Asbjoern Andersen


Better Call Saul from AMC is a spin-off of Breaking Bad – and it’s massively popular with both critics and viewers. The series premiere became the biggest in cable history, and the first two episodes alone garnered more than 15 million views. The final episode premieres tonight on AMC – and the whole season can be seen across the world on Netflix from Tuesday.

To find out more about the sound for the show, I managed to get in touch with Nick Forshager, the man behind the sound for both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad.

In this exclusive A Sound Effect talk, Nick shares his creative vision and workflow for the show, why it sounds markedly different from Breaking Bad – and the challenges of getting humor in sound just right.

 

Hi Nick, congrats on the fantastic reception to Better Call Saul! What’s it like being part of a project that’s received so enthusiastically by the viewers and critics – and what do you think makes the show so successful?

Thank you. It’s really great that everyone is very excited about the show. We had a lot of fun doing it. The success of the show is simple, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. They are amazing writers and show runners. They are involved with every detail of the show and they have such a tremendous vision.
 

What’s been your overall vision for the sound for Better Call Saul?

The vision for the sound of Better Call Saul has been to keep it authentic and organic. This isn’t a show that you can really fake. If you try and use sound effects that aren’t what you are seeing, the audience will know it’s off. So we take great care in making sure that the there is authenticity to what you hear. We also try and use as much organic sound as possible. We shoot over twenty hours of foley per episode.

We also try and use as much organic sound as possible. We shoot over twenty hours of foley per episode.

When we started this season I told our foley team, Dave Torres and Tim Chiton over at Smart Post, that we will use foley on this show like sound effects. Foley won’t just be just something to fill holes or used for an M&E. I told them we will use almost everything that I cue for the show. At first they seemed skeptical, but were excited about the challenge.

When we finished the first episode, they were blown away by how much of their work was helping tell the story. Foley is such a major component of the overall sound design and it is vital that is sounds good and that it works with the production effects. It’s what helps keep the show organic and authentic.
 

You’ve also done the sound on Breaking Bad – what’s it like returning to that world? And in terms of the sound, are you approaching Better Call Saul the same way you did Breaking Bad, or are things different this time around?

On the surface these shows seem very similar, but sonically it is very different from Breaking Bad. I think everyone was hoping that we would be making BB2, but Vince and Peter were pretty adamant about making each aspect of this show be new and unique.

I think the main difference between the two shows is the overall tone. Walter White’s world was all about death and secrets. The entire series was built around Walter hiding from the world what he was doing and who he was. So the world was generally very still, quiet and dark. We worked really hard at keeping his world isolated and sterile. We used very little background and used silence as a story telling device, which made his character more desperate and vulnerable. Jimmy’s world is the complete opposite. His world is alive and full of hope.

The main locations of the show have their own identity and they have become characters to the story.

The story is about Jimmy looking to make a mark on the world and be accepted. So we are using a lot more backgrounds and creating richer environments for Jimmy. The main locations of the show have their own identity and they have become characters to the story.
Whether it’s a buzz of the courtroom, or the high tech offices Hamlin, Hamlin, & McGill, the Vietnamese nail salon where Jimmy works and lives or the quiet of Chuck’s electricity free house. They all have a uniqueness that let’s you know right away were you are and how these locations affect Jimmy.
 

Are there any signature sounds and sonic references that you wanted to carry over from Breaking Bad to Better Call Saul?

Not really. It was important to think of the shows a two separate shows. Of course certain locations, like the desert, had been established in Breaking Bad and we wanted to carry that sound forward, but most of the show has been built for this show. I would imagine as Jimmy becomes closer to becoming Saul, there will be more things that we will bring back from Breaking Bad.
 

Who’s on the sound team for the show, and what’s the workflow like on an episode? Do you work on an entire season at once, or is it episode-by-episode?

Editorially we are using the same editing crew as Breaking Bad. Kathryn Madsen is my ADR supervisor and right hand man. She handles all the dialogue and ADR and coordinates with Jane Boegel our dialogue editor on every show. I handle the sound effects and sound design. Mark Cookson is my main sound designer and sound effects editor. Cormac Funge cuts all of our backgrounds and Jeff Cranford programs and helps edit the foley.

Theoretically we work episode by episode. We usually get five days of editorial per episode, however we have an average of ten days from lock/spot to first day of mix. We need that additional time to spot and begin prep on the new episode and finish the previous episode. Since we are on the stage two to three days per episode and it takes almost one day to spot, that extra time gets used up pretty quick. After we are done editing, I generally run each show with Mark, our sound effects editor. This is usually my last pass of integrating some of my sound design with the foley and Mark’s effects. Once I have seen the whole show edited, that is where I begin to think about little details that I can add to try and elevate the overall sound design.

After we are done editing, we start mixing with the crew over at Smart Post. Our mix team is Larry Benjamin and Kevin Valentine. I usually spend the first day pre-dubbing the show before our post producer Diane Mercer comes over for playback. The first half of the second day Diane, Kathryn, and Jason Newman, our music editor, go through our notes, check for content and to make sure everything is covered. This our last pass to add anything and to work on the more complex scenes before our executive playback.
This is where Vince and Peter come in and give their thought and notes. This is actually my favorite part of the process, because this is where you can really see how creative these guys are. They work through each scene and go through every detail. They are always trying to come up with creative ways of getting more out of every scene. They are very open to suggestions and to trying new things. So many great things come out of those last couple of hours of mixing.
 

What are some of the key elements to get right when doing sound for a show like Better Call Saul?

The key element in a show like Better Call Saul is to create the right sound effects for the humor.

It’s a tricky show because so many scenes are humorous, but they aren’t slapstick funny scenes. The sounds need to really support the humor, and if the sounds are too big or broad, they just won’t work.

It’s a tricky show because so many scenes are humorous, but they aren’t slapstick funny scenes. The sounds need to really support the humor, and if the sounds are too big or broad, they just won’t work. A good example is when Jimmy is in the trash can searching for evidence in Ep108. When the janitors dump the trash on Jimmy, we wanted to make it gross and disgusting.

Finding the right balance of wet sound and squishes was important in not making the scene too cartoony. Same thing when Jimmy gets out of the trash can he falls. If the body fall is too big it becomes less funny.
 


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    This bundle includes 4 different libraries.

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    You can see the metadata and sound list below.

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  • Environments Rare Winds Play Track 102 sounds included, 233 mins total $149 $74.50

    From all 4 earth’s corners, air streamlines the environment and shapes our stories. Discover the cinematic world of rare winds!


    This sound library is the ultimate achievement of a really ambitious project of recording winds from very remote places across the world.

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    • Useful Designed & Synthesized Wind Sounds
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Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

Do you have any favorite sound moments you can share? And can you tell a bit about what went into making them?

I would have to say that my favorite moment on Better Call Saul so far has to be the episode “5-0”. We call it the Mike episode. It’s the episode where we learn about Mike Ehrmantraut’s backstory. Since a good portion of the show is flashback, and part of the story takes place in Philly, we got to use a lot of environments that we don’t get normally use. We got to create these cool transitions between present time and the past. It was an intricate balance between music and sound effects, but very effective in helping move the story along. Also, the entire episode had a noir feeling to it, so the final shootout scene lent itself to creating this really cool retro feel.
 

What’s been one of the strangest sounds you’ve had to come up with for the show? Any particular sounds viewers should keep their ears out for?

When we were spotting the scene in the desert with Tuco in EP102. Vince was talking about how he wanted the sound of Tuco breaking Cal’s and Lars’ legs to be the most horrific thing that we have ever done.

He wanted the sound of Tuco breaking Cal’s and Lars’ legs to be the most horrific thing that we have ever done.

Especially the sound of their screams. He wanted them to have this animalistic quality to them. He had suggested a rabbit screaming. I did some research and felt that the sound of the rabbits wasn’t big enough. So I began listening to other animals.

I came across this series of pig squeals, where a couple of them sounded like something I could use. Kathryn had re-recorded their screams in ADR and gave them to me so that I could see if I could get the pigs to match the screams. It was incredible how close the squeals were in tone and in pitch to their screams. When we played it for Vince he loved it. He loved it so much that we extended the squeals over the end of the scene into the next scene where Jimmy pulls up to the hospital with Cal and Lars. The squeals blended in perfectly with the tire squeals of Jimmy’s car coming to a stop. Sound just helped pull the two scenes together.

 

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A huge thanks to Nick Forshager for the in-depth insights into making the sound for Better Call Saul. The season finale premieres tonight on AMC – and the entire season can be seen across the world on Netflix from Tuesday.
 

Photo Credit: Lewis Jacobs/AMC

 


 
 
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A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement - a few highlights:
 
 
  • Environments Rare Winds Play Track 102 sounds included, 233 mins total $149 $74.50

    From all 4 earth’s corners, air streamlines the environment and shapes our stories. Discover the cinematic world of rare winds!


    This sound library is the ultimate achievement of a really ambitious project of recording winds from very remote places across the world.

    Included are authentic recordings from the Boreal region (North hemisphere: in Canada and Iceland), from the Austral region (South hemisphere: Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and the Last Hope province in Chile), on Islands in Mediterranean region (Thira in Greece), in the Sahara desert (Marocco), Isle-aux-Grues (Canadian winter), and more (see file list for more details)


    These were recorded either in urban settings, countryside, or complete wilderness.

    Included is a set of useful synthesized, tonal, and designed winds.

    The sounds are categorized into 3 folders: Designed, Indoor & Outdoor.

    WHAT’S INSIDE:

    • 102 stereo files
    • Highly focused and meticulously edited sounds
    • Ready to use Loop
    • Urban area and Wild area
    • Useful Designed & Synthesized Wind Sounds
    • Recordings from the Boreal region (North) in Iceland & Canada
    • Recordings from the Austral region (South) in Argentina & Chile
    • Recordings from Islands in Greece & Canada
    • Recordings from the desert in Marocco
    • Abandonned houses and shelters
    • Marina, lake, forest, car, flags, arctic, metal pole, prairie, street, mountain, grass, …
    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
  • City Life Nature Ambients Bundle Play Track 263+ sounds included, 683 mins total $160 $80

    This bundle includes 4 different libraries.

    The Baltic Sea sound library is compilation of 56 WAV files recorded with Sound Devices 702, Rode NTG3, Sony PCM-M10, two Oktavas MK012 set in MS, XY and ORTF setup. All the sounds were recorded far away from the cities and roads. Since most of the sounds were recorded in late winter, there are no insects or birds in background. There are few files that includes the sound of birds, but I left them on purpose, because of the overall feel of the files. In this library you will find beautiful sound of waves crushing on the rocks and shore, recorded from different perspectives in different stereo configurations, during calm and windy days. In addition to those sounds, there’s foley like walking, running and swimming in the water.

    The Harbours Of Norway sound library features 25 files with ambients recorded in Myre, Sto and Nyksund, very small towns with direct access to the sea. Most of the sound effects were recorded at night, but since it’s a polar day time of the year, it was very pleasurable to walk and look for convenient places to set up my gear. Everything was recoded with ORTF setup built from two Sennheisers MKH 8040. Inside this library, you’ll find a lot of seagulls, waves crushing on the rocks and plants, windy ambients from the cliff, industrial sound from port in Myre with ship unloading the cargo, walla with steam engine boat and additional sounds from boat engine market and air cooling aggregates from food containers. Every file was recorded in 96kHz, edited (i removed any unintentional bumps, pops and unwanted sounds). I limited EQing to removing harsh frequencies, or enhancing a little bit the good sounding ones. At the end of the chain there is a small compression, for louder sounds.

    The Summer Ambients sound library contains 33 beautiful WAV files recorded with Sound Devices 702, Rode NTG3, two Oktavas MK012 in MS and stereo XY pattern. All sounds were gathered in different and beautiful places like forests, lakes, meadows or swamps. You can expect amazing ambients, textures, different birds, insects, forest during rain, calm and windy days. It’s a perfect library for designing background sounds. Everything was recorded in amazing Masuria in Poland.

    Summer ambients Update – library got 2x bigger and heavier than the original library. 59 additional files, 123 minutes of high quality audio recorded with Sennheiser MKH 8040 ORTF setup, Rode NTG3, Oktava MK012 XY setup plugged into SD702 and Sony PCM-10. It features ambients from the forests, ponds, swamps, meadows, lakes and suburbs recorded is very quiet locations, mostly just before the sunrise, during the day and before sunset far away from the cities.

    Water Flow sound library took me about six months to record, consumed about 15 thermoses of tea and 42 litres of gasoline to get to all locations. It offers 90 BWAV files recorded in different locations. Huge part of this library is based on the recording sessions on the rivers. Two completely different locations, recorded regularly for the last 5 months allowed me to create this unique sound library. Most of the recording sessions took place during winter just before the sun was rising to reduce the amount of unwanted sounds. Almost all recordings are completely clear and only few have birds in background, since it was my intention to record some location ambients with natural backgrounds.

    You can see the metadata and sound list below.

    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
  • Cars Cars In Motion Play Track 561+ sounds included, 340 mins total $150 $75

    The Cars In Motion sound library gets you exterior sounds of cars driving at different speeds, slow/medium/fast/very fast pass-bys, reverse sounds, accelerations, braking sounds and a lot of additional files. You’ll find different engines, and cars with different character.

    From a small BMW 114i through to a powerful Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 V8 with Magna Flow exhaust, up to a fast twin turbo BMW 640D F12. In addition to cars there are also files covering big machines like tractors and excavator.

    The library features 561 WAV files with total length of 340 minutes, recorded in 96kHz and 24 bits with a Sound Devices 702, two Sennheisers MKH 8040, Rode NTG3 and Sony PCM-M10.

    Here are the cars included in this library:

    • Audi A4 Allroad 2.0 TFSI – 73 files – 73 minutes
    • Audi A4 B8 2.0 TDI Avant – 11 files – 10 minutes
    • BMW 114i E87 – 20 files – 10 minutes
    • BMW 530D E60 – 55 files – 21 minutes
    • BMW F12 640D Gran Coupe – 87 files – 49 minutes
    • Excavator MF 860 – 30 files – 20 minutes
    • Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 V8 – 62 files – 51 minutes
    • Renault Kangoo 1.6 16V – 71 files – 32 minutes
    • Renault Master II 2.8 dTi – 21 files – 13 minutes
    • Renault Master F3500 dCi135 – 30 files – 12 minutes
    • Tractor Case II CX90 – 15 files – 10 minutes
    • Volkswagen Golf II – 26 files – 13 minutes
    • Other Cars – 60 files – 23 minutes

    50 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574463599
    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles Dirt & Asphalt Series: Motorbikes Bundle Play Track 365 sounds included, 305 mins total $116.66 $99.17

    Dirt & Asphalt Volume 1 is the first addition of vehicle and transportation recordings from Output Audio. This library contains a selection of recordings from 3 road bikes, with additional bonus content from other road motorbikes. The library also contains acceleration ramps for use in granular playback engines.

    Road bikes included:
    • Yamaha 450cc Thumper
    • Triumph 600cc Dual Fuel Injection
    • Aprillia RST 1000cc Futura
    • A selection of bonus pass-bys and externals from a range of high performance bikes

    Dirt & Asphalt Volume 2 is the second addition of vehicle and transportation recordings from Output Audio. This library contains a selection of recordings from two motocross events and two practise sessions, with additional bonus content provided as race atmospheres.

    Library highlights:

    AMCA Motocross Classes Included:
    MX1/MX2/Experts/Seniors Unlimited classes

    Engine Sizes Included:
    85cc/125cc/250cc/450cc engines

    15 %
    OFF
  • User Interface (UI) Ui Two Play Track 377 sounds included $45 $30

    Ui Two is the sequel to our overwhelming popular Ui One collection, this collection contains 377 original sounds uniquely crafted for creating user interfaces, telemetry, gadgetry and more.

    Empty Sea’s Mark Camperell, carefully crafted these sounds using a variety of beepers, boopers and other sonic tools. A sample of which include synths, samplers, spectral editors and more. Each sound was recorded at 48k/24bit. Planned, processed, mangled and otherwise destroyed, every single tone was tweaked until it was something new, original, and exciting.

    As usual, we meticulously edited, mastered and embedded the files with metadata. This collection is priced to move, so don’t hesitate. If you’re tired of the your same old UI inspiration, Ui Two from The Library by Empty Sea is a great addition to your library.

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  • Cars Hyundai Kona Electric Car Play Track 428 sounds included, 98 mins total $100

    An electric car sound library with a range of FX from the Hyundai SUV, Kona.

    The library includes numerous driving FX on both gravel and asphalt including pass-bys, take offs, corners, approaches and skids.

    It also contains a large range of interior recordings from driving at highway speed all the way to buttons and switches.

    Multiple FX on each track – recorded in Sydney, Australia

  • Cars Car Interiors Play Track 430 sounds included, 14 mins total $69 $55

    car interiors library is a great supplement for all the car engine sounds that you already own. That way the action on the inside of the car is not stale at all. Dashboard buttons, seatbelts, automatic windows, switches, switching gears, brake, clutch and gas pedals, vents, turning signals. They’re all here!

    Got a whole bunch of roaring car engine sounds but then realised that you’re not equipped with all of the boring stuff like:

    car door handles, seatbelts, turn signal, air vents, buttons and switches, seats, storage compartments, horns, windows, pedals (gas, brake, clutch), handbrakes wend

    and all other Car Interior sound effects? Well then.. look no further! This is just the pack for you.
    160 wav files with over 400 single sounds in total. Car Interiors will spice up that car interior scene with real, crisp sounds, recorded from over 6 cars in total!

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  • Destruction & Impact Cinematic Strikes Play Track Up to 4140 sounds included From: $119 From: $95.20

    ENORMOUS SOUNDING PERCUSSIVE HITS

    CINEMATIC STRIKES joins the BOOM Library Cinematic Series – and it focuses on big sounding drums. A whole world of cinematic percussive sound design lies a few clicks away: From devastating cracks and stomps over crisp swells and rolls to epic ensemble hits – you will be sure to find and build just what you are looking for.

    With the ultimate flexibility of different microphone positions, single and ensemble hits, flams and swells using various drums and beaters, you couldn’t be better equipped to design huge blockbuster and trailer hits – or simply place ready-to-use DESIGNED sounds into your timeline and feel the earth shake.

    CINEMATIC STRIKES – CONSTRUCTION KIT:

    FLEXIBLE SOUND DESIGN TOOLKIT

    The Construction Kit offers you one of the most comprehensive drum hit packages ever recorded. Carefully planned to satisfy and complement every spot in the frequency range, you will never run out of low end booms, aggressive cracks, mid-range body impacts, reverberant tails and excellent sweeteners to top it off.

    PERSPECTIVE & RHYTHM

    Not only are you able to produce impressive sounding hits, but also transition into, out of and between peaks. Control the attack and release of each sound, using rolls, flams, double hits and other meticulously performed techniques. Three coherent microphone positions make spatial adjustments a breeze.


    Files: 618 • Sounds: 3708 • Size: 13 GB


    CINEMATIC STRIKES – DESIGNED:

    MAXIMUM PUNCH – AND THEN SOME

    CINEMATIC STRIKES – Designed is what you get when layering and processing Construction Kit sounds BOOM Library style.

    From rumbling low-end BOOMS, soft and natural sounding WHOOSH HITS to aggressive, frontal CRACKS and PUNCHES, the Designed library showcases what’s possible, while saving precious time and budget on a tight schedule.

    This package is particularly useful for filmmakers and trailer sound designers.


    Files: 108 • Sounds: 432 • Size: 1.4 GB

    CINEMATIC STRIKES BUNDLE:

    THE BUNDLE – The best of both worlds at a discounted price.
    The Bundle gives you the full sound design power as it contains both – the DESIGNED and the CONSTRUCTION KIT edition at a discounted price.


    Files: 726 • Sounds: 4140 • Size: 14.6 GB
    Included sounds – keywords:

    BASS DRUM, BOOM, BOX, CAJON, CONCERT TOM, CRACK, CRASH, DAIKO, DOUBLE HIT, ENSEMBLE, FLAM, FOOT, GONG, HARD BEATER, HIT, JAM BLOCK, KICK, KODO, LOG, MALLET, BIN, PUNCH, ROLL, SINGLE, SNARE, SOFT BEATER, SPLASH, STICKS, STOMP, SWEETENER, SWELL, TABLA, TAIKO, TAMBORA, THUNDER SHEET, TOM, WHIP, WHOOSH HIT, WOOD PERCUSSION, WOODBLOCK
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3 thoughts on “This is how the rich, lively sound of ‘Better Call Saul’ is made

  1. OMG! Glad to see this feature on here, I’ve really enjoyed BCS a lot, including the sound design — some of Nick’s insights take on even more relevance when I look back at how they impacted part of the show. For example, when Jimmy is searching for the Sandpiper records in the trash, I definitely marveled and “ewwwed” at how moist and yucky it sounded. Without it being overdone, it just contributed to the overall VISCERAL FEEL of that scene.

    I wonder how they did the sound design for the scenes where Chuck is freaking out outside in his space blanket? There was some quick visual cutting to emphasize that discomfort as well as high-pitched tones that heightened the dissonant awkwardness.

    • Hey Torley, thanks for the comment! Really glad you enjoyed it :) I’ve sent your question on to Nick. I don’t think he has a lot of time on his hands at the moment, but fingers crossed he gets the chance to answer here.

  2. Hi Torley,

    Great follow up question.
    The sound design for Chuck’s freak out is one of those moments where everyone has a hand in helping create a really unique moment. The initial sound design started with picture assistant/co-editor Chris McCaleb. He assembled some great sound in the temp that really gave us a good blueprint to work from. Vince Gilligan really liked what Chris had done, so I knew we were going to use some of those elements as part of the design. In our spotting session Vince also mentioned that he wanted the whole scene to have a pulse that would build up to the end, so that it would be more dramatic when we cut to the woman watching thru the window. Dave Porter, our composer, was writing score that was supposed to end when Chuck opened the door, but he was afraid that it would seem like it was going to feel like it was going to drop out if he didn’t extend it outside. So he created the low pulse that became the glue that holds the whole scene together. I wanted to create a couple of elements that would give the scene more motion.
    So I created some doppler electric buzzes that we could pan across the power lines. After that it was Kevin Valentine, our sfx mixer’s, job to put it all together. While we were mixing it I asked him if we should process the car horn. He was like sure, let’s try it. He started using some plug-in that made the car horn sound really electronic. I’m not sure what it was, but it created this really cool electronic tone which just added to the whole overall design. Like so many moments in BCS it is really a team effort to create each moment.

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