Good Night, and Good Luck


Photo: Andrew Schwartz/Universal Studios

Good Night, and Good Luck is completely unlike any other film currently playing at your local multiplex. Shot in a sort of faux vérité black and white to evoke the world of CBS television in the 1950s, director/actor George Clooney's thought-provoking and artful film is about ideas more than actual events. It depicts the controversial and courageous decision by reporter Edward R. Murrow and his colleagues at CBS to challenge the crusading anticommunist Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose heavy-handed tactics during the 1950s “red scare” ruined many careers and held countless people in and out of government in a grip of fear. The movie purports to show what went on behind the scenes at CBS and re-creates parts of a number of Murrow's historic telecasts dealing with McCarthy.

An interesting choice that Clooney made was to have McCarthy appear only in original news footage rather than having an actor portray him. The audience mostly sees his speeches and Senate committee appearances on TV monitors in the CBS studio or integrated into Murrow's broadcasts, with the actor playing Murrow (David Strathairn) commenting on or interacting with the “real” McCarthy. It's a clever bit of legerdemain that posed some technical challenges to the sound team that worked on Good Night, and Good Luck.

Speaking generally about the approach to sound in the film, co-supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Aaron Glascock notes, “It's meant to play almost like a documentary. There are things that are missing from the sound that we would normally put in a feature, but we went for a very focused presentation because George [Clooney] didn't want anything to distract from what was being said onscreen.”

“Clooney's intention, and it shows in the camera work, is that he wants you to feel like you are in the room with those people and it's just happening at this moment,” adds co-supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Curt Schulkey. “The camera isn't always dead-on in focus on people. There are people who are talking off-mic a little bit, and you have things like the odd door opening at an inopportune time. It gives the feel of the haphazardness of reality, and we were trying to keep that in the sound.”

Preserved in photos (from left): Lance Brown, Aaron Glascock and Curt Schulkey

Schulkey notes that production sound mixer Edward Tise “had lots of challenges with a room full of actors talking over each other, not always rehearsing everything. He had to scramble a lot. Nothing was looped. He had a lot of moving targets in this film, and Ed did a marvelous job.”

Schulkey and Glascock have worked together on a number of films in different genres, including Blade: Trinity, Criminal, Under the Tuscan Sun, Insomnia and Clooney's previous directorial effort, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Generally speaking, Glascock has been involved mostly with effects and Foley, while Schulkey's resume is heavy on dialog and ADR work. For this film, Glascock also mixed the music, which periodically appears in the film as live performances by jazz singer Dianne Reeves and a small combo. Lance Brown was the third mixer on the re-recording team, mixing Foley and managing the stage.

“The music was all recorded on the set live,” Glascock says. Adds Schulkey, “You're seeing the sync take of it. They didn't shoot anything to playback. Even that opening shot, where you travel up in the elevator and then move all the way down the hall into the studio [with the music audible the whole time] — that was a live take. Clooney really likes the challenge of doing something live.”

The job of cleaning up the audio from the vintage footage mostly fell to Schulkey. “Our post supervisor, Peter Phillips, spent a lot of time trying to find the best possible sources for the particular clips used in the film,” he says. “For some of the material, they found film negative in archives and re-transferred the audio off of that. Some of it was as bad as finding a ¾-inch video tape of a telecine of something several generations down. So it was all over the map. Our goal was to make the vintage footage sound as it would have at that time, under the circumstances in which it was being viewed. News footage had audio recorded directly to the optical track in the camera using field mics. Our movie sometimes shows it being viewed in a utility-grade screening room or from a 16mm projector, so it would not have been beautiful-sounding in those scenes. But the footage would have been brand-new — it would have just come out of the lab, it would have been first-generation, it wouldn't have had dirt or splices or flaws. We wanted it to sound new for its time, but not better than it could have sounded.

“We used all manner of tools, from simple splicing and volume-mapping all the way to some fairly fancy plug-ins for restoration,” Schulkey adds. “Sony Oxford has a really good package that has a de-clicker, a de-popper, hum removal; these are each separate TDM Pro Tools plug-ins. They also have a broadband noise reducer. The funny thing is, I know plug-in makers see their restoration tools as tools for restoration of vintage audio. But in actual fact, in all the movies I've ever worked on, all the dialog work is a restoration process, because out on the set, there are always situations that make [the production sound] less than pristine. In post-production, we're always removing hums, buzzes, traffic, movement, crackles, snaps, static and broadband noise, so it's not unusual to use those ‘restoration’ tools on brand-new audio, and it wasn't very different to get into the vintage footage and have to do the same kinds of things. We had additional help from the Warner Bros. restoration department. Robert Cort and his team did a pass on the vintage audio and made still another level of improvement.”

In places, Schulkey and Glascock had to add noise: “In one vintage clip, newsman Joe Wershba interviews Milo Radulovich. Robert Downey Jr. plays Wershba in the film, so we had to remove Wershba's voice from the old interview and replace it with a well-recorded Downey. We had to make Downey's voice sound as distorted as the vintage footage,” Schulkey says. “Throughout the film, we utilized more plug-ins, including a lot of [Trillium Lane Labs] TL Space IR processes — impulse-response convolution reverbs — to make it sound like it was coming out of the speakers.

“Then there were times when you had an actor — David Stathairn — sitting in a studio with a lot of old televisions running and cameras that were kind of functional, and we ended up with some buzzes and hums through his dialog, too, which some of those [Sony] tools could remove really well. So we removed those hums and buzzes [and] put in different hums and buzzes which were more interesting or which had some rhythm, and we could control their level.”

Glascock and Schulkey did their mixing on Stage 6 on Warner Bros.' Burbank, Calif., lot, “which they had just renovated with a [Digidesign] ICON console,” Glascock says. Working under what Glascock describes as an “austere” budget, the post sound team had to work quickly and efficiently — there wasn't even a temp dub. “One thing that certainly helped us is that the picture editor, Stephen Mirrione, is one of the most disciplined editors we've worked with,” Glascock says. “When the movie was turned over to us, it was in very good shape; there weren't a lot of changes. It was cut and mixed in the short period of about eight weeks, which is fast for a feature film.”

“Everyone had to be pretty concise about what they were doing,” Schulkey adds. “And George is a very confident director. He knows what he wants and he's very good to deal with because he doesn't waver.”