Guillermo del Toro is a legendary director and visual artist whose latest film THE SHAPE OF WATER is dominating this year’s Academy Awards with a category-spanning 13 nominations. By the grace of the Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE), I recently had a chance to speak with Guillermo to discuss monsters, robots and the sound of silence.
Q: What is your process like working with a sound editor during pre-production, production and then post?
A: When I work with a sound designer you communicate the way you would communicate with a cinematographer or a wardrobe designer or a production designer. You are as specific as you can be, you say “this is what I want” and then if you’re lucky enough to have a good partner like Scott (Gershin) he comes back with an invention. Scott says what he’s going to do and he’s always incredibly experimental, from the first movie we did together to the last movie we did together he is always coming up with solutions that are not library-oriented. He’s not repurposing, he’s creating and that’s very important to me. And then we can discuss it and I can hear it in my head when he describes it and we discuss it back and forth.
(From left to right:) Former MPSE President Frank Morrone, Supervising Sound Editor Scott Gershin, Director Guillermo del Toro, and MPSE President Tom McCarthy.
Q: When creating your film’s soundscape, what do you want the audience to be feeling at certain points?
A: Sound design is not a single ilk since you have percussive sound design, you have melodic sound design, you have symphonic sound design. You can go inside the head of the character, you can go all subjective, you can be subtle by adding a heartbeat on the low end and have the audience feel dread. It’s the same way you would conduct pieces of music, not all cues are the same. If you want to elicit emotion such as in PACIFIC RIM, there’s a little girl crying and there’s an air raid siren around her and so the siren is the city crying and then you have the girl crying. So that is symphonic. If the jaegers are punching each other that’s percussive, and then if you want to elicit another emotion you can go to a silence that is artificial. Silence in sound design is actually 20 tracks, you can only use absolute absence of tracks in very specific places, and so when a scene goes quiet there are 20 tracks running.