The Sounds of War, Colonialism, and Slot Machines for Apple TV+’s ‘Pachinko’


In our latest interview, we spoke with the supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Luciano Vignola, and re-recording mixer, Martin Czembor, for Apple TV+’s new series, Pachinko. 

Epic in scope and intimate in tone, the story begins with a forbidden love and crescendos into a sweeping saga that journeys between Korea, Japan and America to tell an unforgettable story of war and peace, love and loss, triumph and reckoning. 

Luciano, who won a Primetime Emmy in 2016, and Martin created an engaging sonic landscape for this story that takes place over four generations in three different countries. Keep reading to hear Luciano and Martin talk about the process of bringing each distinctive world to life.

PH: Hi Luciano, hi Martin! How long have you been in the industry? Did you always know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Martin Czembor: I originally started in music, in recording studios in New York in the early 90s, on all kinds of musical genres. Later I worked for composer Philip Glass, amongst other things on the score for the Scorsese picture Kundun. Through working on a lot of film scores during that time I ended up eventually migrating to working on sound for film as I realized I loved working within all the different elements of sound and with surround so much. I ended up working at the big East Coast sound house Sound One for several years before I started freelancing as a re-recording mixer. 

Luciano Vignola: I studied technology in sound, and photography. Film had not been on my radar until I interned one summer at a music studio in Manhattan where I was exposed to a group of really talented composers who were not only into music, but scoring for film. That was my first experience in the industry, and then the following summer I wanted to intern at a post-sound facility and was very fortunate to have a close family friend who also happens to be one of the foremost ADR editors in the industry, her name is Deborah Wallach. She brought me to C5 and introduced me to Paul Hsu who’s an incredible supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer. He took me on as an assistant editor and I was hooked ever since…

PH: Can you share some of the lessons you’ve learned from past projects? 

Martin Czembor: A show like Pachinko, with so much depth and broadness, details and layers of sound and music, emotion and story to evolve throughout a long form can be so hard to judge upfront about how it will all come to play together. You want to find a way to create passes and layers to look at for yourselves in the process of creating it. For instance, in sound design, it means having many conversations about different aspects or some of the music conversations, and even at the “end”, in the mixing studio, it takes a process of trying things and experimentation of how things work and come together when everything is so complex. You have to figure out which is the element that would give most strongly to a certain moment or step aside and be the background one, so with time you learn that it is so important to allow this creative process to stay very vulnerable and open to trying again in yet another way, until you get a strong sense that things are just right. Though it can be a very challenging and at times exhausting process, it is very satisfying in the end. It’s good to keep this kind of “payoff” in mind and the creativity that’s involved to keep your mental perspective curious. It’s a very important tool for getting storytelling right, especially on something of this epic scale, and it is not something you can easily rush through. It’s the best when you have a showrunner like Soo Hugh who is so tuned into this kind of searching until you’ve found “it”. 

Luciano Vignola: I’m echoing what Martin talked about, because it’s an aspect of this profession that frequently gets drowned out by the reality of deadlines and schedules and just the general logistical challenges of “finishing” a project on a scale such as Pachinko. Experimentation is important, trying and failing is important, getting perspective and distance from your own work is hugely important, and none of these things can be rushed. Effective storytelling takes time and when you rid yourself of that time, you limit your chances of creating something special. Working on Pachinko reminded me of this fact because of what we were all able to accomplish together. So I guess the lesson for me is to slow down. That, and candles on the mix stage are always good.  

PH: How did you get involved/hear about the project? 

Martin Czembor: It started through Jordan Murcia who was a producer on another Apple show we’d been working on, and she put me in touch with Soo Hugh who called me one day to talk about the project, sort of like an interview for it. I had read the script for several of the episodes which was such a wonderfully engaging script that inspired our fascination with the way it describes these epic scenes in expansive detail, and it had so much humanity speak through the way it was written and how gently it let all the characters speak. It was unusually touching to read even as a shooting script.

We ended up having a very interesting, long conversation, talking about things like how we thought we’d approach mixing all the foreign languages that we don’t understand. Soo is always very interested in figuring out how to get us to feel something in a scene or in the bigger story, so we talked about how that relates to pacing of things, and taking the time with storytelling, and how sound can help build that. For the music elements she told me that she was going to have Nico Muhly as a composer, who I’d known from the Philip Glass years, and who is so extremely gifted. We had a lot of conversations about things and really hit it off and Soo decided we’d work together on Pachinko.

Luciano Vignola: We worked together with Jordan Murcia on Apple TV’s Dickinson, and it was around the end of season 3 when she called me up and without giving away too many secrets, told me about this beautiful, epic, amazing project that she was gearing up for. Neither of us really needed any more explanation before we were both excited to be a part of it. After watching a rough cut of episode 1, we were so incredibly moved, I got such joy in getting our sound team together to watch these cuts and see how moved everyone was after the episodes would end.

PH: For this project, you had to create the tone for four different generations in three different countries. What was that like? Did you face any challenges?  

Luciano Vignola: This was one of the first conversations we had with Soo. The challenge was to create different identities, but also about creating continuity between all these storylines. A lot of the inspiration was thankfully given to us from the sets and the locations and production design. The time period in South Korea had its own world of tranquility and a rural atmosphere whereas the later time periods in Osaka were bustling city environments. Conceptually we started there. Filipe Messeder, who is our incredible sound designer, and I started early on collecting libraries and recordings of these environments, researching historical facts about local wildlife, and making sure our foley textures were going to be historically accurate to reflect the construction of buildings back then, and the shoes and things like that. 

Because these episodes are cross-cut between time periods, we had to take care to not overdo these shifts in environments to the point of distracting from the storyline. There was not one specific formula for this, it was a delicate balance that required deliberation each time. 

Martin Czembor:  Soo was always a great resource of curiosity and pointers about all kinds of details she thought would be important for the telling the bigger story and historical accuracy was also very important to her to be reflected in all parts of the show. 

Luciano Vignola: The interesting challenge here was being able to cut back and forth between these time periods in a way that felt seamless and narrative and poetic. A lot of that fell to the mixing process itself.

PH: There must be an extreme amount of detail involved. How do you make sure sound is consistent throughout the series? 

Martin Czembor: All the work that sound editorial had done up to the point until we started mixing, which involves dialogue ADR and sound effects editing were already filled with so much detail and layers everyone had painstakingly been tracking so that our job of mixing was a lot easier because everything came to us in such a conceptually organized fashion. The ADR process and the different local accents of Korean or Japanese language and their historical uses led us to a fascinating array of details to keep track of.

Luciano Vignola: It was a challenging process of recording all the actors on this project because it involved three different languages with multiple dialects within them and three different time zones throughout the teams we were working with. For a process that can normally be relatively streamlined and straightforward, we had to come up with an entirely novel way of communicating with the actors and with the translators, dialect coaches and historians, and the process of doing all this became one of the more impressive accomplishments on Pachinko. It’s entirely thanks to our ADR editor Deborah Wallach.

Martin Czembor: Our sound designer Filipe Messeder was amazing about developing all these varied soundscapes for the different locations and periods and keeping track of how they applied and changed with specifics of the scenes and how they evolved over the different time periods throughout the series. Filipe and Soo elaborated for many weeks of sound editorial on countless details of how what should entail and play and feel and why in any given scene, it was just a joy to be able to work with all that preparation already channeled into everything. 

PH: Do you have a favorite sequence you can share, and why is it your favorite?

Martin Czembor: For me the first one that always comes to mind is when Sunja and Isak go on the big ship to emigrate to Japan. When they are on the lower decks where the poor migrants and workers were kept, whereas the top deck had fancy shows for the rich people, that whole scene is intercut with Solomon and the landowner’s contract negotiations at the firm’s office. All the tension is built in such a fascinating way as these parallel stories develop. On a ship, everything is moving and changing, and you hear the sounds of the big ship and the music upstairs and the uproar that results, cutting back to the very serious conversation at the firm going back and forth over the final step of the deal, which is obtaining the landowner’s signature. The work that had already gone into preparing the sound design as well as the layers of music intertwining in that whole sequence made it fascinating to work on such a beautifully challenging part of the show in the mix.

Luciano Vignola: Episode 1 I remember fondly because a lot of it was setting the tone for these atmospheres and for the series. Because we were mixing this in dolby atmos, we had amazing opportunities to walk the viewer through these worlds. For instance, we have the first fish market scene with Sunja, her dad and the fisherman in Busan. To contrast this in the same episode was the Pachinko parlor in Tokyo where we introduce this modern world and some of the characters in it.

PH: How do you evoke emotion through sound? For this story, how did you switch between love, loss, triumph, etc.? 

Martin Czembor: There are a lot of things that feed into emotion and how you emotionally relate to a moment in the show. Obviously a lot of it can be done through music, and Nico’s music for Pachinko has so many thoughts and elements in it to work with, but also all the other parts and layers of sound play a big part when they all come together. For instance, in some of the scenes we just discussed, it’s about how you give or withhold some of the richness of the details of the sound design. With dialogue, it can be about how intense or distant it becomes or soft or present. We humans can perceptively relate to that in emotionally relating ways and in filmmaking we can use that to help evoke those parts of the story. It also happens to be one of Soo’s favorite things to test how we end up feeling a scene or a moment in the show once we remove ourselves for a minute from the work and become the audience.

Luciano Vignola: One of my favorite things that Soo would challenge everyone in the mix room touched on this very subject. We would watch a sequence together and she would then ask us, at what point did you feel remorse or sorrow or fear for this character? Once we knew where these moments or beats were, we could then play with the depth of field of sound; by pulling sounds into the foreground you are able to draw attention to certain ideas or emotions. 

PH: What types of sound equipment / editing equipment do you mostly work with and why?

Martin Czembor & Luciano Vignola: Our main companions for equipment are Pro Tools and Avid s6 consoles and a good attitude.

PH: What is one of your favorite things about coming to work? 

Martin Czembor: You, Luci! Working with an incredibly talented and dedicated team all around, from the assistant to the show runner, and of course all of us in the middle, sharing our most fragile and beautiful and toughest moments of search and discovery and hard work in ways that in the end feel inspiring for going forward to work together on more things in the future.  

Luciano Vignola: You, Martin! And the incredible and meaningful projects we have the privilege of working on together. It is really about the people you surround yourself with. This is such a collaborative and intimate craft, it really requires that you place yourself in an environment of trust and openness. I am very proud of our team on Pachinko and these are people with whom we work on many projects, and we all genuinely enjoy working together, so that’s a huge benefit. 

PH: Lastly, (if you can discuss) what exciting things are you looking forward to in 2022? 

Martin Czembor & Luciano Vignola: The Staircase, which is a limited series based on a true crime story coming to HBO Max! It has Antonio Campos as the showrunner, and the incredible cast of Toni Collette, Colin Firth, Juliette Binoche, Parker Posey, and Michael Stuhlbarg.


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