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July 15, 2013

Frank Morrone Unveils the Sonic Secrets of Lost

On January 23rd, award-winning Los Angeles-based recording mixer Frank Marrone (Lost, Boss, Sideways) visited Tribeca Flashpoint Academy with film editor Chris Nelson (Lost, Mad Men, House M.D.) for a Q&A and all-day workshops with second-year TFA students. Morrone's workshop, presented by Avid Technologies and open to Sound Design for Film students, covered the sound design for Lost and the unique challenges presented by this unusual and iconic production.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Lost represents to many one of the brightest spots in television history. Its wildly-popular six-year run garnered critical acclaim season after season, and was nominated 260 times for various television awards. In addition to its compelling characters and captivating plotline, the world of Lost was brought to life by some of television’s most memorable sound effects and orchestral arrangements.

Creating an iconic soundscape

To achieve Lost’s eerie and suspenseful aesthetic, the sound team detailed an overarching audio vision before the cameras ever rolled. As the team worked on concepts for various elements of the environment and sound signatures for various characters, their discussions informed and often changed the scripting and shooting of scenes from the original story ideas.

This sonic consistency gave Lost an identity that set it apart from the majority of episodic television, resulting in a very cinematic production value. However, where the audio process of most major theatrical films can take anywhere from six months to well over a year to complete, each hour-long episode of Lost was taken from beginning to end in just six days (including original music composition and recording with a sixty piece orchestra). 

An unforgettable student experience

It took no small amount of skill and creativity to elevate the sound design of Lost to the award-winning level it achieved. Naturally, our students had a lot of questions. So after a morning panel discussion and Q&A session with both Morrone and Nelson, audio students joined Marrone in one of our Post-Production audio suites where he set up his Pro Tools sessions to shed some light on how Lost’s award-winning sound was achieved.

Marrone began by playing through a complete scene from an episode of Lost, letting the students hear each individual layer of sound that went into the final mix. From sound effects design to the Foley process, dialogue editing to music composition, he showed in detail how the show came together from sound standpoint.

One major sound challenge the class discussed was the one posed by the show’s many outdoor locations. Lost takes place on a mysterious tropical island, very much in contrast to the show’s less-than-deserted Hawaiian shooting locales. 

To give an idea of what the sound design team was up against, Marrone played one particular scene in which three characters have an intimate conversation in the jungle, surrounded by only the sounds of wind in the trees and birds lightly chirping in the background.  But when he played the original recordings for that scene, it became immediately apparent that there was a major highway right behind the camera.

 
With this challenge as a jumping-off point, the students discussed possible solutions. After hearing their suggestions, Marrone opened iZotope RX Advanced, a noise-reduction program that has been designed for exactly these types of problems. The students were amazed at the result – clean dialogue with no traffic noise left in the recording. Marrone also demonstrated the software using a scene from the documentary series The Kennedys and showed how it could be used for an incredibly fine edit of problematic and noisy audio.
 
This demonstration is sure to come in handy at the beginning of spring semester, when iZotope debuts as a part of second year students’ curriculum (just in time for students’ major capstone films).
 
By the time our students gave him their standing ovation, Marrone had spoken with them for a half hour longer than his allotted time. He later told us faculty that our students were among the best groups he has had the pleasure of presenting to, and looks forward to the opportunity to visiting us again.
 
Our thanks to Frank Marrone and Avid Technologies for making this day possible.

Tom Blakemore, MPSE, Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy

 

Tom Blakemore, MPSE
Faculty, Recording Arts

Tom Blakemore has been an active audio engineer for thirty years. His work has included corporate communications projects and national radio and television advertising campaigns, as well as a large number of theatrical release feature-length films and documentaries that include winners of Sundance Film Festival awards, the Director’s Guild of America’s Outstanding Directorial Award, and Academy Award nominees.

Tom has edited and mixed for virtually all of the major broadcast and cable television outlets, and is a member of Motion Picture Sound Editors.

Tom joined Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in January of 2009, teaching sound design for film and video.

Email: tom.blakemore@tfa.edu

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