It’s a struggle to make a clean, pristine audio recording of anything, especially outdoors, most especially on a movie set outdoors. The grand goal in recording sounds for movies has always been to make a perfect recording of the actors’ voices … with just enough “air,” movement, and natural reverb to make it feel authentic … and to make separate perfect recordings of birds, lawn mowers, machine guns, wind, etc… so that those perfect recordings can be mixed together in order to create the desired effect.
The crucial thing that we sound professionals often forget is that non sound professionals tend to be very forgiving of less than perfect recordings as long as the emotional message of the material is intact. It’s apparent at this point that the vast majority of people are perfectly happy listening to MP3 quality recordings, and unwilling to pay a premium for better quality. That’s because most people are not sound nerds. When you listen to a technically crude, distortion and noise filled recording of a Delta blues musician made in the 1940’s the emotion is still very much there. In fact, one might argue that the distortion and noise contribute to the mystique of the performance, like an audio veil that prevents us from hearing every tiny detail, thereby making the experience more intriguing.
The gritty production sound of so many films we admire from the 1970’s is an indispensable tissue in the body of the film. Popeye Doyle doesn’t live in a pristine world. The noise and distortion we hear in the track of The French Connection are part of what makes it feel real.
Inarritu’s sound aesthetic fully embraces the less-than-pristine. In that aesthetic recordings (voice or sound effects) that are too clean are not to be trusted. They’re fake. They sound like they come from a library… meaning they sound too curated, too groomed, too “Hollywood.”
Each project we do has its own aesthetic. Some call for pristine sound, though I would argue that most don’t. Like actors, we try to get at the truth of our characters… our characters being the wind, the cars, the magic spells, the monsters, the space ships, etc. And as George Lucas realized when he was the first to make space ships look dirty, the truth is not always pristine.