CULVER CITY, CALIF.— Baby Driver, the critically-acclaimed new film from TriStar Pictures and Writer/Director Edgar Wright, centers on a young getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) who suffers from tinnitus, a medical condition that causes him to hear a constant ringing in his ears. He copes with the problem by listening to music at high volume through earbuds. For much of the film, the audience experiences the action from Baby’s perspective. So, they hear the music that he hears (including tracks by Beck, Dave Brubeck and the Beach Boys) while the action around him happens in perfect sync.
The task of creating Baby’s aural landscape presented unique challenges and opportunities for the film’s sound team led by Julian Slater, who acted as Sound Designer, Supervising Sound Editor and Re-Recording Mixer. Slater and his crew produced hundreds of customized sound effects and carefully choreographed each one to fit perfectly with the action on screen and the groove flowing into Baby’s ears.
“The whole movie is orchestrated to whatever Baby is listening to at the moment,” Slater explains. “Gunfights are in time with the music. Car chases are cut in sync. Police sirens, barking dogs, speeding trains are at tempo. Much of it is pitched and syncopated so that the music and sound design work as one.”
The novel sound concept is introduced in the film’s opening moments. “The first thing you see is the studio logo,” Slater notes. “The sound from it transforms into a tinnitus ringing, which in turn becomes the braking sound of a car. It is in the same key as the first music cue (Bellbottoms by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion), so it all flows.”
Soon after comes a tracking shot covering more than 3 minutes. Baby is gamboling along a downtown street listening to Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle. “Edgar shot the scene in time to the music,” recalls Slater. “We added car alarms, jack hammers, traffic.” The audio effect is mirrored by the visuals as song lyrics, written into posters and graffiti, appear on cue.
Slater did the sound work at Goldcrest Films in London and was assisted by, among others , FX Editors Jeremy Price and Martin Cantwell and Dialogue/ADR Supervisor Dan Morgan. They spent months finessing and fine-tuning the sound effects and the mix. The biggest challenge, he says, was to keep it feeling light and fresh. “The tinnitus Baby suffers from increases in volume the more stressed he gets through the movie,” Slater observes. “The tinnitus, itself, changes depending on the environment and the incoming piece of music he is listening to.”
The result is a film soundtrack unlike any other. “The credit goes to Edgar Wright,” Slater says. “He had been developing this idea for years and he constructed the template that we followed. I’m extremely lucky to work with a filmmaker like Edgar who is committed to projects that are both bold and original!”
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