OnlyMurdersBuiding_sound-01 Asbjoern Andersen


Hulu's new mystery-comedy series Only Murders in the Building -- starring Selena Gomez, Steve Martin, and Martin Short -- follows a group of amateur sleuths who create a podcast about a murder that happened in their apartment building. Ep. 107 'The Boy From 6B' takes a bold approach, being partially told from the perspective of a deaf person, Theo, and having only one line of dialogue at the end. Here, Formosa Group's supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Mathew Waters discusses his approach to creating Theo's POV and how he made that work for the small screen.
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Hulu
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Comedy is all about landing the punchline. So it’s hard to imagine that a half-hour comedy series would have a whole episode with only one line of dialogue. But that’s the bold move made by showrunners on Hulu’s mystery-comedy series Only Murders in the Building for Ep. 107 “The Boy From 6B.”

Not only are there practically no spoken lines in the episode, but the sonic palette is severely limited at times, being told through the perspective of a deaf character, Theo. While in his POV, only deep thumps and vibrations come through the mix.

We have a quick chat with five-time Emmy-winning supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Mathew Waters — at Formosa Group in Hollywood, CA — about how they developed the sonic direction for the episode and how they ultimately pulled it off.



Only Murders in the Building (Official) Teaser | A Hulu Original


Only Murders in the Building (Official) Teaser | A Hulu Original

Much of Ep. 107 “The Boy From 6B” is presented from the POV of a deaf character named Theo. What was your initial plan for this sound-wise? After starting on the edit and pre-mix, did your approach change?

Mathew Waters (MW): I first read the script and then had conversations with Julie Monroe, the picture editor, bouncing ideas around with her. Since there was only going to be one line of dialogue heard at the end, I wanted to design a soundscape that created a mood — a place where the viewer could feel like they could hear but couldn’t.

It became so purposeful and bold. I have never heard something like this in a half-hour episodic show before.

So, I tried processing and distorting the production dialogue, adding some sound design, and sent it to Julie. She worked with it and the showrunners really liked it — so much so that they decided to really own this concept.

Whereas, I thought when I was first designing it, that we would come in and out of the design and the real sounds more, John Hoffman, the showrunner, embraced it totally. And that’s what I appreciate the most. It became so purposeful and bold. I have never heard something like this in a half-hour episodic show before.

 

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Can you talk about your approach to creating this perspective, and how you accomplished it?

MW: Well, I just really like the way I distorted the dialogue and married it with the sound design. I ran the production dialogue and the foley through different delays and EQs and distortions and then did a different pass on it and married the two together.

Some lines are actually different lines of distorted dialogue…

Then the trick was to kind of hear the words but make sure that you do not hear the words. Some lines are actually different lines of distorted dialogue so it really wasn’t the real thing and then sometimes, no matter how distorted or what I would put in their mouths for sound, you would think you could hear what they were saying so we just muted any kind of dialogue on those shots.

 

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What was the most challenging scene in terms of sound editing?

MW: The most challenging thing overall was to keep it true while keeping it interesting for the entire show. That was fun.

 

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In terms of mixing this unique perspective for a streaming service (as opposed to mixing for a theatrical feature), what were some important considerations in making your sonic approach to the deaf perspective translate for the small screen?

MW: I always will listen to important story points on small speakers while mixing to make sure that the viewer hears what they need to hear for the story. Whether it be cool sound design or a scare or music or whatever.

 

A big thanks to Mathew Waters for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the sound of Ep. 107 of ‘Only Murders in the Building‘ and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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