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Subtle Soundscapes Shape Mood of ‘Manchester by the Sea’

Variety logo Variety 2/10/2017 Marj Galas
© Provided by Variety

When he came on board Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea,” Jacob Ribicoff instantly saw the picture’s creative potential. The supervising sound editor, sound designer, and sound re-

recording mixer knew he could use the film’s soundscape to lift it off the screen.

“Kenny had a specific idea of what he wanted to hear,” says Ribicoff.  “What was great was that he also valued my ideas.”

After reading the script, Ribicoff determined he’d use a few field mics, including his RSM 191 Neumann microphone, to capture the audio in the film’s authentic locations. Now discontinued, the stereophonic model is ideal for recording outdoor and motion picture sound where the width of the sound image must match the camera viewing angle.

Ribicoff then spent hours at each location capturing every type of sonic atmosphere. He went into a fishermen’s bar during business hours, recording audio from different sides of the room; he caught sound in multiple corridors of a hospital and a high school, and even staged scenes with people walking and casually talking so he could have material to use for voice scoring.

He traveled on the film’s ferryboat, recording vessel sounds at different engine settings. He recorded oceanfront sounds in varying weather conditions and at different times of day.

Audio crew, including dialogue and ADR, particularly foley artists, were crucial to creating the mix.  Ribicoff reteamed with his “The Light Between the Oceans” foley expert Leslie Bloome, whom he credits with creating “all types of soundscapes” to capture audio such as blades on ice during the hockey sequence, which required great sensitivity and skill. During a high school hockey practice, Patrick (Lucas Hedges) gets benched for fighting with other players, and then immediately learns that his father has died. Ribicoff worked with Bloome to get the sound of the blades just right, synching it to the action in the picture, then further manipulating the tone slightly — something no computer could have done.

“A computer would have to know character and emotion,” says Ribicoff. “These sounds are visceral … tactile.”

Before completing the sound editing and mixing, Ribicoff sat with Lonergan and editor Jennifer Lame, discussing the overall movie as well as specific scenes.  After mapping out his edit, sound design, and mix, he created multiple versions of some scenes: a mix that followed their requests as well as one he imagined.

His handling of a more emotional opening design, featuring seagulls and storm sounds combined with the score, replaced the early idea of score-only. And Ribicoff’s idea to eliminate ambient sounds in a pivotal hospital scene veered from the original concept, but strengthened the moment’s emotional weight.

Combining the role of sound editing, designing, and re-recording has become common on smaller-budget, more intimate films, and it’s a role with which Ribicoff is comfortable. Since 2013’s “Concussion,” he’s simultaneously handled the positions on seven films, including “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “Where to Invade Next.”

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