Members of the Everything Everywhere All At Once sound team—Brent Kiser (sound supervisor and re-recording mixer), Andrew Twite (sound designer and sound effects editor), Julie Diaz (supervising ADR editor and assistant sound editor), and Alexandra Fehrman (sound effects mixer) join Awards Daily‘s Shadan Larki for a wide-ranging conversation highlighting their work on the film.
Film criticism is inherently subjective, we will never be able to accurately quantify what makes for admittedly overused qualifiers like “Best” and “Masterpiece.”
For me, the answer lies in films that are hard to forget. I saw Everything Everywhere All at Once at SXSW in March and became transfixed from its opening moments, and remained rooted in my seat through the end as the Austin audience erupted in rapturous applause, I had seen something utterly unique— vibrant, and funny with surprises at every turn, yet rooted in kindness and shared human experience—the wonder, and sometimes nightmare, of the paths we didn’t take, the haunting what if. In the months that have followed, Everything Everywhere All At Once remains impossible to shake, with scenes replaying themselves in my mind as subtle remembrances take me back to the Paramount Theater and the other worldly film writers and co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as “The Daniels” have created.
As praise for the film, and the singular experience of seeing it for the first time mounts, Everything Everywhere All At Once has become A24’s highest-grossing release, with box office returns upwards of 80 million dollars on a slim 15 million dollar production budget.
“The huge theatrical success of EEAO has shown how important the theatrical experience is,” says Brent Kiser. “As a sound supervisor and re-recording mixer, this is heartwarming and a huge relief. Instead of worrying about how my mix will play on people’s phones, I know the audience will hear the sonic landscape and storytelling that was intentionally crafted by the directors and the sound team.”
Here, in an interview with Awards Daily‘s Shadan Larki, Kiser and his colleagues on the Everything Everywhere All At Once sound team Andrew Twite, Julie Diaz, and Alexandra Fehrman discuss working closely with The Daniels to create a new kind of multiverse-jumping film and using the film’s distinctive style to explore new ideas within the sonic landscape.
Awards Daily: I loved so many things about Everything Everywhere All At Once. I think to me; it just sounded different from what a usual multiverse, time-travel type of movie sounds like. Was that something each of you set out to do from the beginning?
Alexandra Fehrman: So, I came on for the final mix and Andrew, Julie and Brent had already been working really closely with The Daniels for, I think a month or two already. The sound design was already shaped into what they wanted to start with—sounds they’d reviewed and things that they’ve worked on and to highlight certain moments in the film. So, when I took Andrew’s session and the effects that had already happened onto the stage, my main goal was to upkeep the level of work that they did while still addressing the highlights that The Daniels wanted to feel and to make sure that the sonic landscape was completely colored in from highs and lows, to make sure that everything was landing and hitting and had the same impact that they were dreaming of all the way through this process. Andrew set me up really well for that because there was so much texture and so many different sounds that were cut together in a really perfect way so that I could adjust and mold them really easily and quickly as we were going through the mix on the film.
Brent Kiser: We were actually very fortunate to have read the script before they shot. Paul Rogers, the editor, was getting dailies and doing assembly cuts right after day one. So we were able to help out and be involved with what was going on throughout the whole time. We weren’t always on it, but we were always a part of the conversation with The Daniels on all that stuff. So, before we went to the final mix, we were on my stage at Unbridled Sound here in L.A. for about six weeks with The Daniels every day, cranking out and getting prepared for the final mix.
AD: Alexandra mentioned that there were certain sequences that The Daniels really wanted to highlight. Can you talk about that a little bit? What was the brief, shall I say, that they gave you for the film?
Andrew Twite: The Daniels are highly involved in every aspect of their filmmaking process, and they had a very, very good idea of the shape and the flow that they wanted for this film. Daniel Kwan, in particular, had really developed a great blueprint, or map, for us to follow. Both of them are very sound savvy, and they know what they want, you know? So, where we may have wanted to go heavy and super cinematic, they would remind us to kind of pull it back and let things sit in reality. But also, this is the kind of movie that really flows from one sequence to the next. It’s hard to find a start and stop point. So, a sense of rhythm was a really big thing that we kept coming back to. It’s like keeping a good flow that keeps the audience involved while still not taking away from the fact that there’s this huge story being told. Texture is a huge part of this, as Alex had mentioned. So, we spent a lot of time really developing background moments to make you feel like you’re sitting in these spaces, even if you’re there for two seconds. As Brent said, we were getting some early cuts, so we were able to do a little bit of research and development. At first, we went really extreme and toward sci-fi and went really nuts, but we were realizing, ‘These sounds are cool, but this isn’t it.’ You know? It really took a little bit of trial and error before we figured, ‘Oh yeah, this doesn’t have to be the over tech-y moment. Because that’s not the point of this story. So, a lot of the story is helped and supported with our sound.
AD: As you mentioned, there are certain worlds and multiverses that Evelyn (Yeoh) is in for like a very short amount of time. How did you differentiate the sound elements for each?
Twite: Yeah. Well, Kwan and Scheinert were great about pointing us toward moments that needed to be high-pitched, heavily-focused, high impact, or highly stylized. And then later on with the three-person fight, it’s much more combative, much more impactful, playing off of those environments and the things around them. At any given time we would be told, ‘Okay, we want this to feel a little lighter.’ One of my favorite notes that we got from Daniel Scheinert was like, ‘Okay, so this is really cool, but could we make it less badass? This is a fanny pack. We want it to feel like a fanny pack— not like they’re getting punched in the face necessarily, but remember that this is what it is. It’s not suddenly a different kind of tool. This is a leather bag that they’re getting hit with.’ So, we were kept in check in those universes throughout— it was always this constant conversation and guidance coming from them, which was invaluable. We couldn’t have done it without them sitting there helping us along the way.
Kiser: To add to that, each multiverse had its own sound, but more that its sounds leaked into the other multiverses. It’s what element can kind of transcend verses? How do we differentiate Alpha Jumper, Raccacoonie, all of these different characters that are the same character but seen through different lenses of that particular multiverse. Using things like the hot dog hands when it’s initially introduced in the hallway, we see Evelyn’s hands flopped down and we hear the multiverse flip even though we don’t see the hot dog. So that way we’re able to bring in the multiverses into Everything Everywhere All At Once.
That was the fun thing about this project. And to go back and see what areas they wanted us to bring a bit of shine to, with help from Alex
Twite: We were also able to use themes, like the radio, that really helped, those radio sounds, the frequency sweeps, that really helped define who Jobu is and her role in this universe, her freedom in this universe to move around. That helped us: one, to be able to highlight her and make her more charismatic, but also lead us into these multiverses seamlessly along with the music, to keep that rhythm.
With Evelyn and that moment with the glass we talked about a leaking clay pot. And when things start really building up for her and getting chaotic, we were using that glass to show that she’s not as in control as Jobu. She’s still learning this process and she is falling in and out of these places, while also kind of mastering this skill that she’s just acquired. Those sounds made for great transition moments and also helped us work with the music, but also kind of stand apart and add our own little bit of texture there.
Fehrman: The transitions are an interesting thing to note because they came and went in different visual fashions, too. And a lot of times there are some sounds that were fading from one to the other, but everything was designed pretty organically I’d say, in terms of the environment.
AD: Right. You mentioned that the sounds would kind of bleed into one another. Were there other sound cues from one universe that you would bring into the other ones?
Kiser: I think one of Andrew’s favorites was the verse jumping sound. That’s what allowed us to know we were about to verse jump— it’s the charge and then the hit of the Bluetooth. Paul Rogers and The Daniels hit us up like, ‘Hey, can you maybe develop us some of these green lights sounds and some red light sounds to know like it’s a good or bad jump?’ Andrew went through and made all of these great options and we sent them to Paul. About a week or two goes by; I’m checking in like, ‘Did you guys like the sounds?’ Paul was like, ‘Yeah, they’re amazing.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, which one did you like?’ He goes, ‘I just played them all.’
Twite: They literally took them all and stacked them on top of each other and they were just like, whoa, there’s some crazy texture here.
Fehrman: I do love that sound!
Twite: And again, we tried to go super experimental and honestly, coming back to that simplicity— it just worked, you know? It wasn’t something that needed a lot of overthinking, which is really cool.
One thing I can say in talking about sounds from other universes to lead us in, and this applies to Brent and Julie’s work is that you’ll hear a voice still calling you from another universe. And those cues were huge. A lot of that was Brent on the mix stage, panning them in a specific way to remind you that this other thing is still going on at the same time. Julie worked on the vocal cues, you can’t have any of this stuff without the story being told and the dialogue to guide you.
Kiser: A big shout out to Daniel Raphael, our dialogue editor. He’s a true bad ass among dialogue editors.
AD: Something that really impressed me about Everything Everywhere All At Once is that it’s so fantastical…I mean, you have sausage fingers, we could write a whole essay about the sausage fingers, but it’s so grounded, and rooted in these emotions at the core of the storytelling, driving these crazy events forward. How did you approach that? And how did you know when to reel it back to really focus on those scenes?
Fehrman: Well in the mix we wanted to make sure that everything was there and supported, but not over-powering all of that, because there’s such an emotional thread through the whole film that it was really delicate, even though we’re dealing with these giant sounds and giant sequences. It was our task to make sure that that wasn’t the thing that was taking over, but that it was just helping us go on this journey
Twite: And from an editorial standpoint, remembering that there are certain elements that really need attention, they need to be built out, but they’re also not the prime focus of the story. So you don’t want to put so much attention on something; it’s definitely an element that needs to be noticed, but it’s not the prime focus. So, I think at points where you may build up all this chaos and everything, if that stuff’s getting in the way of this emotional story, that’s when we would just be like, ‘Okay, let’s pull it back. And I mean, that happened in editorial and that happened on the mix for sure.
Julie Diaz: Right. For me, the dialogue was fully evolving even up to the mix stage. The very last week we were there, we were still doing ADR for Jamie Lee Curtis three days before we were supposed to be done. I think what really helped is The Daniels were able to see the edit as it was and say, ‘Actually, those lines don’t work there.’ Or, ‘I don’t like how she said that.’ So, it was really cool to work with them and say, ‘Hey, let’s get this actor in and have them redo it like this.’ Or, they rewrote the line and I was there to help them fit it in and edit it in.” And you know, toward the end, when Jobu is all these different characters, like the K-POP Jobu where she’s singing in the background when she’s talking, we were in the ADR session and The Daniels were like, ‘Actually, could you sing this for us, and like, get weird with it?’ And Stephanie, she was amazing, incredible. She was just like, ‘Yeah, let me do this for you.’ I still have so many hours of session time of just playing around because even in the edit process, they were evolving the story and evolving the emotional cues because what they shot, you know, at that time it may have worked, but then they’re like, ‘No, let’s make this better.’ So even up until the last day of mix, we were still making it, polishing it off to make sure it all worked. So that was really cool.
Kiser: Everything we just said was so complicated and the whole point of the way this works is simplicity. The simple things are what’s really going to shine when you have a thousand things going on. And that was what The Daniels do amazingly well and they really helped guide us on how to focus in our simplicity and really finding those things that… We just went in like, ‘Hey, we have all these bags of tricks!’ And they’re like, ‘We’ll have one of these. We’ll have one of those.’ And it really was an amazing learning experience because they’re such incredible storytellers And I think after all of this is said and done, every one of us become a better storyteller because of this process.
Twite: There’s a lot of deliberate decisions made— very deliberate decisions.
AD: I got to talk to the stunt coordinator, Timothy Eulich, in our interview, he was like, ‘I never thought that in my career I would have to think about how to coordinate a stunt with like a dildo.’ Was there something like that where you were like, ‘I never thought I’d have to figure out the sound of like sausage fingers or a raccoon driving around Harry Shum Jr.
What was the most unexpected thing that Everything Everywhere All At Once tasked you with?
Diaz: I never thought I’d have the pleasure of recording Randy Newman, who was a childhood hero of mine, he voiced Raccacoonie. And it turned into this music-making recording session, and then trying to make him a little animatronic raccoon on Harry’s head was cool.
Fehrman: This is a tough question. There’s too many moments. This might be the same for you, Andrew, but I mean, sausage fingers is not something I had ever thought of before. So, I had never imagined having to work on sausage fingers and make those. There were so many elements to them, and they were weighted, and they felt so amazing— what Andrew made there, was so amazing. I never thought I’d have to make that play as a movement for a hand on screen.
Twite: I remember I recorded a ton of stuff for those fingers. My wife has a bunch of really skinny belts that I put together and flopped those around. I pulled up my shirt and drummed on my stomach. I took leeks and twisted them, and ultimately all that stuff together really worked to give the texture in the film. There was one thing that The Daniels and Paul added, which was cat food— a finger in some cat food to add that little bit of wetness, especially in that first moment that Brent was talking about. It brings that additional humor. We were able to ground this in reality and then added that little flavor. It was such a natural thing. So, I would have to agree with Alex. That’s probably the biggest one.
Also, one of the first things I saw—the first cut was four hours long and we definitely cried the first time we saw it. But, one of the first things that drew me in that was the first real moment that you’re actually there, you know something crazy is up. It’s the moment Waymond pulls out that umbrella and he flips it and he spins it up to block the camera. I was so taken with that moment for some reason. We have a bunch of little umbrellas and I recorded all of them and that’s all-natural. There’s no processing. It’s just me rubbing my fingers on it. And I just love that feeling that this movie is about to take off. For me that was a huge moment that I’m pretty proud of.
Kiser: Hell yeah.
Kiser: Mine’s easy, but probably not too sound related. But there’s this great moment that goes through the multiverses. There’s this great song called Story of a Girl. If you go back, they actually reached out to the actual artists to do different versions of it. When you see the boss come out of the back dungeon in the office, it’s actually Story of a Sub. There are these amazing moments, little attention to details. I never thought that I would, in this world, hear a BDSM version of Story of a Girl.
Twite: And we all laughed every time that started on stage when we’d be going through these scenes and that song would pop-up, everybody in the room would be laughing.
AD: Are there any particular sequences that you haven’t had time to talk about that you’d want to mention?
Kiser: First, I just want to list off all of our crew, that’s the biggest thing. Yes, we are the heads of our sound department, but we couldn’t have done it without Daniel Raphael, our dialogue editor who worked tirelessly on this. Kailand Reilly who helped with sound editorial; Jacob Flack was on there to help us out. Our Foley team out of Canada is still the best in the business. Ian Chase came in and worked nights while I was working days to make sure this stuff would work.
Alex too, she came in not knowing us because all the rest of us have been working together forever had a language— she jumped in and made it so much better, the vibe was perfect and the vibe was right, and I don’t know too many other people would deal with us as well as she did. [Laughs].
Twite: No, she really did. She brought her expertise, she has an amazing ear and she came in seamlessly and like Brent said, with the absolute right vibe, but also, my sessions were not small. And there’s so much detail in this and for her to come in, and just have to hit the ground running with so much content that’s enough to rattle anyone. And she was unphased. We couldn’t have finished it without her, it was all so serendipitous, which was great.
But also, to talk about a scene that I’m absolutely proud of and love is… Toward the end, when Michelle Yeoh, Evelyn says, ‘I am your mother,’ as they fight in that last fight sequence, when they’re going in and out of those backgrounds, those backgrounds are so rich and all those impacts, her catching the fist and her foot going down, it’s just so impactful. For an action moment, from a sound editor/designer’s perspective, I love the way it plays. It works with the music. It’s just, it’s powerful. And I love it. I love that part.
Kiser: Big shout out to Son Lux!
Kiser: They were the best people to work with. Not always, but sometimes, music and sound don’t always get along. Sometimes it becomes a battle of whose work is turned up vs turned down. But they were amazing and they gave us such great landscapes. They were there for the mix with us towards the end, the whole time.
Twite: And they worked tirelessly. I mean, right up until their cab was coming to pick them up. I think there were still adjusting cues. And I mean, some of those cues made me cry again in the theater.
Diaz: I worked very closely with Son Lux because I was handing off a lot of dialogue to them that got turned into music cues. Like the ‘I Am Your Mother’ scene, I handed over the dialogue because it is in the music, it’s part of that cue and everything, so that was also one of my favorite things. They are such great guys, and I got to work so closely with them on the dialogue side, and we were all one big happy family on stage.
Fehrman: It wasn’t about ego. All of us really just wanted to make the film, everything it could be because we all loved it. And we all loved working with each other. And that felt nice.
Kiser: Someone said something like, ‘The Daniels are able to make it feel like we’re just making movies in our backyard again.’And that’s what it felt like. I mean, it was literally, we were just having a good time with our friends to make something amazing.
Twite: I mean, everybody put everything into it. There’s no doubt.
Kiser: Well, Shadan, I’d like to ask you one question.
AD: Go for it!
Kiser: What is your favorite sound? One sound, favorite sound of the movie?
AD: Favorite sound? Oh man! I’ll say the scene I loved the most is when Evelyn finishes her performance and she comes out to talk to Waymond in the rain. He says something along the lines of, ‘In another life, I would have been happy to do taxes with you.” And it’s against the subtle pounding of the rain. And even Michelle Yeoh, her voice sounds different, like it’s coming from a different place. It was really good.
Twite: That’s awesome!
AD: I mean, the rock sequence, that whole universe, that’s just the two rocks with the texts. You made that feel so rich. And there’s no dialogue. There’s nothing there, but you have to make it feel real.
Twite: That’s your breather, right? It was all about the wind coming and going, it was supposed to be the mild movement of dirt and grit. And it was a moment where everybody could kind of sit back, like take a breath, but also laugh. It’s a beautiful scene and it’s so unexpectedly welcome.
Fehrman: That scene was really fun. It was nice to mix too, because it was like a moment of meditation for us and Scheinert was really interested in making it feel like there was this very gentle poem going on with all the winds coming and going. There’s a distant wind chime, and then the movement of them on the rocks was so great. I liked that pause.
Twite: I did too. And the responses you hear, we’ve been lucky enough to witness in theaters so far, the laughter— it’s so funny. It’s so beautiful and funny. It’s like kind of sums up the movie for me. It’s just beautiful, funny, and makes me want to cry tears of joy.
AD: Oh, there was a lot of crying. My friend got mad at me. She’s like, ‘You didn’t tell me this was going to be such an emotional movie,’ and I’m like, ‘I didn’t know!’ [Laughs].
Kiser: You’re like, ‘I was just told there was butt plugs! I didn’t know I was gonna cry!’
AD: I thought it was going to be a Michelle Yeoh action-comedy. I didn’t know!
Diaz: Oh God. I saw it at the L.A. premiere, for the first time since seeing the early first cut, I sat in that premiere, in that energy, and I cried again— and I already knew what was coming and it was like, ‘Wow. This was amazing. Such a great feeling.’ Such a great movie!
AD: Yeah. Like you said, Brent, I never thought a movie with butt plugs could make me cry, but…
Kiser: Eh! That’s the quote! That’s what I want on the poster!
AD: Yes! [Laughs]. Thank you all so much for your time and for allowing me to geek out with you, I’ve had a blast!
Kiser: Thank you, Shadan!
Everything Everywhere All At Once is now available on VOD and is out on DVD and Blu-Ray.