Award-winning supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Jonathan Wales has worked on several notable projects including Get Out and Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. Recently he worked on Netflix’s popular limited series Midnight Mass.
Midnight Mass centers around an isolated island community that experiences miraculous events and frightening omens after the arrival of a charismatic, mysterious young priest. Jonathan sat down with us and discussed how he and his team brought this island and story to life through sound and music.
Tell us about your background and how you got involved in Netflix’s Midnight Mass.
I’ve been working as a re-recording mixer for almost 25 years now, and I’ve been privileged to collaborate with Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy ever since Hush. We’ve had a lot of great times working together, including Haunting of Hill House and Doctor Sleep – and all along we’ve known that one day we’d get to do Midnight Mass! It’s been something the whole team really was looking forward to.
How did you approach building out the soundscape for Crockett Island?
It was very important to convey that the island was dying. People were leaving because nothing was happening. It was like a dead environment. Originally we had started with a lot more activity, and we really had to dial it down so that it didn’t feel like any of the people were really motivated to be there. Also, the geography was very important. Early on Mike drew a map for me and Trevor Gates (co-Supervising Sound Editor). That way we knew which houses were close to the ocean, which places were more isolated etc. We were using the differences in the natural environment on the island to try to really convey this sense of both isolation and that nature was really in charge.
What was your process for creating the chilling hymns that are heard throughout the show?
The hymns were obviously very challenging. We knew going in that they were going to be a big factor. So the actors were singing on set to tracks that had been created beforehand. But that was only ever going to be a small part of the process. Then COVID made it impossible to put multiple people in the same studio, so the singers had to record each of their parts at home and send us the recordings! I worked very closely with Brett “Snacky” Pierce, our music editor, and The Newton Brothers, to build up the vocals to create the exact feeling Mike was looking for. It was a very painstaking process involving hundreds of tracks of vocals, none of which were ever sung together! Luckily, I think it worked, and when you watch the final version I don’t think you can tell the challenges that we had.
Were there any scenes or sequences that were particularly challenging?
The final big church scene in episode 106 was very difficult. There were almost 100 people, there was singing, people were dying, the angel was terrifying – and all along the whole thing was woven by the tapestry of Father Paul’s incredible performance. This dialog itself was coming from all sorts of angles and his costume was incredibly noisy against the radio mic, so it was a huge challenge to mix it in a way that flowed and gave the emotional impact. It’s hard to understand, but Mike Flanagan simply doesn’t do ADR. In the entire series of Midnight Mass there is only ADR recorded for one off-screen character. Everything else is production with some occasional help from loop group. So it’s a really big jigsaw puzzle, but I’m very proud of how it turned out.
Which episode in the series was your favorite to work on?
I think each episode has something special – that’s the hallmark of a great show. Personally, my favorite was Episode 106 for all the reasons above and because it’s really just something special watching the entire cast descend into this collective hypnotic craziness at the urging of Father Paul.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There are few privileges greater in this business than working with artists like Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy. They are auteurs of the highest caliber and it’s just a really special journey working on a show like this. I love it when the audience also responds and is emotionally lifted by the work – because in the end that’s what matters.