M. Night Shyamalan is known for keeping his productions local to the Philadelphia area. Last October, while filming for the second season of his Apple TV+ series Servant, he covered sections of Spruce Street in snow. Seeing is believing, they say, and fake snow sold that Christmas-y feel for the episode.
Part of Shyamalan’s filmmaking charm comes from his organic approach. He once said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, “It has to be organic and has to come from the right place—otherwise it’ll smell of artificiality.” Although he was talking about developing the story for an Unbreakable sequel at the time, that “organic” base resonates through all facets of his filmmaking approach.It’s especially evident in the subtle use of sound on Servant.
“We start with organic sounds, which Night loves,” says Emmy- and Golden Reel Award- winning supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Sean Garnhart at WB Sound in New York City. “My sound design starts with organic sounds as opposed to sounds made by a synthesizer; working with something real is more tangible and easier for the viewer to relate to.”
For the MPSE-winning and Emmy-eligible episode “2:00,” Garnhart and sound effects editor Mark Filip created creepy, ambient sound design to signify the malevolent mood of Dorothy Turner, who wakes every night at 2 A.M. to terrorize and interrogate her captive (their former nanny, Leanne) on the whereabouts of her missing son, Jericho.
“We used a lot of winds, human whispers, sounds of very large buildings rumbling and settling, and distressed baby sounds that are pitched down and reverberated into the ether. We manipulated those sounds to create this uneasy feeling that is subliminal but very effective,” Garnhart says.
Each occurrence of the 2 AM ambient sound is slightly different, a variation on the theme. On the dub stage, Garnhart blended their sound design with composer Trevor Gureckis’s score so that the two felt indistinguishable. “The marriage of the two creates this awesome world of sonic, subconscious anxiety and foreboding,” he says.
Leanne is locked in the attic, so to build tension in this space Garnhart added the sounds of creatures and critters running across the ceiling, which he created by recording a stick dragging along his roof. He pitched-down a variety of wind elements and soaked them in massive reverb that “washes away the reality of any recognizable wind while creating a tonal uneasiness,” he says. Christmas lights adorn the attic, buzzing with a rough, saw-toothed sound that’s anything but cheery and festive.
“I wanted very much for the Christmas lights to be a tension-creating instrument,” Garnhart concludes. “Mark [Filip] used a really obscure analog tube distortion device on the sound of the lights. I added some contact recordings of neon lights, and then married the two. It gave this tension to the attic. When the camera sweeps by them, you hear them go up and over you. They eventually take a back seat in the mix, but they’re there, buzzing like a gnat in your ear.”