Creating Cutting-Edge New Sound Effects — Film by Film

Mark Stoeckinger is a sound effects editor and artist with over 80 motion picture credits and three Oscar nominations. His films include Star Trek (2009), Unstoppable (2010), Gladiator (2000) and Mission Impossible (2000 and 2006). He has supervised sound production of all the John Wick films (2014-2023), including the new John Wick 4 directed by Chad Stahelski and distributed by Lionsgate.

Mark Stoeckinger

Stoeckinger is responsible for creating the immersive soundscapes that bring the intense action sequences to life in the John Wick films. In his role as Supervising Sound Editor, he oversees a team of sound designers and editors who work to craft the intricate sound design for the film.

From the sound of gunshots and explosions to the thumping bass of the music score, Stoeckinger and his team create a sonic world that draws audiences into the story and keeps them on the edge of their seats.

Broadcast Beat’s Frank Beacham talked with Stoeckinger and two of his re-mixers on John Wick 4, Casey Genton and Andy Koyama.

Frank Beacham: The sound design on the John Wick films is intricate and very forceful. How do you map out these complex sound effects?

Mark Stoeckinger: There’s no script for the sound. Basically, it’s an evolutionary process where we join in as the film is being cut. The editors start using lots of sounds as a way to pace their cut to the music, emotion or action beats as they see fit in that cut.

We then take that sound to a new level of auditory storytelling. There is a fair amount of communication back and forth with the picture editor and director all the way through this process.  We were able to supply 95 percent of the sounds used in the John Wick 4 film.

Frank Beacham: One thing I’ve noticed in the John Wick films is the powerful impact of the gunshots. I’ve read that you mix seven or eight sounds together to get a typical gunshot. How does that work?

Mark Stoeckinger: It’s a little bit more sophisticated that just mixing the sounds. We want to manage the difference in the sound of each shot. Otherwise, the gunshots will sound like a loop. One of the beauties of the John Wick movies is everything feels really crafted. I’d say the sound of gunshots are 95 percent replaced in post.

The sound of a gun is not just different frequencies or different spaces. Take the sound of the mechanism, which might not be obvious in the sound of the shot, but it’s obvious if it goes away. So that’s also part of what makes the gunshot effect. You put in like gun clicks or slide sounds, which are integral to the sound.

In recording guns, most of the time real bullets sound the best but sometimes shooting a full power blank sounds more like the sound you want.  Sometimes you mix those two sounds together.

Frank Beacham: Other very prominent sounds in the films are fight scenes and car chases. Do you record those actual sounds on location?

Mark Stoeckinger:  It’s on a case-by-case basis in John Wick 4. Typically, we do not record anything while shooting is going on. We want a more controlled environment and not to contaminate the recording. We typically go out into the desert, rent an airstrip or a racetrack to record the needed sounds.

Frank Beacham: You use a lot of dogs in these films. How do you get the vicious sounds of dogs when they are in a fight with a human?

Mark Stoeckinger: (laughs) Everybody wants to know how we do that! Lots of different sounds of dogs in this movie are based on wolves and Rottweilers. One time we got the wolves on a foley stage and they actually came in chains with handlers. We coned off the area…made sure people couldn’t even go near them. And when we finally got them on the stage with the trainers, they didn’t make a sound. They had stage fright!

They didn’t do at all what we wanted.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick and Donnie Yen as Caine in John Wick 4. Photo Credit: Murray Close

A lot of times, somebody’s got a friend that’s got a dog. Somebody will know a trainer. There are a couple places I like where there are dog handlers. You cast a dog the same way you cast a person. We search for the sound we want. We don’t necessarily go for the real sound. Remember, the sound of a Dragon’s Breath shotgun that we use is not the real sound of the gun. It is all made up. It’s more about the dramatics of what we want it to sound like rather than the real thing.

Frank Beacham:  You’ve said that you always have to discover the point when a sound effect goes too far…when you’ve done too much. In the John Wick films, that point seems to always be at the very edge. How do you know when the length and intensity of a sound is correct?

Andy Koyama: I’ll take this one. We’re serving the filmmaker and the director has specific tastes about how things should sound. A lot of times we’ll present to him what we think is really awesome. He tells us if we are right or wrong. We meld our sounds to his vision and as you know from the John Wick series it is pretty extreme. The violence is extremely graphic and we have to build a sound to match that image. It’s his decision how far we go.

Casey Genton: As Andy said, though the director (Chad Stahelski) makes the final decision, he also relies pretty heavily on our instincts as where the threshold is on an effect. It’s all a judgement call.

Frank Beacham: How many of you are involved in the actual sound effects and editing of the audio part of the John Wick films?

Mark Stoeckinger: About eight people contributed to the sound effects of the movie. Each typically works on a different part of the film in the early stages, and once we get into the heavy lifting of finishing the mix we have a lot of people contributing to all the sounds.

Typically, in the John Wick films, Alan Rankin does all the guns. He does uniquely special work with guns and has evolved with each film. He uses different compressors and sounds to accentuate the high, middle and low frequency aspects of the sound.

Others might take on the task of cutting the engines of the cars and still others do the general foley sounds throughout the entire movie. It varies.

Frank Beacham: Does the music come before the sound effects or otherwise?

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick 4. Photo Credit: Murray Close

Mark Stoeckinger: We usually do the sound effects on the final stage of the film. A lot of times the composer will work in a vacuum and not know the subtleties…so he tries to hit all the big moments. We don’t generally have to deal with conflicting elements in the music and the sound effects.

We usually lay the music in first over the scene, and then we will try get a rough idea of the momentum and the energy. Then we will add the sound effects afterwards. We’ll blend it together as a team and figure out what should be taking the sonic space.

Frank Beacham: I’ve heard rumors you sound guys carry audio recorders with you and tape sounds wherever you go. Is that true?

Mark Stoeckinger: (laughter) Yeah, Zoom recorders, they’re the best!

Andy Koyama: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at restaurants and I have my recorder with me and my wife gives me a few minutes of silence so I can record the sound at our table. I carry a recorder around quite a bit and it winds up infringing on our vacations and dinners. And the sounds usually find themselves somewhere in one of our projects.

Frank Beacham: Do you cut up fruits and vegetables for sound effects? Orson Welles once decided a cabbage sounded like a human head in a guillotine.

Mark Stoeckinger: Casey and I worked on this film where we slaughtered a lot of vegetables! You basically take a certain sound and use different plug-ins to manipulate that sound to give it something else — a new flavor.

We also use different types microphones — such as contact mics — or we record at very high sample rates. Then we slow the sound down or speed it up. We have every plug-in known to man. We have fun playing with sounds. It is what the filmmakers expect and we appreciate that. Everybody approaches it a little bit differently. The best part is we are expected to come up with new ideas on every film, so our work is always evolving.

Frank Beacham: Thank you!

Writer at Broadcast Beat
Frank Beacham is a New York-based writer, director and producer who works in print, radio, television, film and theatre.

Beacham has served as a staff reporter and editor for United Press International, the Miami Herald, Gannett Newspapers and Post-Newsweek. His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, the Village Voice and The Oxford American.

Beacham’s books, Whitewash: A Southern Journey through Music, Mayhem & Murder and The Whole World Was Watching; My Life Under the Media
Microscope are currently in publication. Two of his stories are currently being developed for television.

In 1985, Beacham teamed with Orson Welles over a six month period to develop a one-man television special. Orson Welles Solo was canceled after Mr. Welles died on the day principal photography was to begin.

In 1999, Frank Beacham was executive producer of Tim Robbins’ Touchstone feature film, Cradle Will Rock. His play, Maverick, about video with Orson Welles, was staged off-Broadway in New York City in 2019.
Frank Beacham
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