New York— Writer-Director
Kenneth Lonergan’s new drama Manchester by
the Sea
has been winning glowing reviews and multiple awards, including
five Golden Globe nominations, for its emotionally riveting story of Lee
Chandler (Casey Affleck), a Massachusetts man who takes guardianship of his
adolescent nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after the boy’s father dies.
Recently named Best Film of 2016 by the National Board of Review, the movie is
a deeply poignant, unexpectedly funny exploration of the power of familial
love, community, sacrifice and hope.
For the film’s sound team, led by Supervising Sound
Editor/Re-Recording Mixer Jacob Ribicoff and including Foley specialist Alchemy Post
Sound, the emotional weight of the story and Lonergan’s restrained direction
posed unique creative challenges. Ribicoff, who served in the same role for Lonergan’s
previous film Margaret, calls Manchester by the Sea a “quiet film”
driven by character and dialogue and with sound cast in a delicate, but
essential, supporting role.

“Making a quiet movie is hard, because, as a sound designer,
you want to infuse every scene with something more than dialogue,” he explains.
“But you have to resist that temptation and keep it quiet and let the
performances speak for themselves.”
Ribicoff points to a scene near the end of the film where Lee
is engaged in a tense conversation with his wife Randi (Michelle Williams).
“They’re standing on a side street with cars going by in the background, so I
came to the mix with traffic and wind,” he recalls. “But when we started to mix
it, Kenny said, ‘No, let’s pare it down. I want to be with the characters and
what they’re saying.’ There were some traffic sounds in the production track so
I was able to focus on that and add just a tiny bit of air to the surround to
give you that feeling of being outside.”
The Foley team, made up of Alchemy Post Sound Foley artists
Leslie Bloome and Joanna Fang, and Foley Mixers Ryan Collison and  Nicholas Seaman, worked with similar
restraint. Although they produced Foley effects used throughout the film, for
the most part they were applied subtly and with care.
Sound made a crucial contribution to the story. “Foley is
important because its keeps the audience viscerally connected to the
characters,” explains Ribicoff. “Even the subtlest Foley sounds—a rustle or a
footstep—played a big role in Manchester.
If you hear a character’s movement, you feel his movement, if you feel his
movement, you feel his emotional presence.”
One scene where sound moves closer to the forefront involves
a hockey practice. Lucas is engaged in a rough and tumble workout with his high
school team when Lee arrives to tell him that his father has died. The
cacophony that opens the scene, with skates skittering on ice, sticks
clattering and bodies banging, suddenly dissolves into near silence. Lee and
Patrick are seen from a distance; only their voices and not their actual words,
can be heard.
To create the hockey sounds, Bloome and his crew dropped a 300-pound
block of ice into a Foley pit. “Ice skating on a Foley stage is very difficult
because the weight is very hard to cheat,” Bloome says. “People have tried
knives on concrete but it doesn’t sell. Using skates on real ice makes the
sounds we are trying to achieve more authentic. It’s one of the most intense
scenes of the film.”
Working with real ice also allowed the Foley team to better
match the emotional tenor of the scene, both the frenzied aggression of the
opening segment and the more subdued tone of the later section when practice
comes to a halt. “It’s important for the Foley to be performed with the right
intention,” notes Fang. “You have to understand what the characters are
thinking and going through so that you can produce sound that matches their
At certain points sound effects are used as a counterpoint
to the heaviness of the narrative. They provide comic relief. In an early
scene, Lee visits a funeral home and talks with the director while Patrick
waits in the background playing with a coffin display case. “We needed to
create a sound for the display that would be distracting and annoying ,”
recalls Collison. “Patrick is a kid who is going to do things like that.”
“Although the movie’s
characters deal with some tragic, real-life situations, there are moments like
that that bring out the absurdity of the sadness. They open things up and
provide the audience with a little relief.”
Building a soundtrack for a movie that uses sound so
deliberately can be more challenging than an action film with effects wall to
wall, says Ribicoff. The sound artists have to be on top of their game and make
every sound count.
In the case of Manchester
by the Sea
a little less sound made for a more eloquent film. “Silence is
really important in this film and credit for that goes to Kenny and Jennifer
Lame, the picture editor,” Ribicoff says. “When there aren’t a lot of sound
effects and music, then the audience is thrown in there with the characters and
they have to fill in the empty space with their own sounds, thoughts, and
emotions. It forces them to connect with the story on a very personal level.”
About Alchemy Post
Alchemy Post Sound is a 3,500 square foot, dedicated Foley
studio designed specifically for Foley by resident Foley Artist Leslie Bloome.
The company’s Emmy Award-winning staff has created sound for numerous major feature
films, long-running television series, independent films and popular games.
Alchemy’s services also include music recording, live performance, video
production, ADR, and sound design.
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