse us into his world.