Bringing Sound to Life on Ted Lasso Featuring Emmy-nominated Supervising Sound Editing Team
PH: Can you give the readers a bit of insight into your journey in the production industry? What is your background?
Sanaa Kelley: I was born and raised in Morocco, a long-time resident of California. My journey in the Foley industry started over 27 years ago.
Brent Findley: Dabbling in audio is a thing I’ve been doing since I was very young, but for a long time it was just a hobby – something that I found very interesting, but had no idea a living could be made at it. A couple different careers later (construction and IT,) my wife, Kelly, challenged me to either get out of my amateur basement studio and do something for real with my love for sound, or quit saying, ‘Someday… ‘ Soon after, we sold our house in Michigan, spent a year in Florida so I could get legitimate audio training in school, and then moved to LA to start a new life from scratch, but in a purposeful direction this time. That was almost twenty years ago, now. Time flies when you’re having fun!
Bernard Weiser: I like to say that what got me into this industry was a bad childhood. Implying that one has to be crazy to want to be doing what we do. Of course, I’m joking, since what I really mean is that you must be passionate and in love with what you do in entertainment. My journey started after earning a degree in Chemistry with the realization that this was not ideal for me and why not try to do what I love for a career, even if it does seem crazy. Having a diverse background in photography, film, chemistry, athletics, and having lived in France for some time, I was accepted into the USC Cinema School which led to a job making films for the US military for a few years, and then into our industry. Initially working as a picture editor, my path eventually led into sound.
PH: When it comes to choosing new projects, is there a criteria you follow? How do you determine what projects you select?
Sanaa Kelley: Honestly, I choose projects based on clients’ personality and passion for sound. I feel like life is too short, so I surround myself with positive, happy and driven people
Brent Findley: The criteria change based on the choices before me when any particular project comes along. If I’m blessed to have multiple options, I am much more discerning. If my calendar is open, there is very little I won’t say yes to. Will work for money. My preferred projects are ones that uplift the human spirit, bring a smile to the viewers’ faces. Also, complex storytelling, even if the subject matter isn’t the most positive, is a challenge that I like. I try to stay away from violent stories ripped from the crime blotter.
Bernard Weiser: Most important is the people I am going to work with… is the chemistry of personalities a good fit. When about to work with new people, this can be hard to figure out and it doesn’t always work. Of course, sometimes it does in wonderfully satisfying ways… like here on Ted Lasso, where we have a wonderfully collaborative team. We respect each other’s work, and truly like each other. It couldn’t be a better fit. Additionally, I look at the relevance of the project and do I want to be a part of this? Is there a role for me as a storyteller, to help add to the project. And then there are situations where we have to balance out our financial needs, since we do have to make a living, especially if we have a family.
PH: How did you get involved with Ted Lasso?
Sanaa Kelley: I was introduced to Brent Findley through Warner Bros. They highly recommended him. After speaking with Brent, I knew we were going to have a great working relationship and create some amazing sounds.
Brent Findley: Post Producer Kip Kroeger and I have done many projects over the years… as much as I would like to work on everything he does, he also has to find the right fit of personnel to a production. He didn’t have to work very hard at talking me into accepting Ted Lasso. I figured he offered it to me knowing more about it than he could disclose at the time, and I trusted him that it would be a good fit. I’d like to think he’s able to sleep with that decision. I know I’m grateful to be along for this ride.
Bernard Weiser: Quite serendipitously, I was coming off of a feature project at Warner Bros. who have a great post-production staff, and they connected me with Brent Findley who needed a dialogue editor who could run with this project, of which we had no idea at the time what the series would become. For me, we hit it off well from the first conversation, having a similar approach to storytelling through sound.
PH: From a sound perspective, what was your vision for the season—and what was your approach to seeing it come to life?
Brent Findley: Season 2 is our introspective journey for all of the characters. It’s the Empire Strikes Back arc of the greater story. It has a deeper feel emotionally than the first season. The soundtrack needed to be imbued with the weight the new stories bring to this comedy. We did more with crafting the ambiances to participate in the story telling, beyond just setting the scene. There are moments where you could hear a pin drop (No Weddings and a Funeral,) and moments of a wall of sound (Rainbow.) The goal is for the sonic journey to ride shotgun with the story.
Bernard Weiser: Season 2 was a deep dive into the characters and the relationships that had been built in season 1. This meant keeping a continuity with each character’s flow within the dialogue, giving FX, BGs, and Music the opportunity to expand. It was important to be respectful and do justice to the quality of these characters. Also, there was Jason’s ability to tie small bits of situations to things that happened earlier, even sometimes referring to something in the previous season. For example, there was a joke that Ted was telling Coach Beard in season 1 that never was finished. In season 2, there was a moment where Coach Beard reminded Ted of the joke and was able to finish it.
PH: How is episode 9 of season two unique compared to the other episodes in the season? Was this an intentional choice?
Brent Findley: The fact of the matter is we had a 10- episode story arc for the season, but we needed to deliver 12 episodes. That’s how we got the Christmas episode and Coach Beard’s episode. What I love about this is the fact that Jason didn’t just stretch out the original 10 to meet the obligation for 12. He and the writers took this as an opportunity to have fun without the constraints of needing to stay within the lines of the season’s arc. The rest of the season’s story moves along independent of these two episodes. Beard After Hours is a sonic playground. We’re never sure if he’s dreaming or really experiencing what he’s going through. We follow him on a journey through the night that evolves into something new every five minutes. In fact, the number of times we use a certain subtle reverse whoosh mechanism to signify going into a surreal sequence adds up to an odd number by the end of the show… so, did we start in a dream and end up in reality, or vice versa? I’ll leave the viewer to decide if Beard really ended up wearing those Magic Trousers.
Bernard Weiser: I’ll leave this for Brent, but just say that an episode going into the character & mind of Coach Beard; you know you’re in for a different kind of ride. And this episode delivers just that.
PH: Can you talk about some of the scenes that feature practical sound recording tricks vs. virtually altering sound through computer modifications. When should you use which technique?
Brent Findley: A practical technique would be the ‘worldization’ of Loop Group. By that I mean using mic techniques to capture the group’s voices in a way that produces an effect that would really be happening in the environment in a scene. For example, in Bones and Honey after the billiards game, Beard follows Red down a fantastically trippy hallway leading away from the crowd in the bar. To achieve the sense of Beard getting farther away from the crowd, the ADR mixer, Jamison Rabbe, and I had the group start the scene with the door to the live recording room open, but standing close to the mic. Then as Beard took his walk, the actors slowly walked out of the live room, down the hall, and into the kitchen of the studio. This natural near- to- far progression and the sense of space that develops can be done with post processing, but it takes a lot of time and the right plugins and expertise… but by doing it in real time, naturally, the goal is achieved immediately and convincingly. Quite often, a solution exists between the microphone and the sound source. Simpler is often better.
Altering a sound beyond its original existence is what Sound Design is all about; Getting a sound to do more work than it could do untouched. A perfect example of this is Coach Beard’s apartment key as it flies out of his pocket during the fight with the hooligans. The mournful rendition of Blue Moon by Marcus Mumford is very powerful in selling Beard’s belief that he deserved the beating. When that key flies out, we purposefully changed its pitch to be sympathetic with the musical key of the song, elongated it, and doused it in reverb. The song and the key are part of the same emotion at that point, working together. Had we not altered it, the objective fact of a dull key at a random pitch would have been counter to what we wanted the soundtrack to do.
Bernard Weiser: For dialogue, getting good quality sound from the production set is almost always your best track. This is no easy task on a TV series. They’re under a great deal of pressure to get through their day of production, so the production sound team needs to be on top of everything. They can make our lives in post-sound much easier or make it very difficult. Next is as you say, finding practical recording techniques to fix these tracks or enhance them. Don’t get me wrong, it is amazing what we can do through computer manipulation of the dialogue, but nothing beats natural recorded sound.
PH: Sanaa, can you share the plethora of tools in your studio that you use to achieve the perfect Foley?
Sanaa Kelley: To start off all great Foley is a team effort. We had two Foley Mixers and two Foley artists. Jordan McClain, Arno Stephanian, Matt Salib and myself. Foley for the entire series was recorded at Reel Foley Sound. We use Neumann microphones, Protools, many props and surfaces.
PH: What’s the key to a perfect Foley?
Sanaa Kelley: I don’t think there is just one key to a perfect Foley. As you know Foley is a performance aspect of the sound. Our job as Foley artists is to service the story. We capture the characters’ emotion and convey it in their footsteps, the movements they make and everything they touch. We are never complaisant, we always think outside the box and strive to improve our craft
PH: How has social media (like Tik Tok) enhanced your reach and allowed you to connect with others?
Sanaa Kelley: Tik Tok has been a wonderful tool to introduce millions of people to the world of Foley. Many people had no idea that Foley was an actual job. I had the opportunity to do a couple television appearances to share and demonstrate some Foley.
PH: The sound industry is a male-dominated field. How is the industry changing? What has your experience as a woman been like and how are you encouraging other women to break into the field?
Sanaa Kelley: The sound industry is a male-dominated field. From my personal experience I never let it affect me. If I was told I am not strong enough, big enough to handle a certain project. I simply politely disagreed and asked them for a blind test. I was and am very confident in my work. I always said if it’s a beauty pageant I will not win but if it’s about work, I will definitely stand a chance. My boldness, positivity, drive, integrity, and honesty seem to always impress my clients/future clients. I don’t have an ego and will work hard to get the clients the sounds they want. For all the women that are trying to break into the industry just be confident, work hard and love what you do. People will eventually pick up on that and will want to work with you.
PH: Can you share some other upcoming projects you have in the works?
Sanaa Kelley: There are some absolutely amazing projects I am working on now; however, I am not able to share any of them at the moment due to NDAs but stay tuned on my social media for some exciting announcements @reelfoleysound on IG and Tik Tok.
Brent Findley: Currently working on Season 2 of Apple TV+s “Little America,” and recently wrapped Apple TV+s “WeCrashed.”
Bernard Weiser: Just finished working on a season of Law & Order SVU for Wolf Entertainment and NBC/Universal, and am currently finishing work on a horror pic for Screen Gems called, The Bride, all before we all start up on Season 3.
PH: In a few words, how does sound transform a film or TV series?
Brent Findley: Sound is a creative tool. It can be used much like set design, wardrobe, and lighting to describe a scene without words. For example, the qualities of the sound of a car door closing can tell you a lot about the character closing it. Are they having bad luck? (heavy hinge wronk, flappy sheet metal) Is everything going right for them? (solid latch and tight close.) That same car door can sound different throughout the arc of a show as our hero’s luck changes. Just like her wrinkled, untucked shirt and dimly lit apartment can become neat, wrinkle- free and brighter as she wins in the story. Same shirt, same apartment, same car. But psychologically, the viewer senses her gaining favor with the universe, beyond the words being said. This is my fascination with sound design. The perfect balance is being able to take the audience on a psychological journey without them even noticing my work. If they are sucked in, I’ve done my part.
Bernard Weiser: Because TV and Films are shot in bits and pieces, never in the order of the script. All of these scenes are pieced together by the picture editor, to deliver the story and the performances. The sound suffers, if you were to listen only to the originally recorded production sound track alone. It is up to the post-production sound team to bust everything apart sonically, and re-build a soundtrack with dialogue, ADR, Group, Backgrounds, FX, Design, Foley, and music to not only tell the story, but communicate the story, with all of its emotions and colors in order for the audience to feel it, be entertained, and take away something meaningful. In the best of cases, give the audience insight into the characters and through them, insight into ourselves. Good sound allows this to happen and is vital to the storytelling process.
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