Awards Daily e-chats with supervising sound editor Bryan Parker about his Emmy-nominated work on the Peacock series Mrs. Davis. *Spoilers Ahead*
The smartest—and most brilliantly complicated—show of the year is Peacock’s Mrs. Davis. From the very first episode, you’re thrown into pure and wonderful chaos, with a series of connections that would only make sense on a conspiracy theorist’s string board. The show starts in Paris 1307, then moves into modern times on a deserted island, before introducing us to a plucky nun who takes umbrage with an Alexa-type AI named Mrs. Davis.
With so many settings rich with story, supervising sound editor Bryan Parker had his work cut out for him. As he told me in our chat via email, one of the main sonic challenges on this show is the gaps between what Simone (Betty Gilpin) and Mrs. Davis know versus what the audience knows, since the scope of certain scenes changes over the course of the season.
Awards Daily: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination! Mrs. Davis is one of my favorite shows of the year. How did you want to sonically set the tone for the series in the first episode, which is actually the one you’re nominated for!
Bryan Parker: Thank you! I’m so glad that a show this original and different found its audience. When producer Terri Murphy sent me the first script, she said that all the sound references and onomatopoeia were an indicator of how important sound would be for this series, and I couldn’t agree more. The writing toes an interesting line between consistently funny and quick, with a backdrop of high stakes and tension. So I wanted our sound to match that mood: dramatic cuts, detailed action, with just a few elements over-the-top into comedy territory where called for.
AD: The opening sequence really fully immerses you in what’s supposed to be Paris 1307, with the sounds of the boots, fire, and people. What was it like working on this sequence?
BP: We built the “Burning at the Stake” scene with as much detail as we could muster to set the dramatic stage for this huge opening sequence. Our foley team at Aura did a great job with the armor and wooden stage for the fire, and sound effects editor Roland Thai built out the fire and the base layers of the crowd in a way to emphasize the perspective moves as the camera pulls back to show the size of the crowd. But what really sells the mood of that scene is the detailed layers of Loop Group, all fluent in French, covering individuals on each side of the screen, at this heightened, bloodthirsty mood. That’s the sound that steals the show. Mark and Patty at the Loop Squad did a great job casting throughout the series, with all the different languages and accents we needed for all the globetrotting we do each episode.
AD: The fight sequence in that opening is also pretty sound-heavy, with the swords lodging in the bodies. What was working on this sequence like, especially since we later learn that this was a commercial from modern times?
BP: The fight scene was an extra fun element. That scene plays way funnier when the soundscape takes itself very seriously, and it feels violent and horrifying. Then, without giving too much away, in a later episode, we revisit that same scene through a different lens as our lead character learns more about it. And through that different lens, it all sounds a little different. That was very rewarding.
AD: I feel like the jam explosion probably had to be a bit of a challenge. Was it?
BP: Jam Explosion! Roland did a fun synth shimmer for the bright light through the magnifying glass, and I took a recording I made of the top of a soda can clicking and used that for the jars all swelling in the heat. That was made of fun layers, but the thing I like best is the anticipation between all the jars breaking and the moment when the jam lands on all the nuns. That negative space sets up the moment for the SPLAT so well. That’s some Wile E. Coyote vibes.
AD: Your sound editing team is pretty substantial! What was the collaboration process like?
BP: I take detailed notes during our spotting sessions with Tara [Hernandez] the showrunner and the picture editorial department. I keep these organized to our different departments: Dialog, Effects, ADR, Loop Group, Foley, and Mix. Since I take these notes directly in Pro Tools, it’s easy to send to my editors, and they can see all their notes while they are working. When they send their work back to me, I go through those notes to make sure that all of the work is in line with the direction that we established during the spotting session before it goes to the mix stage. It works quite well.
AD: The series is pretty convoluted, in the best way possible! Did that ever hinder your work process? Sometimes it would make my mind hurt watching this show (but I loved it!).
BP: One main tough part (other than almost no recurring locations) about working on a show this, ah, multifaceted is that it becomes a question when consistency is important versus when embellishment of established sounds is more important for the scene. For most of the series, there’s a gap between what Simone knows, and what Mrs. Davis knows. There’s also a gap between that and what the audience knows. As we move along and fill in those gaps, the meaning of certain moments and certain recurring objects starts to shift and matter more. That’s where we might start off with a flashback having the same sounds as an earlier episode, but find that we need more impact here, more weight there, as it sits in a different emotional context. Most of these decisions were made on the mix stage, all together. I know that’s vague; folks who watched the whole series will know what I mean.
Mrs. Davis is streaming on Peacock.