Sound Mixer and Sound Editor are just two of the hats Jacob Ribicoff wears in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea. Whether he’s capturing the sounds of clashing skate-blades at a hockey rink, or the ocean wind coming in off the Atlantic, or the bustling sounds at the fishing docks, it’s Ribicoff who puts all those sounds together adding to the emotion we see in the film.
Ribicoff talked to us about what he listens for once a picture is sent to him, and how the collaborative effort works in post production. We also talked about the important flashback scene in Manchester by the Sea and how through experimentation he and Lonergan arrived at the final decisions about what we hear on screen.
Awards Daily: Something that people don’t realize is all the work that actually goes into a film once it comes to you to add Foley and sound editing and ADR.
Jacob Ribicoff: It’s true. People don’t realize that we reconstitute and build everything in sound post. All we have is the dialogue that was recorded during the shoot and then everything else gets put together later.
AD: Courtesy of you. What do you talk about and in this case, what did you and Kenneth talk about?
JR: We had worked together before on Margaret, so there was already a level of communication and understanding of each other’s language. When you’re going into a project on the sound front can be very tricky because the language to talk about sound is far less developed than that to talk about visual or acting or other aspects of the filmmaking process. On this project, the first talk we had was after the first picture editing screening, I went over to him, and he said he wanted me to go up to the area and do a lot of field recording. I love it.
I went up to Cape Ann, Beverly, Manchester by the Sea, and I recorded in all the locations that you see in the film. I went to the hospital, I went out on a boat, and shut the boat off to record ambiance. We went to the fisherman’s bar, the hockey rink and the schools, which allowed me to record ambiance as well as vocal ambiance. It was also important to have flavors of the accent from that part of the country.
I think what developed was an ongoing conversation. We started in a spotting session with the director and picture editor and talked about how is this movie going to sound and go through all the scenes of the film and get as specific as possible. A lot more came out as we were mixing and working together on the mix stage too. So, that was part of our work to get the authenticity and realism for the movie.
AD: What do you look for when you’re watching a spot session?
JR: In the hockey scene we had to get the skate sounds. That scene is bookended by very loud and physical dynamic moments, and then it gets to a quiet place in the middle. So, we had bodies against the boards and it’s really loud in the movie. We Foleyed skating sounds, and one of the editors had heard the sounds and said they weren’t quite right as he had been a skater in his youth. So, I said, “Why don’t you take those recordings, take them and make them sound the way they should.” He took them, pitched them down, and they sounded the way a hockey skate should sound. There was also a mixing component when we get to the scene where Lee (Affleck) comes in and has to impart this scene to his nephew and he’s standing all across the ice, and the camera is watching from afar. That conversation was about, how much of this conversation do we really want to hear? We don’t want to hear the conversation, but we want to hear the cadence. That was a process of trial and error where we sat until we arrived at the perfect level for what we eventually see in the end.
AD: What did you do for the fire scene because it’s part of a flashback?
JR: Right. That scene starts where Lee is sitting in the lawyer’s office and he’s starting to recall the events leading up to the fire and the fire itself. We’re going back and forth as he thinks introspectively over what happened and seeing what happened. The choreography of that entire progression was something that Kenny and the picture editor came up with in the process of cutting the movie. It was in place when the movie came to me. They had choreographed what we were going to hear and where. For me, it was a matter of making all of that work. There are times when Lee is in the office, but we are hearing what he’s remembering, and that leads into the flashback. Other times we are cutting back to him sitting in the office, and he’s actually in the quiet office. That was something we all came up with, feeling it out. We played around with sections of those scenes, so when you see the firemen picking through the rubble, we had Ffoleyed in those sounds and we had them in there as a way to get back into dialogue and everything. We played with having that in and the idea of hearing those sounds, or not hearing those sounds. In the end, we wound up not hearing them. That was just as a result of all of us watching it and deciding what had the most impact on the viewer.
AD: That’s stuff the viewer takes for granted especially in a scene like that. Moving onto another part of the story, what about that scene where they bump into each other?
JR: In the end, we stripped that down to just the sound that was recorded while it was shot. There might be a tiny bit of air that we were able to float into the surround. You’re not conscious of it, but you feel as if you’re outside.
I approach all scenes as if one would expect to hear; traffic and cars. That’s where Kenny wanted to strip all of that out, so all we had was the sound of their voices and the cadence and rhythms of their conversation. In the production sound, you do hear some of the cars.
That was really a mixing question where the challenge was to get the different mic-ings and camera angles to make them uniform. This is the thing that the average person would never know, that in any scene in a movie where you have shot, reverse shot, wide shot, zoom in, all of that has been recorded at a slightly different moment in time, and is a different take, and as a result has a different tone and ambiance behind it. We come along and weave it all together, equalize it and do different things so that it sounds like it all happened in one moment in time.
That was a bit of a challenge. What I love about that scene is that it has these rhythms that are unique to those two characters in that situation. It’s not drawn from other movies and clichés or anything. It feels so totally real and is just a product of these two people and the story of where they are in their lives. It was a combination of Jen and Kenneth cutting that together, and me coming along and doing all that I could to make that work, and in between lines, sometimes moving a frame one way or another just to make it sit better as a conversation.
AD: You talked about mic-ing the actors. Did you do much ADR to complete the sound?
JR: Very little. The goal was to do as little as possible. It’s coming from the idea that you have these incredible performances that is coming from the actors at the time the movie is being shot, and to do ADR, you have to bring the actor back and they have to get to that place and back into character, but it has to fit in. On a technical level, you have to make it sound the way production sounded at the time. There are tricks involved in doing that.
The whole idea was let’s try to make what we have work. We did a certain amount of ADR for the sake of the accents in the movie, in the end, though a lot of that wasn’t used because the viewer was so swept up in the performance that no one is ever going to notice that.
We did do some group ADR where we brought in some people. We brought some of the teenagers in for the hockey scene, just to record conversations that got put into the hockey game, and in the bar.
AD: You also have moments of silence which is equally as powerful. Where does that decision come in?
JR: For every moment of silence, those moments really help the moments of sound before and after them to have an extra significance or impact. Some of them are montages when Lee is looking for work and going to locations. We did that with music. We did also try it with sound such as in the mechanics where you’d hear a car being worked on. We found there was an added emotional impact with seeing the character in their struggle, hearing music and not hearing anything else.
What happens with silence like that is it allows the viewer to fill in their own sound, or to find themselves in a moment of intimacy with the character and how they’re connecting with the character. It gives a moment to the viewer to experience the movie in a much more intimate way.