Studio City, California – This month, The Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) honor
Darren Aronofsky with their annual Filmmaker Award. The award recognizes the
director/writer/producer, whose work includes Noah, Black Swan, The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a
Dream and π,
as one of the most accomplished filmmakers of his generation
and for his contributions to the industry as a whole. He will be presented with
the award at the 62nd MPSE Golden Reel Awards, February 15, 2015 in
Los Angeles.
Aronofsky is an apt choice for the MPSE’s highest honor. The
director has been lauded as an innovative storyteller and a brilliant
craftsman, meticulous in every detail, including his use of sound. His films
feature soundtracks notable for a dense, visceral realism punctuated by moments
of surrealism that illuminate the psychology of his characters.

No one appreciates Aronofsky’s mastery of motion picture
sound better than Craig Henighan. Henighan has been collaborating with the
director since the late ‘90s when he served as Sound Effects Editor on Requiem for a Dream. He co-supervised
and co-sound designed The Fountain
and served as both Supervising Sound Editor and Re-Recording Mixer on Black Swan and Noah.

“Darren always creates a great framework to work in,” Henighan
says. “With him, the process is about experimenting…taking a journey. It’s a
collaborative process that evolves over time and results in great movies where
the sound works really well with the music, the visuals and his overall
Henighan was a young sound editor working at Sound Dogs in
Toronto when he first met Aronofsky. The director, along with sound designer
Brian Emrich, was assembling the sound team for Requiem.  Aronofsky and
Emrich had built the soundtrack for the independently produced π with a small team, but wanted
something more for Requiem¸ a tense
story about addiction. “They needed a complete team with a dialogue editor, a
sound effects editor, Foley and all the rest,” Henighan recalls. “That’s where
we came in.”
Henighan dove into the project enthusiastically. Although he
was contracted to create sync sound effects and background sounds for the
film’s New York City environments, he sensed that certain moments might benefit
from more subjective sound and he worked up more “designy” treatments for them.
“When Darren came up to Toronto to do a playback and heard all this stuff, he
thought it was fantastic,” Henighan says. “We shared an attitude where we’d do
whatever we could to make the best movie possible. We hit it off.”
As a sound artist, Henighan was inspired by the unusual
visual techniques Aronofsky employed in Requiem.
He was particularly taken with the film’s “hip hop montages” made up of
extremely short cuts. “That movie is timed like a metronome,” he observes.
“Every shot is done with mathematical precision. I very quickly realized what
we were dealing with and that sonically we had to reach that same level.”
Henighan worked again with Aronofsky on The Fountain, but a scheduling conflict prevented him from
involvement in The Wrestler, the
director’s 2008 film. Seeing that as a missed opportunity, Henighan wanted to
take it up a notch when Aronofsky approached him about working together again.

Black Swan offered
a lot of opportunities for imaginative sound design,” notes Henighan, who
created the sound effects in tandem with Emrich. “In that movie, Darren wanted
sound to fill the gaps. Things needed to appear a little left of center, a bit
off initially and eventually spinning right out of control. For example, when
you’re watching Natalie Portman get ready for her workout and she’s putting on
her ballet shoes or when she’s scratching at her shoulder.  He wanted the sound heightened so you could
connect on a visceral level with her character. 
It was our job to help those ideas along. “
Henighan points to a nightclub scene where Portman and other
dancers high on Ecstasy move under pulsating lights to the electronic beat of
The Chemical Brothers’ Don’t Think.
“The music is slamming, really loud and powerful, and the visuals are really
trippy,” he says. “I took all these sounds, distorted sounds, screams and
yells, and manipulated them to work in rhythm with the music.”
Aronofsky expects his collaborators to seize such opportunities
for creative embellishment. “After we mixed it, Darren got up and high fived
everybody,” Henighan says. “It was a great moment.”
Noah, Aronofsky’s
first studio film, is an imaginative retelling of the biblical story of the
Flood. The film is, in every sense, an epic and features an epic soundtrack.
Henighan worked on the project for more than 16 months. “We had to come up with
the ark, the rain, the animals, the battles,” he says. “In addition, there were
all the fantastical sounds—the Zohar, the Watchers, the time lapse sequences—as
well as exploring sounds for the metaphysical elements that Darren comes up
with for his films.”
Aronofsky monitored the progress of the sound closely. “He
was with me from the editorial process, all the way through,” Henighan recalls.
“I would send him MP3 versions of ideas I was working on. He listened to
individual sounds, he listened to scenes cut together, to temp mixes, pre-mixes
and he was with us every day during our final mix. He encouraged the
exploration of sound all the way through the process. It was a massive
undertaking, and creatively very satisfying. It was fantastic to see what
Darren could do with a big budget studio movie.”
Henighan says that what he enjoys most about working with
Aronofsky is that he inspires everyone around him to rise to his level. “I want
to be challenged by the directors I work with,” “There is an intensity about
Darren but he isn’t outwardly an intense guy. He’s someone you’d enjoy having a
beer with and talking football. The intensity comes out in his films. He puts
his heart and soul into his movies and he inspires you to put your heart and
soul into it and to do whatever you can to make it better.”

About MPSE
Founded in 1953,
the Motion Picture Sound Editors is a
non-profit organization of professional sound and music editors who work in the
motion pictures and television industry. The organization’s mission is to
provide a wealth of knowledge from award winning professionals to a diverse
group of individuals, youth and career professionals alike; mentoring and
educating the community about the artistic merit and technical advancements in
sound and music editing; providing scholarships for the continuing advancement
of motion picture sound in education; and helping to enhance the personal and
professional lives of the men and women who practice this unique craft.

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