Reacher Sound Asbjoern Andersen


The sound of Amazon Prime Video's action-packed Reacher series is as precisely executed as one of Reacher's fights. Supervising sound editor Mark Lanza and his sound team hit all the right spots at all the right times, making this show a sonic knockout. Here, Lanza talks about the teamwork required to pull that off, how they used sound to help define characters and locations and add clarity to the fights, what went into Lanza's favorite fight scenes, and so much more!
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Amazon Studios
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Nick Santora – the writer/producer behind crime-driven TV series like Prison Break, Lie to Me, and Scorpion – brings Lee Childs’s popular Jack Reacher books to the small screen for Amazon Prime Video.

Sure, there were the Jack Reacher films starring Tom Cruise. And yeah, they were pretty good as far as action films go. But Santora’s television representation of Reacher in the form of actor Alan Ritchson checks all the boxes established by Childs’s print version of the character – from his looks to his intelligence to his proficient hand-to-hand combat skills.

For the post sound team – led by MPSE Award-winning supervising sound editor Mark Lanza at Sony Pictures Studios – this meant finding ways to help define Reacher’s imposing stature and hard-swinging abilities, like adding in a wooden bench creak when he sits down and satisfying impacts when he lands a punch.

The sound team was also crucial for defining the locations in the series, from bug-imbued backgrounds for the small Georgia town of Margrave to the cosmopolitan din of New York City’s streets.

Here, Lanza talks about the teamwork needed to tackle the massive sound of Reacher to meet their weekly deadlines, how they used loop group to help define the character of each location, how they approached the fight sounds (including what went into the gory leg-breaking sound in Ep. 4), how they designed and mixed perspective changes, and so much more!



Reacher - Official Trailer | Prime Video


Reacher – Official Trailer | Prime Video

From the start of Ep. 1, it’s easy to hear that this soundtrack is carefully crafted and full of detail. Was showrunner Nick Santora really into sound? Did he have specific notes for sounds in each scene? Or did he let you do your thing and then give notes on that?

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Sound supervisor Mark Lanza

Mark Lanza (ML): It was a combination. I read the book before I started on the show and the first thing I noticed was that this town was all new money coming from an organized crime family. They described this newly-built modern jail as having doors that opened with a distinctive sucking noise, as though there was a tight seal around the door because everything was brand new. So I was making all these mental notes about these sonic descriptions they made in the book, but when I got the picture, I saw the jail had a wooden door. So I asked Nick about it, and he said, “Don’t listen to any of those things in the book.”

For some things, Nick let me do whatever I felt was right. But then for other things, he was very specific. I also know where Nick wants things; we’ve been working together since Scorpion. In fact, I am working on two other projects with Nick right now.

We definitely collaborated on the sound for Reacher. He sent notes to the music department, to the sound department, and notes on ADR lines he’d need to cover. We spotted each show with the sound and music people including our composer and music editor.

Speaking of ADR, the actor Alan Ritchson (who played Reacher) would sometimes have lines that he wanted to change in terms of performance. For instance, he wanted to redo the last line in the series, when he buries his grandfather’s war metal at the site where his brother was killed. So that line was ADR at Alan’s request. I was thinking that Nick wasn’t going to go for it, but Alan did a great job. We mixed it in and it sounds as if it was production.

Auto-Align phase-aligns the lav and boom mics so you can use both; we didn’t have to make a choice.

He was good with a lot of his ADR. There was one scene where he and Rosco are in the hotel room; Reacher is lying on the floor and Rosco is on the bed. They’re discussing her life. It’s the scene where she tells him that daisies are her favorite flower. Most of that conversation is ADR. There was a lot of noise on the set, and their delivery was really low and intimate, like a whisper. Much of the production was unusable. So both actors came in and re-recorded their lines. That scene was tough because a lot of it was right on camera, and the dialogue was intimate. It’s hard to get those intimate scenes to feel right in ADR. That’s where our re-recording mixers – Alec St. John was mixing dialogue, and Marshall Garlington was mixing effects – really shone.

All the dialogue was cut using Sound Radix’s Auto-Align Post. Usually, you have to choose whether to use the lav mic or the boom track for each character in a scene because if you use both mics then you get phasing issues. The signals will cancel each other out in spots; you’ll get odd dips in volume and that weird phasing sound.

Auto-Align phase-aligns the lav and boom mics so you can use both; we didn’t have to make a choice. We could play them both, and you get the closeness of the lav and the roominess of the boom. Alec could choose how much of each mic he wanted to mix into the scene. That worked really well. It changes the game when it comes to dialogue editing. It makes the process twice as long but the result is worth it.

 

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The show is cut so that one episode ends and the next starts right at that spot. It’s like a very long film. There are eight episodes and each is just under an hour. That’s a lot of ground to cover – a lot to get done on a TV schedule.

What was your approach to designing each scene? Did you focus on key sounds first (specific sounds that would help tell the story or help define the characters) and then fill in from there? Or did you cover everything in broad strokes, and then define the soundtrack in the mix?

ML: There was no time to go through which ones we would do first. Typically with a series – especially one this detailed – I would have a week between mixes. There would be time to experiment.

But with Reacher, once we started mixing, we were doing one a week, every week. And we were doing three-day mixes. So if we’re spending three days on the mix then there are only two days for editorial and I was cueing and cutting all the ADR and group ADR. Yeah, weekends were involved.

…once we started mixing, we were doing one a week, every week. And we were doing three-day mixes.

I had my crew working around the clock to get it done. Pembrooke Andrews (a 3x-Emmy winning sound supervisor, with credits like 24 and Ray Donovan) had started our dialogue before leaving to start work on another show. He’s the one who established using Auto-Align Post.

Craig A. Dellinger – an MPSE Award-winning sound supervisor whose worked on Homeland and Silicon Valley – cut the rest of the dialogue for Reacher.

I was so lucky to have these two gentlemen cut the dialogue.

There were key sound effects, like the guns and the vehicles, which were all cut by Eric Raber. The first time that Reacher shoots that big desert Eagle, the sound needed to be big and loud. When Reacher shoots the tree stump outside of Rosco’s house, there are wood chunks and splinters flying. We kept going bigger and bigger with that one. I cut sweeteners until it sounded the way we wanted it to sound on the stage.

We need to establish right away that this was Georgia so we needed the right amount and type of insects.

Herwig Maurer cut all the backgrounds; those really set the tone, especially in the very beginning with the shootout in the dark and you can’t see what’s going on. The sound there is very spooky, with off-stage night birds and crickets.

We need to establish right away that this was Georgia so we needed the right amount and type of insects. Sometimes, we’d get specific notes from Nick about when to hear heavy insects. For those scenes, Nick wanted to feel that you’re in Georgia, that it’s the south and it’s humid. We used sound to set the location and make Georgia a character in the show.

The foley team – Melissa Kennelly (foley artist) and Shawn Kennelly (foley recordist) –
really added to the soundtrack, with all the glass clinks, and glass crunches. There were a number of scenes out in the woods with Rosco and Hubble’s family running from the Argentinian hitmen, and foley was a huge help there with the footsteps, and twig snaps. It upped the realism and the tension.

That scene in the woods also required ADR for the hitmen. We wanted to get some distant yelling sounds for them because it was dark and we wanted to help set that up with sound. The timing and location were key in order to set up the chaos and set the locations for our players.

Eric [Raber] did most of the leg breaks, but we wanted to make it even grosser so I ended up layering more sounds on top.

Of course, we have to talk about the leg-breaking sounds for when Reacher stuffs the three guys into the trunk. Eric [Raber] did most of the leg breaks, but we wanted to make it even grosser so I ended up layering more sounds on top. We were on the stage when this came up, so I took what was there and put it into Krotos Reformer Pro to create some rustle and fabric layers that had the same timing and dynamics as the leg-breaking sounds. Reformer Pro has a backpack library (just backpack movements and swishes) that I used to replace the rustling sounds. I was able to recut several different rustle layers for that whole scene and we got it up in a matter of minutes. It was gross; Nick loved it.

Being able to use tools like that on the stage is great. It allowed me to keep the stage moving forward quickly. iZotope was used often on this show as well. We saved a lot of production dialogue with it.

But really it comes down to having great editors who just give it all they got. I’ve worked with Eric before; we’ve co-supervised projects and have cut sounds for each other. Having him on Reacher was a blessing. The effects were so important in this series.

We needed all that background group to fill these scenes out and make you believe what we were pushing for.

Another important part of the sound was the group walla. We needed Spanish walla for when we were down in Argentina; we needed call-outs for when we were in New York City, and Georgia accented call-outs for when we were in the town hall meeting and restaurants. (We didn’t want to go “too Georgia” with the accent, but we definitely wanted you to know that you were in the south.) We needed background walla for Jolene’s chicken shack.

The group was handled by Steve Alterman and Julie Falls. They were the loop group leaders. Week after week, they had great people come in and record parts to help fill out that detail. They made all the news reports, PA pages at the airports, and the reactions for when Reacher starts the fight in the restaurant. We needed all that background group to fill these scenes out and make you believe what we were pushing for.

Like everything in Hollywood, this was a collaboration. I was just the circus master.

It was a great team. We had the same music editor, Eduardo Ponsdomenech, that we used on Scorpion, the two re-recording mixers we used on Scorpion, the same associate producer Agatha Warren, and of course, Nick Santora. So we had the band back together.

We’ve worked together throughout the years. We all get along well and the collaboration is amazing. Nick and Agatha saw that and so put us back together for this show. We couldn’t be happier with how this show turned out.

The composer Tony Morales was phenomenal. We worked with him before as well. He’s one of Nick’s guys and was also an old Scorpion guy. He knows when we need to amp up the tension in a scene.

 

Reacher_sound-04

This is partly a mix compliment, but I loved all the sonic perspective changes in the show. For instance, the sound of the insects slowly attenuates as someone is walking into a building. It’s a gradual sonic shift…

ML: There were a lot of things like that where we follow perspectives – for instance, the scene with the big storm during the fight inside Hubble’s house. That was a difficult scene because we had the whole theme of this storm coming, so you have the storm growing outside, the TV with the weather reporter turned up loudly inside, and people sneaking around.

The sequence is very dynamic, going from subtle foley to big effects with people whacking each other with a tire iron and big gunshots. There was also that scene in the swimming pool, with underwater effects.

…we weren’t going to stick Alan’s head in a pool to record those, but I was willing to do it. So, that’s my voice.

For that pool scene, I got a hydrophone to record some sounds for Reacher. As I’m recording in the pool in my backyard, with my head underwater and making all these effort sounds, my wife comes out to make sure that I’m not drowning. She takes one look as my soaking wet head comes up for air and then just shakes her head as she walks back into the house. She’s used to me by now. I can’t tell you how many head shakes I’ve gotten from my wife over the years.

When I’m editing or designing in my studio at home, I usually leave the door open. But one day I had it closed while I was recording. She opened the door a crack and peered in. I had an 8-foot piece of PVC pipe that I was blowing through. I had my headphones stretched to the other side of the room, and I’ve got a microphone inside the pipe. I got a head shake as she slowly backed away…

But the pool sounds came out great! In the scene, Reacher is making all of these efforts underwater. Of course, we weren’t going to stick Alan’s head in a pool to record those, but I was willing to do it. So, that’s my voice.


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Reacher is very precise in his hand-to-hand combat. How was sound helpful in distinguishing his moves from his combatants?

ML: You know, I saw an interview with Alan and he was talking about working on his hand-to-hand combat because Jack Reacher is so precise. It’s more than just lobbing big “John Wayne-er’s” at people. He was supposed to be a military-trained, highly precise guy and it needed to come off that way. He was saying what an amazing job the other stunt people did.

Apparently, the guy who got Reacher’s thumb in his eye, Alan really put his thumb in the stunt guy’s eye. The stunt guy let him do that!

And, the guy who got his head smashed against the sink in the jail fight had told Alan to just go ahead and hit his head on the sink. So the fights were more real than you realize.

We needed the perfect sound for the fights because the production sound didn’t pick it all up.

We wanted to really sell it. We needed the perfect sound for the fights because the production sound didn’t pick it all up.

We made Reacher’s impacts bigger and more violent than the other guys. But we needed theirs to be pretty big and scary as well. We needed to make them seem as though they were a threat. Most of the time we made Reacher’s hits bigger as the scene progressed so it seemed a more even fight at first and then Reacher came back to kick some butt!

…we made Reacher’s hits bigger as the scene progressed so it seemed a more even fight at first and then Reacher came back to kick some butt!

We recorded ADR for all the voices of the stunt people during the fights. We had loop group do those efforts. We didn’t use all ADR or all production for those scenes. We tried to use production when we could. I needed to record ADR for everyone just in case – so that we had choices if it was off-mic or we needed to make it bigger or change it up.

Those fight scenes took a while to mix. There were several great fights, but the one in the jail bathroom was the biggest and craziest.

Foley really came through for us there with the sneaker squeaks that sell the idea that the floor was wet because it was right by the showers.

 

Reacher_sound-06

What was your approach to the gore and fight impacts? Was that foley? Were there any helpful sound libraries?

ML: The feet were foley, but all the punches were effects. The gore was a combination. Foley loves to throw in as much gore as they have time for, as well.

Nick loved the gore stuff. We didn’t want to go too gross on it but you wanted Reacher to break bones and show his power. It was part of the character. When someone started a fight with him you wanted that moment of “Oh no fella, you started with the wrong dude.”

 

Reacher_sound-07

[tweet_box]Mark Lanza on Creating the Action-Packed Sound of Amazon’s Reacher Series[/tweet_box]

What episode was the most challenging in terms of sound? Or, did you have a favorite episode to design? One that was particularly fun for you?

ML: I’d have to say the big jail fight episode. That was my favorite fight to do. The group was extremely challenging just trying to keep track of who was who in the fight.

First of all, there were two bald guys in the fight, which makes it hard to figure out when the camera angles are going back and forth quickly. It was hard to keep track of who was where, and we had to communicate that to the loop group actors.

Another fun scene was when Reacher was choking the guy with the necktie. Reacher is hanging from it as the guy is leaning backward over the railing. Nick said it was his favorite death scene ever!

It was hard to keep track of who was where, and we had to communicate that to the loop group actors.

Another fun scene was when the police car jumps the embankment and lands in the water. I cut in this giant car rev. As they fly through the air, the engine bounces off the rev limiter and then I tucked that sound into the splash when they hit the water. Reacher kicks out the window and all the water floods in. Then it cuts to above the water, and it sounds really calm. You hear all the bugs and the backgrounds until Reacher and Neagley finally surface.

There’s this great contrast from loud to quiet and back to loud, and there’s a lot of that in the show. I like doing that kind of work.

There was also this old-Western feel, where you see the battle is coming – two immovable forces are coming at each other. I like building that up sonically.

There was also this old-Western feel, where you see the battle is coming – two immovable forces are coming at each other. I like building that up sonically. In that scene with the big storm coming, Reacher is staring out the window and the lightning strike lights up his face. But that’s fun. And I think the audience enjoys that.

The show not only delivered on the story and the violence but also on the sound and imagery. When you see the camera angle looking up at this giant character Reacher, and you hear the thunder and see the lightning light up his silhouette, it’s like Jurassic Park when the banner falls across the T-Rex in the Visitors Center and he gives this huge roar. It’s THE shot of the movie. So we had that feel going on with this scene in Reacher.

 

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In terms of your sound work on Reacher, what are you most proud of?

ML: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ADR, getting the performances out of the actors and putting it all together in a way that’s entertaining for the audience and gives them the best sonic experience.

It was crazy and hectic, but I think it’s staying true to the story and supporting Nick’s vision, being big when it needed to be but then handing off to the music. There was a good balance achieved by both the music team (music editors, composer) and our mixers of knowing when to play music and when to play effects.

They played nicely in the sandbox together. No one had an ego about it. Choices were made based on what was best for the scene, and the project. We’re all very respectful of each other’s crafts. So, I’d say the collaboration was the part I am most proud of.

 

A big thanks to Mark Lanza for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the sound of Reacher and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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