In the interviews I’ve conducted for Awards Daily, I’ve encountered few individuals as wildly enthusiastic as sound editor Wylie Stateman. In our 45+ minute conversation (much of it off the record, sorry), I felt like I was back in college, hashing out the craft of filmmaking with a really great professor. And I was all signed up to go for my honor’s thesis.
Stateman’s filmmaking experience over the last 30 years encompasses some of the biggest names in filmmaking – all typically writer-director-producer combinations. Cameron Crowe. Wolfgang Peterson. John Hughes. Oliver Stone. And, of course, Quentin Tarantino. It’s daunting to speak with someone who so heavily contributed to the films on which you grew up, but Stateman felt like someone I’d known for years. Just someone I’d known for years with 8 Oscar nominations.
“I’m at this point in my life where I love filmmaking, and I have a really big picture view of it,” Stateman explained. “That’s what I would say about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. For me, the most interesting part about that movie was the chance to really see it, first in script form, and then sit down and think about what would be important and what would be interesting.”
Here, we generally focused on his work for Quentin Taratino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood – a film that Stateman calls “a film driven by songs and KHJ Radio.” We talked about the period sound design used to recreate 1969 Hollywood. We also talked about the differences between real-world sounds and the modified sound landscape employed during the filming of Rick Dalton’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) pilot Lancer.
But while you may think the most intense scene in the film is its fantastical (and mildly controversial) ending, Stateman would redirect you to the sound design for the Spahn Ranch sequence. That’s where, as Stateman puts it, sound juices the audience’s emotion. Here, Tarantino avoids using a typical orchestral score to evoke tension.
“When we arrive at the Spahn Ranch, Quentin said, ‘I can’t imagine a song that could speak to the evil of this place,’ ” Stateman shared. “Brad’s walk-up to George Spahn’s house is all done with sound design and natural textures like wind. The way the camera dodges behind a truck and then reveals him walking by again. All of those camera moves we created a vocabulary for, so when the camera goes into hiding for just a second and then reveals the wider shot, we have developed a literal sound vocabulary that helps describe the feeling and the magic and mystery of that.”
It’s the sound of the piece that fills the audience with a sense of evil and despair. That, according to Stateman, is the future of filmmaking – a future furthered by writer-director-producers like Quentin Tarantino.
“Quentin loves the craft of filmmaking, and sound is an important part of his thought process,” Stateman said. “He’s thinking about sound when he’s writing. He’s thinking about sound when he’s shooting, and clearly, when he’s in the cutting room, sound helps him inform the pacing and the time shifting that he often does in his films.”
Please enjoy this podcast with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman. I hope you learn as much out of the experience as I did.
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