Jon Mete and Tim Farrell On Creating The Unique Sounds Of Star Trek: Discovery.
Jon Mete, Supervising Sound Editor and Tim Farrell, Sound Designer are part of the Emmy-nominated team behind the sounds of Star Trek:Discovery. I recently caught up with them to talk about how they work to bring Star Trek fans the exciting intense battle sounds, the ship sounds and time-travel design we hear in each episode.
Both were nominated for their outstanding post-production sound work on the show. Read our chat below.
What’s the episode turnaround for you ?
Tim: That’s always the toughest part in our job, how do you approach this gargantuan thing that needs to get done in the allotted amount of time. It comes to for lack of better word, picking your battles.
The first thing we do is we watch the show and we figure out the hardest thing and sometimes it’s a weird thing. What’s going to be hard and most time consuming isn’t necessarily a fight scene because those are punches. At some point, we figure out what the punches need to sound like.
Jon: I’m thinking about the spore drive and what that sounds like. Ok, let’s figure out what this is, you spend time researching that. You spend time with what you think is going to be creative and you try to find the new idea.
Tim: Or you run out of time and whatever idea is there at the time is the one you go with and you pray they like it.
Jon: Star Trek started out and has never been anything else since. It started as a feature with a television budget. It’s mostly because two of our executive producers Akiva Goldsman and Alex Kurtzman, we mostly dealt with them. They come from features. Alex wrote at least two of the Star Trek reboot features, directed a movie and directed some episodes of Star Trek. We always spotted the shows with him. We had an overall plan, when we spot the shows, we’re spotting the green screen and we’re spotting Alex’s description of what a Spore Forest is going to look like.
Tim: Being able to sit down with Alex is super helpful and what he’s imagining things to be. It’s super helpful.
Jon: It’s unusual to have one voice through the process. Alex is basically our director and he continued that role through the sound mixes through the episode and so it’s great to have him as the funnel for us. The process is very challenging not only because we’re looking at it through feature level for sound, but the number of things we had to replace because, in space, we can’t have fake wood floors. We can’t have the grips and construction production designers elevator shafts. We had to replace that all, we had to replace dialogue and then we had the Klingon language.
The first thing the writers want to change in order to make the Klingon work is changing the subtitles for the Klingon. We were asked to follow a very rigid path. There’s something like 17,000 who claim to speak Klingon in the USA and we had a Klingon advisor on the set. I got to learn some because I was doing Klingon ADR.
Tim: We had seven shows in terms of what we were working on.
Jon: The producers really wanted Tim involved because of that legacy and to push it forward. Alex has this amazing library of memory. He had clips of old Star Trek’s on his iPad and say, “I wanted it to sound like this.”
Tim: He’d be quizzing us and say, “What’s the clue here?” We had to study to keep up with him.
The Emmy-nominated is brilliant. Talk about the fight in the scene where Michelle Yeoh kicks Lorca’s ass.
Jon: His whole death and how that happens has a lot going on. That was the challenge which we were trying to balance.
Tim: You have the ship that has been hit by this torpedo. You get into the fight. When I think about fights, they just have to sound cool. We had Alex’s taste dialed in. For me, in that episode, the hardest sequence was when they went back through the fabric of time to get back to their own universe. That was a really interesting sequence because so much of it was balancing these effects with complete music.
Jon: Tim and I have worked together on and off for quite a while. There’s no one else I could imagine doing what Tim did for the show. There’s no one who has the experience Tim has in order to figure out a strategy for figuring out and accomplishing all these make believe sounds. It’s not like we’re trying to mimic a Mustang engine. In a lot of cases, not even the old Star Treks.
Tim: I was being coy in describing the fight because it was actually so huge we had to compress time. I had a brilliant sound designer, Chris who handled it. He made sword sounds that had this ring off with this cool character. As much as I had to handle the heavy lifting with the ships and the cores and the drives. He did more of the realistic aspect of things.
Jon: When Tim is building the sound design the jump through time, part of what Tim is able to accomplish is we have a whispering scientist who has flash memories to his loved one. We have giant complicated heavy machinery flying and Tim is really good about figuring out how to get in and out of that. It sounds like it should be simple but it’s not.
The sword sounds you mention were unique! What about working with the music as you say? you have the music and that comes in. How do you collaborate with the other departments?
Tim: We knew what that part was going to be. we could pre-plan. Alex loves music. He loves everything. It’s always a challenge. Sometimes we get to score on stage. He will talk about wanting something like SFX driven. We get that sense of who’s going to hand off where and not to go crazy because he might want to do something in another spot.
Jon: Matt Decker is our music editor. There are a lot of conceptual ideas that would not surface until we are on a mix stage because as much as we were under some pretty challenging deadlines. Visual effects would come in and based on what they’d be doing, it would dictate a different movement with music and a different position for the sound design. There was a lot of re-editing on this mix stage. There’s a lot of work. The days would be so different.
The episode was one of the most high intensity filled episodes. How does the pacing factor in? Do you get an outline with regard to what you’re doing?
Jon: We get an audio guide for every episode. It’s whatever the picture editor and their assistant can accomplish in the time they have and what resources they have at their disposal. It’s very primitive and it’s a sketch.
Tim: In the end, everyone in post-production tells the story. Every sound we cut in, the thought process is how does this tell the story. There’s a laser battle going on and those sounds had to be created. That was definitely the challenge of that episode, coming up with the right level of intensity for that moment. With all the taser and rifle sounds going off, we had to add in variety and not make it sound like everyone was holding the same weapon. The Emperor had her own pitches that made it sounds out, everyone else had their own pitches and textures to create texture in the mix instead of just having sounds.