Mandell Winter has been working in sound on a variety of film and television projects for nearly twenty years now. Some of his notable projects include Southpaw, The OA, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, and both Equalizer films. This year he completed a remarkable trifecta with HBO’s Deadwood: The Movie, the latest installment of True Detective, as well as the great docuseries on Muhammad Ali, What’s My Name.
We discuss all three of those projects here, the first two of which earned him Emmy nominations for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special.
AD: You’ve had one heck of a year working on Deadwood: The Movie, True Detective, and What’s My Name. How did you come to these projects?
Mandell Winter: On Deadwood I was originally slated just to come on as the ADR supervisor to help Ben Cook. He was originally slated to supervise the show. But as schedules changed he was no longer available. So, upon his recommendation, and since I had been working for HBO quite a bit, I ended up as the supervisor and then I co-supervised with Daniel Coleman, who worked out of Universal.
For What’s My Name, I work quite frequently with Antoine Fuqua. We’ve probably done nearly a dozen projects now. We’ve done quite a bit of work together – the Equalizer films, Magnificent Seven, and many more.
True Detective, we had done season 2 and when I heard that it was officially going into production, I emailed one of the executive producers right away and and said we’d love to be part of it.
AD: What does it feel like to have worked on three such projects in one year? That’s one trifecta of quality.
MW: Pretty remarkable, and it’s funny because you just start the year and you’re like how am I going to fill the year out? You never quite know what’s ahead of you and then things just kind of happen and click into place, and you look back and think “wow,” how cool was that?
AD: Can you talk a bit about your working method and how you approach your responsibilities on a project?
MW: As the supervising sound editor, I like to work with the clients and see where their sensibilities are – try to understand where they want the project to go and then I translate that to the rest of the sound team, and make sure they have the resources they need and that we’re working within the parameters set by the client. Whether that be budget or schedule or what have you. Then we try and elevate it a little bit. A lot of times we will get tracks from the picture editor and they’ll be pretty fleshed out. So, instead of reinventing the wheel we look at the shape in which they are looking to go. They want it loud here and quieter there, They have certain sensibilities, so we’re respectful to that. We want to make sure that we are in tune to that and to make sure that our tracks reflect that.
AD: With True Detective, a foreboding atmosphere is felt throughout. How did you create that with your team?
MW: In True Detective, it’s more of a minimalist aesthetic that we’re going for. After the boy dies, the town kind of dies along with him. We wanted that heavy vibe. A lot of that also comes from (series composer) T-Bone Burnett. He brings so much to the table and really creates a lot of mood with the score. So, there’s a lot of that weaving in and out of our sound design. Some stuff is his, some stuff is ours. It’s really a cool dance between the two.
AD: T-Bone is basically a legend at this point. What’s it like working with him and blending his composition with your sound work?
MW: We have temp tracks in there that are from T-Bone. Then we’ll get to the mix stage and it’ll be something completely new. We bring it in and we mix it down. Because a lot of his stuff plays low right underneath everything. It’s magic. It comes alive and we know what we need to do.
AD: I spoke with a musician who worked on True Detective and he just raved about T-Bone. Saying he came up with new ideas all the time, but he also allows for a lot of improvisation too.
MW: Absolutely. He comes up with these really cool ideas. We’ll be in a play back and he’ll disappear for two days and come back with a new song and it changes and elevates everything. Everything is elevated because of what he brings to the table.
AD: For Deadwood, the show is so dialogue and heavy and the wording so precise. Every bit of it must be heard. How do you account for that when you are creating sound for such a particular show?
MW: It starts with the great recordings from our production mixer, Geoffrey Patterson, who we happened to have on both Deadwood and True Detective – amazingly enough. His tracks were great. So, it helps a lot with the dialogue – making sure we have good recordings so we don’t have to de-noise too much. We want to make sure we have that richness of voice. We did that with both of those shows. But then you fill in the background and the atmospheres. On Deadwood we wanted to stay true to Deadwood. We use a lot of the original recordings that Ben Cook got on the series. Because I was not on the series and so I had a lot of homework to do. It was a little daunting at first.
AD: It’s a very specific universe to walk into. With a lot of expectations form fans of the series to meet.
MW: A little bit of trepidation, for sure. Being such a loved show by the fans, we wanted to make sure that we were as authentic as possible. We wanted it to feel like Deadwood. But we were also given the task of raising the scale since it was a movie. We wanted to make it bigger than the series, but we also wanted familiar sounds.
AD: Going from pure dramatic work to a docuseries like What’s My Name, what did that require of you in terms of sound that other projects might not have?
MW: It is a different approach. First, that we’re dealing with a lot of archival footage so we’re doing restoration. Since most of that archival footage was mono, we needed to expand the image and the sound. So, when we’re adding sound effects we need it to match into the archival footage. Instead of getting these great quality sounds we’re lo-fi sounds. Then we try to degrade them so that they match. There’s never enough time, but it’s one of those shows where you just dig in and grind, trying to get the clarity out of the original recordings because you want authenticity.
AD: How challenging was it to take on a project with all this archival footage about someone who is so well known? I was amazed at how fresh it felt. Even the information I already knew was delivered in a fascinating way.
MW: I learned so much from this project. I knew a little bit about Muhammad Ali but then hearing it in his own voice, him telling his story, was remarkable for me. I felt like I became closer to the man and the legend. I learned about boxing on Southpaw. I knew nothing about boxing but when we did Southpaw, we immersed ourselves into it so that we could understand where the Director Antoine Fuqua wanted to go with it. Then having the Ali docuseries we were able to learn even more. I’m constantly learning on every project but that one especially, I learned so much.
AD: How difficult was it to make the sound match the archival footage?
MW: It’s not terribly difficult, it’s just time consuming. We go through different processes and use different plug ins. We do an initial pass during the edit, and then when we got to the mix stage our mixers would would take it even further. We’re very proud of it.
AD: So, not only did you get your first Emmy nomination this year, you also got your second. What does it feel like to be double nominated for True Detective and Deadwood?
MW: I was very surprised when I saw my name there twice. It’s a bit surreal. I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve worked on some projects that no one has seen that I feel very attached to as well and this is pretty remarkable.
AD: I know that the working regularly and doing good work is its own reward, but it must be nice being recognized by your peers.
MW: It definitely makes you feel good, but then look at my calendar and I have a deadline, I’m mixing tomorrow. (Laughs).