“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” sound mixers Mark Ulano and father-son duo Michael Minkler and Christian P. Minkler helped create the unique soundscapes of 1960s Los Angeles, and they just earned Oscar nominations for it. The sound design of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” features cars whirring by, crackling AM radio, layered sound effects and the constant hum of the city. “We had such a huge variety of material so we took our best shot at making it sound 1969,” says Michael. “The way we wanted it to sound in 1969.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Michael, Christian and Ulano above.
Director Quentin Tarantino was very particular in his recreation of Hollywood in 1969 and started by giving Ulano a host of musical material with which to work. This included “50 hours of log tapes of KHJ music as an entree to the experience that Quentin was hoping to bring to the movie from the sound side at that point,” Ulano recalls. Vintage radio is heard throughout the film including radio host interludes, most highlighted when Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is driving around the city. Blending the music with dialogue between characters and the sounds of accelerating cars with windows down proved to be Ulano’s biggest challenge in the film.
The final sequence in the film was its own challenge unto itself, featuring the sound effects of combat, breaking glass, whooshing fire, splashing in a pool, and a constant stream of music throughout. It is a blend of action and dark comedy that had the sound team wondering how far to push things without going too much in one direction. Michael said he approached the sequence with one thing in mind: “What would Quentin do and what would Quentin want.” As Christian describes, it was all about, “Let’s see how far we can go and see where too far is and it never got too far and it never got too funny.”
While this is only Christian’s second film working as a sound mixer for Tarantino, Michael and Ulano have been steadily working with the director since 1997’s “Jackie Brown.” There is a special thrill that comes with working on his films, as Ulano explains: “It’s like being in a jazz band, really. There’s this improv state that’s always a state of joy. The motto is we love making movies but it’s a serious business, loving making movies.” They discuss how there is no room for egos who get in the way of making the film the best it can be. “It’s a good feeling knowing that we were able to let him go that much further in something that he is so passionate about and something that he knows has to be right,” Christian admits.
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