NoTimeToDie_sound-01 Asbjoern Andersen


The latest Bond film No Time To Die has finally gotten its long-awaited theatrical release, having been pushed back more than a year due to Covid. As audiences slowly trickle back into cinemas, they'll find this new Bond film to be theater-worthy. The big action sequences, creative cinematography, and well-orchestrated soundtrack deserve big-screen playback. Here, supervising sound editors Oliver Tarney and James Harrison talk about the signature sound of Bond, their collaboration with director Cary Fukunaga, their early involvement on the film, their sonic approach to key sequences, and much more:
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. Note: Contains spoilers
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Here’s a fun fact courtesy of Wikipedia: No Time To Die is the 25th James Bond release from British production company Eon Productions.

It’s also the first Bond film directed by Cary Fukunaga (who won an Emmy for his directing on HBO’s True Detective series). But he brought on several key sound team members who had a hand in two other Bond films: Casion Royale and Quantum of Solace. Those are BAFTA-winning supervising sound editor Oliver Tarney and co-supervising sound editor James Harrison (both were sound effects editors on the aforementioned Bond films), and Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Mark Taylor. Having that previous Bond film experience helped them to immediately understand the scope of this one. But Fukunaga’s approach was also different enough that the process, and ultimately the final result, didn’t feel formulaic.

Here, Tarney and Harrison talk about their early start on the film (while it was still in production) and how that helped to shape the sound and the mix along the way. They share details of building specific sequences, like the shootout in Matera, the sinking ship, and the stealth glider ride from air to ocean. They discuss their vehicle recording sessions, their foley session for bullet ricochets and impacts, designing cool sounds for explosions, break-ins, and so much more!



NO TIME TO DIE | Trailer 2


NO TIME TO DIE | Trailer

What were Director Cary Fukunaga’s initial goals for sound? What did he want to bring sound-wise to the Bond franchise?

Oliver Tarney (OT): For a project like this, filming goes on for such a long time that you have a schedule where post-production starts halfway through filming. So it’s a slightly different process than making any normal film. The editors — Tom Cross and Elliot Graham — were dealing with new material coming in from the shoot and everything that entails, and they were also cutting sequences and turning them over to us.

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Supervising sound editors Oliver Tarney and James Harrison

Tom and Elliot would then show Cary the sequences that had been put together, and Cary would look at them as a whole (picture and sound together). He’d comment on the edit, what takes were used, etc., and give us very specific sound notes.

So rather than waiting for principal photography to finish to get an idea of what Cary’s sensibilities were, we were constantly getting his feedback from an early stage. The whole process between production and post-production was very fluid.

One of the first scenes we worked on was the opening in Norway with the masked man. We were asked to give a sinister quality to the crampons, and make the slow slide of the door feel ominous as Safin enters the house. Everything was given its space; he obviously thought about that whole sequence with sound in mind. It wasn’t one of those afterthought notes of, “Oh by the way, can we try and shoehorn this in?” There was enough space to implement his notes well and register them without having to fight with multiple elements.

The whole process between production and post-production was very fluid.

It was a process that evolved. The more scenes we had from Tom and Elliott with accompanying notes from Cary, the more we got to know what Cary’s sensibilities were with sound.

By the time filming had wrapped, he’d already heard a very good pass of most of the film and then we could get into the fine details, which is the perfect way to do it.
 

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You were probably temp mixing this as you went, to have your ideas come across fully to the director. Being that you could work on the mix and possibly spatialize some of these sounds, did that help the director to think about the spatial quality of the soundtrack?

James Harrison (JH): We did have a lot of notes from Cary about the immersive experience utilizing the surrounds. He was very spatially aware, especially in certain sequences. As we were working on individual scenes at the beginning of the process, we had to supply the cutting room with almost premixed mix-downs so that the editors and Cary could watch and evaluate the cut. We obviously had to prepare our tracks as polished as we could early on, which really helped the process when we did finally get into a temp mix.

…we had to supply the cutting room with almost premixed mix-downs so that the editors and Cary could watch and evaluate the cut.

OT: About halfway through — certainly a few months before we started mixing — Mark Taylor, who was going to take on the effects mixing side of the final mix, came on and was embedded with us in the cutting room corridor.

So we had four or five of us working on a sequence, and then once each person’s work was compiled, it was sent down to the end of the corridor where Mark could then do a pretty slick version of it prior to it being sent off. So it already had the touch of one of the mixers even going into the Avid.



Crafting Action, Pathos, and Humor in No Time to Die | Sound + Image Lab


Crafting the sound of Action, Pathos, and Humor in No Time to Die, with supervising sound editor Oliver Tarney and re-recording mixers Paul Massey and Mark Taylor

It was a pretty slick process, and it kind of had to be given the schedule. From when they finished filming it was only about five months to the end of the final mix. For the size of this film, that’s a tight schedule.

JH: I think we finished in March.

…Mark could then do a pretty slick version of it prior to it being sent off. So it already had the touch of one of the mixers even going into the Avid.

OT: We just got it under the wire, COVID lockdown looming.

JH: We finished delivering all the different formats on a Friday and then lockdown happened on Sunday. So it was very close.

OT: I was meant to start the next job the following Monday and was told, “We can’t bring you on.” That was it. Luckily they found a way on the next job — a few weeks later — to start in controlled circumstances. But, the delivery week on No Time to Die was pretty much the last week in which the industry was still running as normal.
 

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You’ve both worked on Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace — the previous Bond films. How does this experience compare to those?

OT: James and I both did, and Mark [Taylor, re-recording mixer] did as well. Eddy Joseph was the supervising sound editor on both. There’s quite a nice symmetry to coming back at the end of the Daniel Craig as Bond era. It bookends it quite nicely. I spoke to Eddy the other day and mentioned that we were reminiscing fondly about our time on Casino Royale. It was nice to catch up with him.

The scale of a Bond movie is epic. To have experienced one as an effects editor I think helped inform us of what was needed…

The scale of a Bond movie is epic. To have experienced one as an effects editor I think helped inform us of what was needed and the approach to take so that we were better equipped when it came around to No Time To Die and being accountable for delivering something like this.

 

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Let’s talk about your approach to weapons and gunshots for the Bond films. Is there a way that you want the weapons to sound on a Bond film, that’s particular to this franchise? (Like, the way guns sound in the John Wick films, they’re very John Wickish. Is there something you do for Bond films to them very Bond-ish?) For instance, I noticed there’s always a high-pitched element to all the gunshots. Is that something you did intentionally?

JH: Yes. Guns can easily become overly large. But for us, using too much low end can make everything a bit detached and muddy. All the characters in Bond are professionals, and so we really felt that using sharper, concise sounds helps to heighten the danger and accuracy of them.

OT: I think in general for the guns, we tried to go relatively natural with them. It’s a movie, so obviously they are heightened at times, but that side of Bond I definitely wanted to feel slightly more natural. There is a heightened element to them, for sure. That’s kind of the current vogue thing to have.

Behind the music for No Time To Die:

 

Hans Zimmer On His Music For No Time To Die & more:


Hear the soundtrack for No Time To Die:


All the characters in Bond are professionals, and so we really felt that using sharper, concise sounds helps to heighten the danger and accuracy of them.

Cary was most concerned about bullet zip-bys and ricochets. For instance, the sequence in Matera, just after the blast when Bond’s ears close down and you don’t hear the world, the crack of the bullet whizz-bys are what brings the world crashing back, literally. He was very specific about how this scene should play.

 

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There was a great scene for bullet sounds when Bond and his girlfriend Madeleine are in the car and it’s getting riddled with bullets. What I love is that there’s an interior perspective and an exterior perspective of that event. Can you tell me about building the bullets in that scene?

JH: It was a fairly intense editorial process that took quite a while, as you can imagine. Again, it was that approach from Cary of wanting to be fully immersive, to have the audience completely surrounded by the danger of bullets and impacts on the interior.

It was extremely labor-intensive in terms of creating those impacts and designed sounds…

It was extremely labor-intensive in terms of creating those impacts and designed sounds, getting enough variation to keep it exciting and then successfully contrasting the cocoon feeling on the interior to the exterior shots. I just love that scene because of Bond’s reaction; he’s just sitting there oblivious to the attack, but reeling from the emotional revelation he’s just experienced. His physical catharsis is really quite interesting and it juxtaposes what’s actually going on in the world around him.

 

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For the sound of the bullets and ricochets, did you have a shooting session? Or did you do most of those with foley impacts? Where did those sounds come from?

OT: Some of the elements we used were made from recordings we’d already done. Then, to try and get the variation, a lot of it was done in a foley theater using hammers and various sharp objects slamming down onto different types of safety glass that wouldn’t shatter.

…a lot of it was done in a foley theater using hammers and various sharp objects slamming down onto different types of safety glass that wouldn’t shatter.

The car was being riddled with so many impacts that the audience might become familiar with the elements so we really needed to build in enough variation. Some direct impacts, some ricocheting, some skidding off, etc. So that was a loud few hours, building and recording all that in the foley theater.

 

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It must be difficult to get the sound of the glass cracking but not breaking…

JH: Yes, non-breaking glass, and then towards the end, after an endless onslaught, it starts to give way and we need to tell the audience that this protection won’t last forever. It’s just getting a little bit of crack, crunch, and strain into it. It’s all those things. You build it up and then you come back to it in a few days and see how you feel, and whether it is telling the story enough.

You build it up and then you come back to it in a few days and see how you feel, and whether it is telling the story enough.

OT: The little sound at the end, just as you start to hear the little crystals of glass beginning to give way, that’s the sign that Bond has to do something. He can’t delay any longer. That’s the fun stuff for us: creating the sounds with a narrative quality.

 


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NoTimeToDie_sound-10

Another cool sound was when Primo and his henchmen are breaking into the high-rise building in London. To get into the lab, they pull out one of the building’s windows. You made such a cool sound for the window popping out, and it reverberated in the hallway. What went into making that sound?

OT: The big whomp?

JH: Yeah, the big whomp.

OT: So I mentioned earlier about the crampons and the sliding door, well this was maybe the second sequence we got to work on. And again, that was a really specific note from Cary; it took a few goes at getting that exactly right.

I really liked the dynamics in this film. Everything is not just crashing and smashing;

I really liked the dynamics in this film. Everything is not just crashing and smashing; you have more unexpected moments like that. Some of the action scenes feel quite chaotic and others feel very deliberate. And that one was a very considered sequence. This variation of styles within the same film kept us on our toes.

 

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Later in that sequence, I love the explosion in the lab. Oftentimes, the way to dress up an explosion of a car, let’s say, is to add all the other bits that are falling off of the car, like glass and door handles, and adding in gravel, and things like that.

But this lab explosion must have been really tough because there wasn’t a whole lot to work with once the explosion is traveling through the hallway of the facility. Still, you managed to make this explosion have depth to it. How did you do that?

JH: From the earlier shots, you see these canisters that they’re planting and they’re emitting a gas. So part of the idea behind it was that when the bombs were detonated all of this gas gets ignited, and then it culminates in a huge explosion.

Flangey and phasey variances along with the multiple explosions really helped to give a sense of travel and progression of the explosion…

So we didn’t have the sort of standard extras that you’d put on, say, a car explosion, but instead, we created more designed elements, especially with fire. Flangey and phasey variances along with the multiple explosions really helped to give a sense of travel and progression of the explosion that really built to the final climax.

OT: I like the fact that we cut to a very wide shot for the very final explosion as well.

 

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Another great sequence for sound was on the ship. Felix is dying below deck and Bond is down there with him. The boat is now full of holes and it’s filling up and sinking. Can you tell me about your water work on that sequence?

JH: For Cary, it was all about the structure of the boat itself — the creaking, the groaning, and that constant feeling that the boat is collapsing in on itself. We had to keep that constant threat, not just the water coming in and the threat of drowning, but the actual integral structure of the boat collapsing and that being a ticking time bomb as well.

I always like it when we can do ‘sonic bookends’ in a movie.

This sonic idea of creaks and groans was actually repeated later in the film when the roles were reversed, and it was Logan Ash who was lying under a car that was straining above him, and that ultimately kills him. I always like it when we can do ‘sonic bookends’ in a movie.

Water in itself is a very difficult and tricky sound palette to work with as it can be so overbearing and sonically encompassing. It just takes time to craft and have dynamics and interest whilst also trying to protect the dialogue in the scene.

 

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Just before the car falls on Logan Ash, there was this great helicopter chase sequence, with Bond, Madeline, and Mathilde trying to escape capture from Spectre. Here again was a great use of the surround space. Can you talk about your build and mix on that chase sequence?

OT: As with all Bond films, the practical stunt work and locations were fantastic. Normally on a big action film, you might have to wait for many CG shots to be completed, but with this scene, the editors could get working on the complete sequence right away. Of course, certain things are always enhanced with CG, but those cars are really flipping over, and those motorbikes are really jumping that high! It’s stunning what they achieved in-camera, meaning we could also get cracking on that bit quicker.

…you have the obvious sounds of the engines revving but we also give the audience that feeling of instability of the cars sliding and slipping around on grass, mud, pebbles, even water over pebbles.

Cary specifically wanted to feel the shifts through the different surfaces, to keep it interesting all the way through. With the Logan Ash car chase, you have the obvious sounds of the engines revving but we also give the audience that feeling of instability of the cars sliding and slipping around on grass, mud, pebbles, even water over pebbles.

There is a great contrast to the second section of that sequence, to come from that chaos of feeling like the cars are at the edge of what they can do, and then to go into a much more eerie, less defined environment as the motorbikes circle Bond in the woods.

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We were lucky enough to be given access to all the vehicles. We did recording sessions over a couple of days — an Aston Martin day and a Land Rover/motorbike day. We recorded the engines first and then recorded each vehicle on all the different surfaces that we needed for the sequence.

We recorded the engines first and then recorded each vehicle on all the different surfaces that we needed for the sequence.

JH: We were very lucky to have all the stunt drivers there for the record, too. They are fantastic at knowing the limits of all the vehicles.

OT: I think they think the vehicles don’t have limits.

JH: When we were standing in a small circular area with the motorbikes circling us at top speed and passing within half a meter, it was quite nerve-racking, but the sounds we captured are just phenomenal and it really adds another layer to the soundtrack.

Hear the score for No Time To Die:


So it was this feeling of spatial ambiguity and tension that we really wanted to bring to this scene…

At the end of that sequence in the misty woods, as the bikes are circling and closing in on them, Cary talked very early on about sharks circling their prey. So it was this feeling of spatial ambiguity and tension that we really wanted to bring to this scene, which then really helped the intensity when an adversary suddenly appears. This was a really good note from Cary and his idea of using sound to enhance the tension in that moment.

 

[tweet_box]Breaking Down the Sound of Bond: ‘No Time To Die’ with Oliver Tarney and James Harrison [/tweet_box]

When you got to record the vehicles, did you have access to the helicopter as well? There was this really great sound of it coming in low, from behind, and it flies over them. It was just such a great sound. The perspective was perfect…

JH: I’ve got a couple of helicopters myself, so we just took those.

OT: Yeah, they’re for James’s commute.

No, we actually already had good cover for that particular helicopter. So we knew we were fine. We spent the money on the big car and motorbike recordings instead.

 

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What about the stealth glider that’s flying into the Poison Garden/secret island and it goes from the air to underwater? That was a really cool transition. How did you do that sonically?

JH: It was a great craft, the stealthy bird.

So for that relatively short sequence, we had quite a variance of sound. At first, it is catapulted out of the cargo plane, then it goes into a freefall dive where the whole structure of the craft creaks and strains, then the wings unfurl and it turns into a glider, and then ultimately lands in the water and becomes a submarine.

We used glider recordings as well as air and wind treatments to give that sense of flight…

We used glider recordings as well as air and wind treatments to give that sense of flight, but obviously, it is a state-of-the-art machine so it has to sound modern and professional. There is a little bit of a sonar pulse when they do finally go underwater, just to sell the idea. Those moments are really good fun to have a go at.

 

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I really enjoyed the vocal processing on Safin’s voice as it’s coming from all those monitors in the lab on the secret island. It’s bouncing around that laboratory. What did you use for the processing on that and for the reverb in that space?

OT: That was a combination of treatments that we had done, and then Paul Massey [re-recording mixer on dialogue and music] augmenting that further with his outboard.

Continuing Cary’s desire to be as immersive as possible, we had Safin’s voice coming from different perspectives through that section. This makes full 360-degree use of the surround space. The idea was for it to be unclear exactly where the voice is emanating from as the source is always moving; it helps sell the sense that the character himself is unpredictable.

 

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There’s another huge aircraft, the C-17 that Q is onboard, and it gets buzzed by a Russian MiG as it’s flying over the island. You have a really great, big sound for that. It’s not very long, but it totally sold the idea that they just got buzzed by a fighter jet. What went into that sound?

OT: This is one of our favourite tricks. We get a subwoofer and place it inside a metal cabinet. We then play something very staccato out to the sub, triggering it in a violent way. As we crank that sound up, the result is a really effective resonant, metallic rattle.

As we crank that sound up, the result is a really effective resonant, metallic rattle.

Combining this with the natural sound of those jet-bys, when they are going fast and low, (which is already pretty terrifying), is what we used to create this final sound. We found this combination works really well.

 

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For the tech sounds for Bond films (like the high-tech gadgetry that Q uses), is there a signature set of adjectives that would describe how this technology should sound?

JH: I don’t think there’s a definitive approach that goes along with that. It’s sort of what fits. Like in Q’s house when he’s searching on his computer database, obviously that’s got a specific sound, and when he’s searching through the bionic eye, that’s a slightly different tech sound.

We did use a lot of outboard Eurorack modules, which in itself is a digital modular synth system.

We did use a lot of outboard Eurorack modules, which in itself is a digital modular synth system. They are really good for experimentation, as well as being modern and up-to-date sounding, and for us, that’s what you want tech to sound like. We definitely didn’t want to be over the top or gimmicky; you want it to sound exciting but real.

 

NoTimeToDie_sound-21

Overall, what was the biggest challenge of working on No Time To Die? Or, what are you most proud of about this film?

OT: I really liked the variation and the dynamics we were able to bring to No Time To Die. James and I were discussing this before the interview, that with most films, once you have worked on a few scenes, you understand the style will inform your approach to the rest of the project. But I think the challenge of a Bond film, especially with someone like Cary at the helm, is that the range of the action sequences is immense. Sometimes they feel professional, precise. Sometimes they are wildly chaotic. Illustrating that variance well, across the whole film, I think that’s the challenge.

We are very conscious of keeping that energy, freshness, and innovation all the way through the film.

Our aim was to understand the personality of each scene and create a soundscape which not only embodies but heightens those distinctions and emotions. I believe that we achieved that.

JH: Energy-wise, it can be easy to spend a lot of time on the opening sequence of a film but then that can die down a bit towards the end. That definitely didn’t happen with Bond. One of the ways we like to work on a film is to do a pass through the film from the beginning, and then start at the end and work backward so that everything is mixed up a bit. We are very conscious of keeping that energy, freshness, and innovation all the way through the film. Every scene is extremely important, so every scene has to be treated like the first scene of the movie.

OT: We give an equal distribution of love across the whole film.

 

A big thanks to Oliver Tarney and James Harrison for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the sound of No Time To Die and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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