Tom Fleischman served as re-recording mixer on Netflix’s critically acclaimed Martin Scorsese epic The Irishman. Fleischman has worked with Scorsese on more than 30 films and has four Oscar nominations and one win for Hugo. Fleischman spoke about the brilliant sound work on The Irishman, specifically since there was such nuance to the sound design.
Awards Daily: You have worked on 30+ films with Martin Scorsese. What made this project special for you?
Tom Fleischman: It obviously was groundbreaking, getting Bob DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci together again. I did not know much about it, until I saw it in screening room with Scorsese, and I was blown away.
The effect that it had on me emotionally had a tremendous effect on me. I am of that age, and it had such an emotional impact on me. It was great that you connected with the film too, and good to see that people of all ages are connecting with the film.
AD: One of the biggest topics of conversations at the moment is the films length. What are your thoughts on this aspect of the film?
TF: It is obviously a very long movie so it was like working on two films.With that said we got to tell the journey of these men, and their lives, and tell a story that was impactful.
It certainly was impactful, and I have seen the film twice. I personally would sit through any great film regardless of length. I also heard there was four hour cut for Wolf of Wall Street. Did see that cut?
I did, and did the dubbing of all four hours. I think that once you sit down and watch it (Irishman) or any film in one sitting, especially in the theatrical experience, it really gets at the impact of material.
AD: Why do you think this is connecting with people?
TF: The story is what is bringing people into the mix, great script, beautifully shot. In terms of the sound of sound, not brash, it’s very quiet. No loud flash bulb effects. Only one sequence when the guns fell in the river, kept it very mono. His main focus was on the performance of the actors and the quality of their voice. The scenes in the house, the restaurant, were kept quiet intentionally.
AD: People have talked a lot about the de-aging process from a visual angle, but not enough people are talking about the tone and tenor of their voice work. How did tackle this aspect of the film?
TF: It was a matter of experimentation. The first thing I tried was going to older films like King of Comedy and Serpico, and get modulations to get the pitch of their voices in those films (DeNiro and Pacino). This was not very successful, it did not remove the grunts and other elements with the way we needed them to speak. So that experiment failed. We tried a couple other things, tried a plug-in. This affected the performance, did not sound right. Phil Stockton (a Sound Editor who has worked with on many films) filled in the things with clean room tone, and pitch changing, and this was only in the first few parts of the film when the men were meant to be younger.
AD: I am glad you brought up the quietness of the film. I always think of the flashing bulbs in Aviator or the train in Hugo as masterful elements of sound in Scorsese films. How did you work to maintain the softer sound aesthetic in the film?
TF: Most of the moments in the film were quiet, but there was the one scene the Howard Johnson’s, and there was so much background noise. I wanted the focus to be on the conversation. I had to work on the sound to ensure the quality of the voices in the conversation. My goal was to keep balance within the scene, and reduce the noise in order to keep the voices pure.
AD: How did you maintain this sound aesthetic to maintain the goals for the sound you had throughout the film?
TF: The key to this is creating a dynamic sound quality. I focused on the loudest and quietest things, it’s all about telling the story. I want the audience to be hooked on the story. If the audience says what a great sound effect it is detracting from the story.
AD: You are receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cinema Audio Society this year? What does this mean to you ?
TF: It’s a huge honor, but I am not ready to quit, it’s tremendous to get this recognition from my peers who do what I do. To me winning an award from CAS is more rewarding than an Oscar or Emmy. It’s such a tremendous honor to receive recognition from my peers.
AD: What stands out working with Martin Scorsese?
TF: He has a great sense of humor, his affability and his knowledge of cinema. His knowledge of film stands out, the man knows everything about cinema, and is incredibly passionate about the art form.
I remember one time on set I was thinking about this film and I could not remember the name, I described it with these words exactly “it was about spies in World War II and at the the guy escapes by jumping out of a plane with a parachute and he quickly responded with “that’s Manhunter 1944.” The man knows his movies!
He is very fun to be around, and serious about his craft and his work.
AD: I saw that passion in Hugo, which you won your Oscar for, it must have been a delight to see that come alive.
TF: Hugo was so much fun to work on, especially from a sound perspective, it really does add to the story.
AD: What a fantastic journey! It has been a privilege to watch, and hear you shape the stories on our screens. What is on the horizon for you?
TF: I am working with the director of HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 on his next film, which will be coming in on the spring. I am also working on the prequel to The Sopranos. I will also be working with Marty again on his documentary about Fran Leibowitz.