The very first thing I learned about supervising sound editor and sound designer Mac Smith is that he loves dad jokes.
Here’s an example:
“What do you call a zombie who writes music?”
Smith and sound effects editor Tim Farrell passed a lot of these back and forth as they worked on Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight, which streams exclusively on Disney+. Their tight collaboration on the Egyptian-set series led to one of the more inventive and immersive soundscapes of the Emmy season. The palates needed to accurately orient the user within the busy streets of Cairo and in the often soundless world of the afterlife itself.
Take a look at our Five Questions With… segment with supervising sound designer and sound designer Mac Smith and sound effects editor Tim Farrell.
Awards Daily: Aside from dad jokes, how do you two work together? What is symbiosis between you?
Mac Smith: I’m supervising sound editor and sound designer on Moon Knight. I shared the supervisory duties with Bonnie Wild. She was an amazing co-conspirator. Kim Patrick did a move a lot of the sound design as well. So I helped sound design, but all of our roles ended up blending together. Tim [Farrell] came in to help make sure the mix was in sync with the new picture and the effects that were coming in. But Tim ended up cutting a huge amount of sound effects and doing sound design himself. So I believe Tim got credited as sound effects editor, but he did so much more than that on the show.
Tim Farrell: Well, there was a whole team of sound effects people that Mac oversaw in addition to me. Mac’s job is oversee all of these moving parts. We have a good trust with each other and knew what we needed to do. He let us go and do our thing, but he also did a ton of creation himself.
AD: Was there a concern that Moon Knight employed authentically Egyptian sounds?
MS: That was absolutely a concern right at the get go, not just from us but from Mohammed Diab the director and Ahmed Haze, one of the picture editors, was from Cairo. They also didn’t want it to sound like your typical Hollywood Egypt, like some movies that we’ve become familiar with over the past 20 or 30 years. They described a Cairo as being such much more modern of a city than we’re used to seeing. We didn’t have the time or the resources to go to Egypt, ourselves, but there’s a vast global sound community. We got in touch with a young woman from Cairo who had done a bunch of recordings. Bonnie [Wild] and I got on a Zoom call with her a couple of times and discussed what do she thought of when she considered sounds for Egypt. It’s funny, she had very similar response to Mohammed and Ahmed. Car horns honking all the time, and they’re much higher pitched. They’re just everywhere all the time, and you’re hearing the call to prayer. There are all these vendors in the marketplace that are constantly shouting and barking and trying to get you to patronize them. So, we were able to secure a bunch of sounds and put them in our library. Then, Ahmed had stuff from his collection as well. So I feel that we got a little closer to the mark as far as being successful and having authentic Egyptian / Cairo sounds.
AD: How do you reflect the sounds of the weaponry that Moon Knight and later Layla use?
TF: There’s always the concept of hyper real, and when you’re dealing with things like superheroes and Marvel and especially in the Marvel Universe, everything is very hyper real. So, it gives us some creative license, obviously, if we try to be as real as we can. We, of course, take creative license to expand upon and try to come up with sounds that are larger than life but also really sell the idea. It was really about trying to find anything with a unique character and had its own specific sound. Everyone’s heard a metal sheen a thousand times, so we tried to change and modulate as they rang out to help read more of a unique sound, give it more of a signature flair that really became synonymous with the weaponry.
AD: Episode Five features Marc and Stephen [Oscar Isaac] going into the afterlife. What kinds of sounds applied there?
TF: We were doing so many different things. I was tasked with handling a lot of the Duat sounds, which is the Egyptian afterlife. We were creating all kinds of different souls and ethereal sounds because you have the souls coming down in the desert and being swallowed. We were trying to come up with a life in the afterlife. Obviously, you can’t too crazy with that as it can get distracting, so is trying to find the right balance. Because these two realities were bleeding, we were constantly taking pieces of one and putting it into another. For example, we would have to ship creeks from Duat on the boat in the asylum as they were walking in different places. We had a number of crossover sounds.
MS: I had to come up with the signature sounds for the scales that were judging Steven and Marc, and how to use those. Also, the water was a big deal. When we initially watched the series all the way through at the start of the project, I knew how important episode five was going to be and the whole thing about his brother dying in the cave in the water. So, we reverse engineered some of those ideas of the water gurgling in the cave and tried to put some of those elements in Steven’s apartment in episode one. There is some very subconscious sonic connectivity to the series with some of its subtle themes. Another one was the L-train clacking. In episode five, you’re hearing an L-train in the distance. There’s a sound in the beginning of episode two in the cleaning up of the bathroom in the museum, and you hear the construction people off to the side. One of those sounds is actually an L-train filtered to sound like it’s construction. Having all of these things sort of bleed into each other, makes the viewer question what’s real and what’s not real throughout the whole series.
AD: You’ve submitted the finale for Emmy consideration. What does that best represent about your work on the series?
MS: It’s the culmination of all of the elements that have been built throughout the series because so many of those elements come back. From conscious voice design to the Moon Knight suit forming to the weaponry, the crescents, and then Layla becoming Scarlet Scarab. They’re just so many layers, and as most Marvel series, it becomes incredibly epic at the end. So, it was a great episode for us to really showcase everybody’s incredible work that they brought to the table.
TF: It really was just such a representation of everything. It was really neat to have built elements throughout the season and then be able to bring them all in together. Plus, there’s a whole lot of new creation as well. With the gods materializing, there was a ton of new material. It was not an easy task by any means, and it took a lot from everyone to get it there. We’re really proud of it. That’s why we picked it.
Moon Knight streams exclusively on Disney+.