The true hallmark of a great piece of film or television is total immersion into the world being presented before you. Enchanting viewers using only two of the five senses becomes more complicated as you ask viewers to suspend more and more of their disbelief. With Netflix’s release of Stranger Things: Season 4, Volume 1, viewers are asked to suspend a lot of disbelief for the show’s SciFi/ Fantasy/Horror storyline. This season, the series became even more visual effects heavy than before. To complement the visuals the creators needed to put a bigger focus on the audio department.
Awards Radar had the chance to speak with Angelo Palazzo (Lead Sound Effect Editor), Katie Halliday (Sound Effects Editor), and Ryan Cole (Dialogue Supervisor) about how their team brought the audible world of Stranger Things to life.
When pre-production began for this season it was clear that the audio department was going to need to expand from where it was in previous seasons. Angelo reminisces “we kind of saw early on that we were going to need to bring on a lot more people because just the scale and the length of the shows, the VFX, the amount of sound design effects editorial was like… Yeah, we’re gonna need a bigger crew.”
The biggest reason for the expansion of the audio department was the need for this series to have the same high-level quality as a feature film, while having the runtime of a series as Ryan put it, “The season is 7.2 Adam Projects (a feature film both Ryan and Angelo worked on) and because I think because we all come from feature backgrounds that’s just how we cut and that’s how we do things… and I don’t know how we could do it any differently.”
One of the ways Stranger Things elevated its sound department above other episodic series and to the same level of treatment as a feature film was the use of Foley Artists, which as Angelo pointed out “a lot of episodic shows don’t have a lot of Foley [artists] or a lot of them don’t have any Foley [artists] at all.” It’s those little details that demonstrate how much effort went into enhancing what we hear on screen. This also extends to the dialogue and the use of ADR (automated dialogue recording), over 90 sessions of which would be needed, despite almost all of the captured production audio being used.
But even that doesn’t cover the challenges of creating the sounds of creatures and other effects that only live in our nightmares. The monsters of Stranger Things not only need to feel real and scary, but they also have to feel like they belong to the same family of creatures, as if it were a hive mind. These effects are pushed further and further on not only the monsters but also some of the terrifying visions that the victims of Vecna (season 4’s big bad) would suffer. One scene, in particular, was difficult to nail down. “There was just one sound that they wanted. That I guess is now a meme for the guys because it’s so weird, but there’s the scene with the burning baby in a cradle… But [the original sound]’s not deranged enough,” recalls Katie and Angelo, adding that the final sound “was such a perfect outstanding moment. It was like, wow, like it just took it to the next level.”
Every season of the Duffer Brothers‘ (the series’s creators) creation pays homage to some classic piece of SciFi, Fantasy, or Horror, and this season is no exception. Some of these include Close Encounters, Poltergeist, The Omen, and of course Nightmare on Elm Street. The main villain of this season, Vecna, is very much like Freddy Krueger with the exception of being able to attack while people are awake. The parallels are only further solidified with a special appearance by the actor who played Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund. Only very observant fans would notice an audio Easter egg from the lone scene we get from Vecna’s first victim. Katie informed us, “There was actually one Nightmare on Elm Street note that I got for Robert Englund when he’s sitting at his desk, and he’s scratching. These close-ups of him scratching at the table that he’s sitting at. And they wanted it to sound they’re like we had sounds in there, but they were, you know, nails on metal. Kind of, you know, like not really something super distinct and they wanted it to sound like Friday Krueger’s nails running on… it was his idea. He’s like, I want it like a little tribute”.
With all of these horrific sounds and treatments, the one trick the team agreed on was the use of – absolute silence. They used silence several times, most notably in a scene where a large metal door opens and zooms in on a black void. As the void fills the screen, all sound drops out, making the viewer lean forward wondering if their streaming service was interrupted, only to pay the price for being drawn in. Angelo laughed while discussing: “the whole season, where we do a lot of these jump scares, we do a lot of these stylized transitions into different scenes… So [silence is] super effective. And it just comes down to how you cut it, and how you set up the silence.”
When finalizing the audio against the finished picture, Stranger Things Season 4, Volume 1 successfully teleports viewers into the town of Hawkins and the Upside Down. The show keeps us glued to our streaming devices in a constant state of terror and suspense. We’re unable to break away as if Vecna himself had us under his spell.
Listen to the full conversation with Angelo Palazzo, Katie Halliday, and Ryan Cole the audible world of Stranger Things, here.
Stranger Things Season 4, Volume 1 is currently available for streaming on Netflix and Volume 2 will be available starting July 1st.