‘Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood’ — An Exceptional Sound

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film ‘Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood’ is being dubbed and hailed by many as one of his best projects so far. The sound for the film was supervised and taken care of by the legendary Wylie Stateman and his team, who have worked with the director in previous projects.

There seems to be no doubt about whether the film delivers or not; however, after watching the film, there are several lessons on how the sound team approached the sound project that are definitely worth mentioning. It seems rather obvious that the director and writer, Quentin Tarantino, romanticizes the incorporation of diverse sound elements such as big cars, advertising jingles, and radio broadcasts.

Photo by Paul Deetman from Pexels

When it comes to ‘Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood’, sound plays a major role. In fact, sound has always been a crucial element in Tarantino’s filmmaking process. During his latest movie, Tarantino seemed to have given thought to sound early and throughout the entire project: he employed a sheer array of sound references as the main storytelling tool when he was initially writing the script, and as you have certainly seen, his music choices leave a big mark in every aspect of his filmmaking.

For Tarantino, the sound has always been a reliable contributor for setting a specific mood, pace, time, and simply for telling a story. His latest film includes a myriad of WKHJ radio plays that accurately depict Los Angeles in 1969. Radio plays that, according to Wylie Stateman, were not recreated — in fact, 99% of those broadcasts are original. All of the music and radio selections were Tarantino’s, and that simply shows how important are audio and sound elements for him.

Radio, jingles, and broadcasts

The sound team mentioned earlier this semester in an interview that Quentin Tarantino himself had personally gone through thousands of audio archives and found the kinds of radio broadcast elements he thought would establish the guiding theme throughout the film. Of course, as mentioned in other articles, the sound team is always responsible for polishing those tracks, and in ‘Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood’ they enhanced just a couple of those broadcasts so the sense of reality wouldn’t get lost.

Shotgun with Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio

During the movie, Tarantino puts the audience in the backseat as the third companion alongside the main characters. In fact, that definitely is part of the whole experience that this film provides, both visually and sonically.

The production, according to Stateman, had eight cars that were driven by the main characters. As the movie was being shot, the transportation department offered the sound team just one day to record cars on set. On the Spahn Ranch set, to be precise. They brought several recording setups and in just one day they were able to create libraries of Rick Dalton’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) Cadillac, Cliff Booth’s (Brad Pitt) Volskwagen, Jey Sebring’s Porsche 911, Roman Polanski’s MG and that creepy car in which the Manson family drives up to Cielo Drive.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

The sound team spent essentially that day doing the car interiors, exteriors, accessories and all of those sounds that are not initially easy to appreciate but whose absence would be entirely noticeable. The team was able to get all that they needed: multichannel interiors, exteriors, exterior pull-ins, outs, and onboard handgrip.

Each recording was assigned to a particular position and a specific point of view, and no matter how simple that may sound, it allegedly took the sound team up to six weeks to master the whole thing.

The growly and evil car

The car section of the film deserves an analysis on itself: the incredible amount of nuances play a pivotal role in the film’s success. The Manson Family car, for instance, that creepy crawler that sounds really evil and growly, was a sound design challenge for Stateman and his team. The lead sound effects designer, Harry Cohen, started off by looking for things that sounded mechanically distressed. It was pretty much a sound design merge where different points converge originally with the rest of the soundtrack.

The tools

As per asserted by Stateman, Harry Cohen and his team were responsible for the vast majority of tonal designs, and they are known for also being advanced Pro Tools users. Judging by their work, Cohen seems to be very familiar with manipulating pitch, frequencies and has proven to be well-versed in strategic placement.

Cohen and his team use a considerable amount of analog saturation tools and low-end enhancement tools such as Symbolic Sound’s Kyma Pacarana. Thanks to their work, it was possible for the whole sound team to add extra tonal shapes, textures, and musical design throughout the soundtrack.

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood’ was all about building a nice puzzle and have no extra elements or pieces in the end. Essentially, the movie tried and managed to do so, to build an acoustical space for dialogue lines to be at the center whilst making the rest of the sound elements work in total synchronization.

We tell stories through sound. We specialize in creating a complete audio post-production and sound design experience.

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