How do you approach designing the sound for a movie like Everything Everywhere All at Once? This seems like the million-dollar question because the maximalist blockbuster from Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan is one hell of an experience to see (and hear) on a Dolby Cinema or IMAX screen. If you’ve seen the film in either environment, you won’t be surprised to learn that the sound team has been shortlisted for the 95th Academy Awards. On approaching a movie of this scale and intricacy, sound designer Andrew Twite described the process as follows:
“First, you watch the whole movie, and then you cry. Then, you watch it again, and you break it all down. Brent Kiser and I went through the film and made priorities. There’s a 45-minute chunk of this film that is just non-stop, absolutely non-stop. We first had to prioritize the fight scenes, bagel elements, and some of the small things in the film, while also building out a really big background. With every location, we map out what should be going on there, even when so much is happening in another universe. So it was a lot of organization from the get-go. We then would hit the higher things on the priority list, send them for approval, get them back, address the notes, and try to do all of this with a pretty short amount of time.”
Sound Supervisor Brent Kiser and Twite also talked about their collaboration with the Daniels on the movie, with Kiser stating that, “the great thing about the Daniels is that they would push us to get weird. We would do a pass of what we thought would be the way they want it, and then [Andrew] would do a pass where we would see if we could make them laugh. And you’d be surprised how much of the “can we make them laugh” bits stick on this movie, instead of other movies.
They were always up for ideas, and we never got shut down. They were so gracious with giving notes and accepting our ideas. I think that’s really where their genius really lies is how well they’re able to collaborate and like make people feel seen and heard, but at the same time, still seeing their vision and getting what they need. Because, man, when I read the script, I was like, “I have no clue how this is going to be made. But they have this way of making the most absurd shit so accessible and relatable.”
Twite added that the Daniels “built a pretty great roadmap for us. We weren’t flying blind by any means. The Daniels are great directors in that they are well aware of everything that’s going on in their film. We defer to their judgment, and they’ll be honest with us if something’s not quite working, and they will let us know if it’s working and we can move on.
Daniel Kwan has got a very, very sharp ear for his sound design. And he does have a hard time locking picture without at least having the shape of the film and the sound in place. We had a great roadmap from them, as a result, and would have likely been lost without it.”
For ADR supervisor Julie Diaz, the biggest challenge in approaching Everything Everywhere All at Once was “making sure that all of the production was as clear and usable as possible, which it was Everything was great. We also had to make sure that those big emotional moments, like at the end in the parking lot. If it was outdoors, the biggest thing Scheinert and Kwan wanted to hone in was to not ADR the scene, and make it as clear as possible, because they didn’t want to change these emotional undertones. And we got a lot done, as Andrew said, in a short amount of time.”
Re-recording mixer Alexandra Fehrman came in to do the final mix, and was cognizant of “how much work had already gone into the film. I knew that the sound team had been working on the film for several months before I came in. Andrew Twite’s design and edit was already full, before he handed it over to me, and everybody else worked so hard on the project. I wanted to preserve all the work that had gone into it, while still, finding a new perspective and being able to work with the Daniels on the stage to achieve what they wanted. And I was so lucky to work through Andrew’s sound design, because whatever we wanted to try, it was all available to me. We could try a single moment, a single event 16 different ways with with the sound design that I had. That was really great for us to kind of try stuff on stage and figure out what was the most effective way to play a scene or a moment.”
Fehrman also talked about the mixing process behind the movie, which was mixed in Dolby Atmos:
“I was able to take the mix and try to discern what things would be cool in Atmos, because I didn’t want to overuse the space. We knew that audiences were going to be listening to this film in many different environments. So it has to be effective in all formats: IMAX, Atmos, and even 5:1. Those decisions were carefully made about what goes in the film, because we didn’t want to lose anything.
We only wanted to enhance the experience for those who were watching it in Atmos and IMAX. We took a mix that was a 5:1 mix, spread it and put it in the space so that you can feel the sound moving around you. A lot of it is very subtle. Hopefully, it doesn’t distract anybody. It’s just something that is enhancing the environment. We were then able to get that on the stage to discern what elements are trying to draw attention to and what were important to hear and feel, because that’s a big thing in sound. A lot of times, we want the effect of something, but we don’t want to take over. We want it to just be felt. We have to soften things and figure out how to make it light your heart up sometimes.”
In designing the film’s maximalist action scenes, Julie Diaz talked about how they incorporated recorded choreography into the movie:
“We brought in the two main choreographers, Martial Club, who came into the studio to basically record a ton of screams and efforts. Of course, they are these two amazing goofballs that are literally doing flips in the ADR booth. And I’m sitting there like, “Oh, my God, this is amazing, but please don’t kick this really expensive mic, be careful with those chairs and mic stands,” but they came in ready to go. It was so cool to implement those screams and efforts and make it sound even more badass than it was in how it was shot.”
In building the environment of the fight scenes, Andrew Twite talked about the process behind building them up as if “there would be nothing there. In martial arts, especially Kung Fu, there are hyper-elevated sounds. In the claws, blocks, and snaps, there is a slappy style to them. We would go through the hits, whooshes, weapons and think about the environments that are being affected due to the fight as well. So it’s not just hand to hand combat, it’s everything in their environment that they’re interacting with. In a couple of the fight scenes, you’re bouncing between universes in the middle of it, so you’re thinking of these transitions that are going with the rhythm of the music, that can draw you in and out of each scene naturally. Each one was shot and cut with a specific rhythm that we needed to track and follow. So it was a challenge, but super fun to do. It’s some of the most interesting cutting I’ve had the good fortune to cut on.”
Kiser added to the following, by stating that they were given inspirations on how the fight scenes should sound through classic martial arts movies: “First and foremost, this is an everybody movie, but this is also a great Chinese excellence movie. We wanted to make sure that we were paying homage to the right things. We were given certain films, like the original Drunken Master, which is so amazing. When you realize that it’s not about the punch sounding like a punch or even happening when the punch on screen happens, and that it’s all about the rhythm, it becomes percussive with. That was a big thing that we needed for the first fanny pack fight, which was taken from Drunken Master.“
You can listen to our full conversation below and rent or buy Everything Everywhere All at Once on physical and/or digital media today.
[Some quotes were edited for length and clarity]