Explore the aural side of a galaxy far, far away with Rogue One sound editors Christopher Scarabosio and Matthew Wood
Earlier this week, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story crossed the billion dollar mark at the global box office and this morning, the film became a double Academy Award nominee with nods for both “Achievement in Visual Effects” and “Achievement in Sound Mixing.” The latter nomination arrives thanks to the tireless work of Rogue One sound editors Christopher Scarabosio and Matthew Wood who, in conversation with CS, explain some of the challenges of not only developing the first “Star Wars Story” film but also in planning the long road ahead that will see a new Star Wars film arrive every year.
RELATED: Split Wins with $40.2 Million, Rogue One Passes $1 Billion
This conversation with Scarabosio and Wood marks our second Rogue One behind the scene look. If you missed it, be sure to check out our interview with John Knoll and the Rogue One VFX Team and check back soon for more insight from editor John Gilroy.
ComingSoon.net: You guys have both been a part of the Star Wars universe for some time.
Christopher Scarabosio: Well, both Matt and I worked on many of the “Star Wars” projects. We actually worked together at Skywalker Sound for 25, I think, 26 years. So we’ve known each other a long time, and we started on the prequels, with Episodes One, Two and Three. Matt can speak to further involvement on the “Rebels” and some of the other shows.
Matthew Wood: Yeah, I supervised “Rebels” and “Clone Wars.” And I did the remastering of Episodes IV, V and VI for Blu-ray and DVD as well.
Scarabosio: In simple terms, basically Matt deals with all the dialogue and I deal with all the sound effects.
CS: One of the things that seems neat with “Rogue One” is that it offers ways of looking at things in the “Star Wars” universe that we haven’t seen before. In your job, there’s a balance there with a lot of classic sounds from “Star Wars.” How does that play out in what you do?
Scarabosio: It all starts actually with the fact that we’re doing a “Star Wars” movie every year now. We have a new director and production team on each one. So we’ve got that energy of the director on each project that’s different. So how we approach the project is going to sort of be predicated by their involvement. So that’s the main change. But then, on this particular film, we’ve gone to a lot of locations in “Rogue One” on locations we’ve never seen before in any of the films. We’ve got new ships, new planets, new creatures, new weapons, and that they all have to sort of fit in the same genre of everything that’s been created before, is now going on 40 years’ worth of material. So, and Gareth Edwards has a very strong vision about how he wanted to do the film and worked with us really early on, and we were involved. We came to Pinewood Studios and toured the sets and got to see the design scape of the movie and picked up the weapons and hold them in our hands and see the costumes and all of that. So that’s all very exciting for us, as well.
CS: Is there then an added pressure of sort of knowing that when you create certain sound effects, these are going to be the sound effects of the universe that will live beyond the film?
Wood: That’s absolutely correct. That is a challenge and a kind of a burden that you know that these sounds—people are going to watch the film over and over and they’re going to analyze this film in every which way, with the visual effects and the sound effects. And so, yeah, we have to, we look at this, it’s as much fun as we like to have doing this stuff, it’s a big deal, it’s a huge challenge, and we take it real, very seriously, because we know that this is such a beloved franchise, that “Star Wars” is such an iconic worldwide phenomena, that you know, it’s such a great thing to be a part of. And we really want to honor what’s come before us, but we want to set kind of a new standard going forward.
CS: Is there an additional way of sort of like, future proofing certain sounds to make sure that alternative takes are available down the line?
Wood: Oh, that’s an interesting thing. I mean, the palette of what we create things from is certainly at our disposal. So like, we’ve have things like, even in the “Clone Wars” series, where we’d have one planet that we’ve gone to in a film, and then, it’ll be in an episode of “Clone Wars” three times in a row, and we have to expand upon it, that’s kind of the challenge. But I think that in this film, the personnel are the people that are going to be having all those alternate takes.
Scarabosio: I mean, as far as creating sounds, there’s a lot of exploration and a lot of experimentation. But once you kind of end up boiling it all down, when you get to the kind of the crux, the kind of essential part of that sound, you almost don’t want to have too many options, because then it kind of becomes something else. When I’m listening to the TIE fighters and the X-wings, there’s a couple different takes, but there’s really only one or two versions that when you want that signature sound, those are the only two sounds that you’re going to use. So in a way, you don’t want to have too many options, because then it might start sounding like something other than it is.
CS: What was the single hardest element to get right on “Rogue One”?
Scarabosio: Single hardest element? Well, there were a lot of challenges between all the many weapons and the new ships. For me, it was the ships. I think “Star Wars,” you know, you think of spaceships and you just want to create something that is going to last and that people are going to have some attachment to, a little different than weaponry. So I would say that the ships between Krennic’s ship, the cargo ship, which, that’s what Bodhi was piloting, and the U-wing, those were probably the biggest challenges.
CS: When you’re looking at these things, I know famously there were all sorts of crazy things that were done to achieve various classic sound effects in “Star Wars.” What was the weirdest thing you found yourself doing?
Wood: Whoa. I don’t know if I could say that. (Laughs) Weirdest? I don’t know. Ah… Man, you know, we do so much, that by the time that we get to the finishing point, you start losing a grasp of all the things that you did during a show. I mean, some of the death troopers were kind of whacky. I mean, probably the coolest thing was recording these racing drones, that I found a guy who is basically a pilot and builds his own racing drones. So I contacted him, and he came out to the ranch where we were recording these drones flying around, doing all these different kind of tricks, and we did some recording inside and outside. And that became a major element of the U-wing. So that was probably the funnest and coolest thing we did in the sound effects side of things.
CS: Is there an archival process here, where because so much is coming from “A New Hope,” do you go back and look at things that maybe the public hasn’t seen in a very long time or ever?
Scarabosio: Yeah, I mean, we’re sort of the keepers of that library. So we’ve got that. We’ve got all the alternate takes or anything that was made for a lot of those and the original sounds. And we want to keep those special and unique and restricted to “Star Wars,” so that we’re not hearing it in other films. But where was I going with that? Yeah, we listened to the original films. I mean, those are the ones that we all know and loved as kids, and so, those are kind of engrained in us. But oh gosh, what was I—oh, the original tapes. Like for example, at the very end of the film, when Leah says, “Hope,” we pulled that. We found the original quarter inch tapes, mono quarter inch tapes from the original film and we were able to digitize those. Carrie Fisher had probably 20 plus readings of the original hologram speech, the “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” scene. And so, we grabbed the word hope out of every single one of those takes and gave those over to John Schwartz and the picture team, and we pulled one that we thought was going to be a nice button to the end of the movie. And so, that’s what you hear in the film. And those were sourced from some tapes that had never been played in 40 years. So that was fun to have that accessible to us.
CS: It seems like in a lot of ways, sound effects are almost kind of like the glue that holds everything together, given that you’ll hear the exact same thing, maybe on “Rebels” and on the big screen. And I’m curious just what that bigger approach to a universe means, if you can articulate that.
Scarabosio: I don’t know that it’s as grand as maybe you’re putting it. I mean, to a certain degree, there’s a certain amount of practicality. You know, a Storm Trooper blaster should sound, kind of be consistent across all of the different types of media and different types of stories, as Darth Vader is breathing. And you know, that’s not something that you want to change, or a light saber ignites. It’s really about creating the new stuff, the new sound effects and sound design in different voices that fit in with the legacy stuff that becomes a bigger issue, that it all works together kind of in this universe or this lexicon that’s been created.
CS: How quickly do you know when it doesn’t? Are there ever times where something just seems like it’s working, but it doesn’t work in the end?
Scarabosio: It varies.
Wood: Yeah, that does vary. I mean, certainly it’s always nice if we can—because we start fairly early on a project that was something George Lucas was always into was having the sound team start when a script is ready and get our ideas going. But some of these ideas, we can be working with for eight months. And then, so by the time we get to the end, if it’s stayed in that long, it’s probably working. And you know, we have a chance to change that out. But yeah, as Chris said, you want things to play like if your eyes were closed, you could identify that as a certain signature sound. So that would be Krennic’s ship that I’m hearing going overhead, even though I can’t see it. So it’s got that unique quality.
Scarabosio: Yeah, it’s like if you hear Vader’s breath and he’s off-screen, you know it’s Vader. So that’s one of the tests I think, when trying to finalize some sound design, is feeling like A, is it a sound that I can easily identify, if I don’t see that thing. And B, when I watch all the other, work on all the other “Star Wars” movies that we’ve been a part of and watch and enjoy, do I feel like it has that feel that fits in with all of that? And most of the time you know kind of right away, but there’s always the couple of sounds or voices that can be a little more controversial.
Wood: Yeah. (Laughs). Accidents happen sometimes for the best. I mean, when we’re in the mix and putting everything together, we might play something too loud or play something even out of sync or play something, and we’re like, wait a minute, that actually kind of works. And things like that have happened, like in the past in the prequels, we had those in the asteroid chase with Jango Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi. He drops off these sonic charges, and one of the ideas we had was just to have an absence of sound for a few seconds until the big explosion goes off. It seemed like a mistake, but then, it’s one of the most beloved sounds of those prequels.
CS: Oh yeah, it’s very cool. And then, I just wanted to ask, I’ve been reading about Gareth Edwards’ tactic of just shooting sort of wildly for an hour a day, of getting footage that may not have been planned. And I’m curious if that crosses over with your jobs at all?
Wood: I would say that in sound design, in some ways, yes, because sometimes I think in terms of it sounds like it could be a black hole, where you think you have something and you think you’re getting closer and closer, but yet you’re not. It just keeps getting further and further away. And it could be a giant time suck that way. But I would say that it’s easy to create a lot of different things. If I have a problem, it’s creating too many things and then coming up with, okay, I need to narrow this down. I have 50 things. I need 20 things. Or I have 20 things and I need three things. That’s where you have to start making choices and using your experience.