Greyhound is an exciting WWII actioner picking up months after the Americans joined World War II. It follows Captain Krause (Tom Hanks), a U.S. Navy Commander who is on his first commanding mission as he leads a convoy of ships through the Black Pit during the Battle of the Atlantic, trying to get troops safely to Liverpool. As they’re crossing the Black Pit – a stretch without air cover – they are stalked by a German submarine wolf pack.
The film stars Tom Hanks and he also penned the script. As well as having memorable performances, strong writing and speedy pacing, it’s a film with immersive soundscapes and editing. Greyhound is the first Apple TV+ film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound (Wolfwalkers, nominated for Best Animated Feature, is the other Apple film nominated at the Oscars this year).
Three-fourths of the nominated sound team for Greyhound participated in a presentation and conversation about their work on the film. Participants of the conversation were the film’s lead sound mixer David Wyman, as well as two responsible for post-production, including supervising sound editor Warren Shaw, as well as re-recording mixer Beau Borders. (The one nominated member of the team that was not present was re-recording mixer and supervising sound editor Michael Minkler.)
Warren Shaw told us a little bit what it’s like for them to be included in the same category, as for the first time this year, the Academy Awards have separated the Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Editing categories to make one category in Best Sound.
“Even though David and I interacted via e-mail and phone calls when he was on set and when I was just getting ready to start the job, I loved that we’re being recognized together as one team,” said Shaw. “We all did it together. From Tom Hanks down, this movie had a wonderful team sense. This is Best Sound. It’s not editing, this, that, it’s us.”
Separating sounds – “a wall of noise”
Beau Borders also talked about all their different roles, where David Wyman was responsible for recording the actors on set and then Warren Shaw being responsible for creating sounds for the water, ships themselves and especially the torpedoes. He also talked about the third category of sound being music, saying that people can easily differentiate the sound between a guitarist and vocalist, for example.
“The sound effects are the same way,” said Borders. “Every single element is all created separately and that way we have ultimate control over it. We can decide what to hear and when, just like David’s production dialogue. Every actor would be on a different microphone and we can decide when we want them to overlap, who do we want to be clear, who do we want to focus on, who do we want to bury under sound effects and that’s the fun part of what we get to do.”
Shaw continued about how they separated these tracks and how they started going through the sound editing, and also the challenge of making every sound feel distinct from each other, where, when they first started, they brought their sounds to Bridges.
“We bring it to the stage and Beau starts going through it and it’s about making sure it isn’t a wall of noise,” said Shaw. “That was key to us in this movie because it could have become a wall of noise and so what Beau did, expertly, is go through and figure out what you don’t need and you can focus sound like you can focus picture.”
Borders expanded, miming focusing on an iPhone by bringing his finger closer to his webcam on the Zoom call, choosing what to focus on. “We do that with sound. Right here, a ship groan is the tension moment. On the very next shot, we need to hear torpedoes, so you don’t want to hear the groaning anymore.
“It really ends up being a moment-by-moment decision,” said Borders.
David Wyman’s production process and recording the dialogue
David Wyman also described some of his process on set and how, as they filmed on the U.S.S. Kidd in Louisiana – a Fletcher class destroyer that has been turned into a museum which sits on the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge – that getting some of the sound was challenging because of the tight quarters and the unpredictability of the set, so they put microphones all over, putting them on their actors and in environment, explaining that some of the set was on a gimbled rig.
“When you see Tom [Hanks] struggling to get from one side of the ship to the other, he was actually walking at 30 degrees, our set moved to that angle,” Wyman said. “We didn’t really know where the actors were going to land.”
Due to these tight quarters, they couldn’t exactly get the traditional boom operator in there, so they put microphones all over the ship and in plain sight of the camera, because the director of the film, Aaron Schneider, wanted authenticity.
“The director wanted real-time communications between the actors between sets, on-screen, off-screen,” said Wyman. “When you see in the movie when Tom Hanks picks up a phone, it is connected to another phone on set. The real-time conversations that you hear look like they’re part of the edit but are actually taking place in real time.”
Wyman says that the hidden microphones were more of a necessity than an Easter Egg, as they had to paint cables and mics to blend in with the ship, as he had to ensure he’d get the sound because he only had one shot at it, unlike the post-production team.
“My art is to get a mix instantaneously as the scene is being created,” said Wyman. “Hopefully I got it right more than I got it wrong because the editors did an amazing job so they must have had a decent mix track from the day’s work to work with, but I’m not looking for those mics, I know where they are. But you’ll never find them.”
“The talkers, the guy with the big Darth Vader helmets”
Greyhound has an emphasis of authenticity, so Wyman explained all the equipment was “sourced from a 1940’s ship” and an old WWII surplus, and he had to make these functioning. He chose to describe the helmets seen in the film.
“The talkers, the guys with the big Darth Vader helmets on and the mouthpiece, they’re essential personnel on the ship because their job is to receive and communicate orders to the various branches of the ship,” said Wyman.
He explains they needed to be able to hear what was happening on set but the headphones hadn’t functioned for years. They also needed to speak into a functioning mouthpiece for others to hear immediately, and of course that wasn’t functioning before Wyman got his hands on it, either.
“I had to modify all this equipment,” said Wyman. “I had to put new headphone drivers into the headphones but I couldn’t alter the look because it had to be period. I had to put microphones in the talker mouthpiece so that I could record the dialogue and also we can transmit that dialogue.”
Wyman says he’d be the last step on set each day because he had to make sure everything was in order to record the dialogue for the day, putting their headphones on and their receiver so they could hear the production dialogue.
“They’d wear a transmitter for the microphone that was in their mouthpiece and then we’d stick their helmet on, slap ‘em on the back and say, ‘Go to it.’”
The U.S.S. Kidd
During the presentation, David Wyman talked about some of his research for the film, namely visiting the U.S.S. Kidd and filming there.
“It’s a floating museum,” said Wyman. “The veterans that work on that ship are a superb group of people. Some even worked on that ship during war time. They were instrumental in allowing us to understand the inner workings of the vessel which was critically important for the authenticity.”
Shaw added that, while he wasn’t actually on the ship during filming, he was able to visit it for a day after filming and echoed Wyman’s sentiments that they’re “wonderful guys.”
“I took umpteen pictures,” said Shaw. “The guns of the ship aren’t active, but I took all kinds of pictures and basically created what would be the beginning of a research project for myself for what I had to learn all the inner workings of.”
The joy of research
Wyman also spoke about not realizing how much he’d learn from the project as he wasn’t privy to all the information and how everything worked once he first read the script.
“I think to admit you know nothing and that you have to do research is a lot more freeing than assuming you know something and then pursuing a path which invariably doesn’t lead you anywhere that you want to go,” said Wyman.
He says he learned a lot of that on his days on the U.S.S. Kidd, understanding how it all works. “That was a fantastic journey and it was eye-opening and very difficult. I didn’t know what I was getting into but once I was knee-deep in it, it was really, really rewarding.”
Shaw added on: “We finished work on this movie about a year ago and there was a period right then that I could have taught a class on WWII naval history. A year later? Not so much. There where was a period then when I had retained it and I knew a heck of a lot… That’s the very cool thing about this job.”
Creating the torpedoes and the collaboration with the VFX team
Through all the research that Shaw did, especially watching old WWII clips, he says the most challenging aspect of sound was recreating the torpedoes and how specific that sound needed to be. “There aren’t really good recordings of what those torpedoes sounded like – obviously that were recorded in the ‘40s – so that was a big collaboration with the VFX department,” said Shaw.
“As the VFX department was creating the look of the torpedo, they would send us drafts and we would work on the sound. We all knew what the torpedo was based on – the motor, et cetera – but finding the sound of it took a lot of playing around, a lot of back and forth.
“The movie is all about authenticity and that was paramount to all of us, we also needed the torpedo to sound badass. It was kind-of finding that line between what was really jamming and what is authentic to the look.”
Greyhound is available to watch now on Apple TV+ and the Oscars ceremony is on Sunday, April 25.