Oscar-nominated “First Man” sound editor Ai-Ling Lee says director Damien Chazelle “wanted space travel to have this classical, big, intense feeling,” while giving space itself “this lonely, chilling feeling.” So in addition to “all the authentic sounds that we needed to gather, we also had to create some abstract sounds [for] some of these cockpit sequences.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Lee and fellow sound editor Mildred Iatrou above.
For this biographical drama about Neil Armstrong‘s historic voyage to the moon, Lee needed to create an “immersive” soundscape that conveyed how “vulnerable” the astronauts were. “We had to amp up the danger,” she explains, but at the same time they kept it “authentic” with recordings of real rockets and launches. And to add something more abstract, they mixed in “animal vocals, like elephant roars or lion growls, or even animal stampedes, so that it sounds like it’s coming out of … the turbine or the rocket crackle or fireballs.”
Lee and Iatrou also earned Oscar nominations for working on Chazelle’s lavish musical “La La Land” (2016), and in both cases, Lee contended in Sound Mixing as well as Sound Editing. Although the two films could hardly seem more different, Iatrou thinks there are sonic parallels between the two: “In ‘La La Land,’ there were two worlds. There was the naturalistic, gritty world of life in LA, and then when we had the musical numbers it became like a flight of fancy, and it turned into something else.”
That was similar to “First Man,” Iatrou explains, because “when they’re on Earth it’s very documentary-like in terms of the look and sound, but then when they go into space” the film enters “another world, and some of those sequences seemed almost like musical sequences.”
That’s certainly the case with the moon landing, where they “decided to stay soundless,” Lee says. For the rest of the film, the goal was to “surprise and overwhelm the audience with this massive sensory overload,” so that when they get to the moon, the silence is “a lot more deafening.”
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