INTERVIEW: ‘The Boys’ Sound Editor Wade Barnett
With The Boys Season 2 now well underway, I had the chance to sit down with Wade Barnett, the Supervising Sound Editor of one of the most violent and fun TV shows around. Fresh off his Emmy nomination for his work on The Boys, we chatted about the show, what exactly goes into creating these critically acclaimed sound designs, and That Scene with the dolphin and The Deep in the first season.
How did you get into sound work in film and TV?
Well. I initially got started in sound by playing in bands and playing music, so that’s what brought me to Los Angeles to begin with. Once I got out here I started studying audio engineering and during my education I learned about post production, sound editing and sound mixing for films. I realised I could translate my love for sound into a career in editing. I started off actually as an ADR recordist, recording ADR for films and television.
How different are films and TV to work on as two different mediums?
There are some differences. From a creative perspective I’d say they are very similar, I would say the main difference in television is deadlines. Films tend to have a much more lenient schedule, in television we’re used to having a more limited time to turnover a quality product. So, the main difference between film and TV isn’t necessarily a creative one, it’s more about the workflow.
That’s actually a perfect segue into my next question, I was wondering if you could tell us about the process from start to finish on an episode of The Boys from pre-production right through to the final cut.
So on The Boys we had the luxury of working with the Showrunner (Eric Kripke) before we even had the first episode turned over to us. We were working on the sound design for the different superheroes, working from sketches and animations of pre-visual effects stuff. We were trying to get a base template for the heroes. That was really great to work with him because we don’t always have that opportunity.
Typically we would start with the first turn over of filmed content from the episode. We start with a spotting session with the showrunner, which in television would be the executive producer but in film it’s more likely to be the director – whoever is in charge of the creative vision of the product. We meet with them in the spotting session and watch the entire episode, they give us notes on how they want the sound design and if they want certain ADR lines to be done for technical reasons or for story points. They’re also talking with the composer about musical ideas. So after that meeting, I go and work with dialogue editors, sound effect editors, I work with the background voices and voice actors to get the ADR recorded, and I work with the Foley department as well.
I’m getting a peek here at a world I really didn’t consider that much in the past, sound work is always kind of hidden behind the scenes of everything else.
[laughs] Yeah, a lot of people don’t really know much about the sound editorial process. They think a lot of the sound is captured on set but on set they’re primarily focused on catching the dialogue cleanly from the principal actors you see on camera. Everything else is added in post-production.
Do you go on set as well working with the directors? Or are you just in the studio?
Typically, no, I’m not really on set much but it depends on the show to be honest. For example, The Boys was shot in Toronto so I wasn’t on set at all for The Boys. You know, the one reason you might go on set on a television show is if the actors are quite busy and we’re shooting Monday through Friday with weekends off, so if you need some ADR you’d have to go on set. Occasionally, if there’s a car or something that the production is using that you want to record, we’ll go record some sound effects that are very specific to something you might see on set.
You mentioned earlier about creating the sounds for superheroes. How do you approach creating sound for a superhero TV show, when there are so many superhero shows and films out there right now?
Sound design can be very subjective. Nobody really knows what these sounds would sound like. We worked really closely with Eric Kripke, the showrunner and executive producer on The Boys, and different producers, showrunners, directors have different workflows. Eric really likes the sound aspect of it. The main thing we were going for with these superheroes is we wanted to keep it very organic so that the sounds actually sound like they were coming from the superheroes’ bodies; we didn’t want them to sound too mechanical or digital.
Typically, we would create three versions and we would show them to Eric. He might say, “I really like A, B is not very good, put this element of C into A” and then we would come back with new versions until we have the correct blend of things that we liked.
Who was your favourite hero to create the sound for?
Good question! I think Starlight was the most fun to work on. We worked a lot on her hand blast which is one of her most obvious power uses, but one of the more cool things to work on with her that we could play with differently in different scenes to help tell the story was depending on whichever emotion she was feeling in the way she draws her energy in from her surrounding environment. As she’s drawing the energy in to build the power up so she can have the hand blast, that was something really cool that we could explore differently in different scenes. We could augment how it sounded based on what emotion she had, whether she was experiencing anxiety or stress or anger or if she is in Hero Mode and is about to kick someone’s ass, it was a lot of fun.
How much of the sound work is digital and how much of it is Foley work?
The Foley team on this show did an amazing job, especially with the gore and the blood and the guts. But with the superhero sounds, it’s almost all sound editing with effects. It’s a mixture of creating new sounds, recording stuff, slowing them down, speeding them up, using stuff from sound libraries and layering them. If you look at some of the sound edit builds for templates for certain superheroes, it’s just tracks and tracks and tracks of layers, and depending, sonically, what’s happening with the music you might boost certain sound elements to help it cut through whatever’s happening in the scene. So,it’s mostly sound effects and design rather than Foley work for the heroes themselves.
Did you work with the music much or are you guys two separate departments?
The music department is involved with us on the mix stage, or at least the music editor is. The composer and music editor are in that main spotting session where we meet with the producers about the episode. We are generally two different departments, but when we’re going to finish the episode in the final mix, that’s when we bring in all the musical elements with the sound design, the dialogue, the backgrounds, the Foley, and we marry it all to figure out how we get it to work. There are certain moments when there might be a piece of score or a piece of music that the sound design and the score weave around each other, so it might be a question of “should this be score or should this be sound design?” In those moments, the music editor would do their edit and we would do our edit, the producer would give us notes so we have a game plan heading into the final mix.
This is for my personal curiosity, one of my favourite scenes from The Boys Season 1 was the scene with The Deep and the dolphin, I’m sure you know the one.
[laughs] I love that scene.
How do you even begin to approach a scene where you have to design the sound for a dolphin flying through a car window and being hit by a truck? Where do you start?
So, that’s a moment where we’re spending a lot of time trying to get the vocals of this dolphin, we’re trying to tell the story of the dolphin being aroused, right? It’s very time consuming to get those sounds to be right, with some actual animal vocals that we got, like, not all from dolphins but there’s some sea otters in there and there’s other sound design elements in there, too. We have pitch shift stuff to make it sound like they’re talking to each other, you know, so it’s a very time consuming process but when the scene is as funny as it is, we had so much fun. And then, the music with the Spice Girls, it’s just such an awesome scene.
When the music slows down as it flies through the window, it’s absolutely hilarious.
[laughs] It’s so perfect, the music department did a great job with that.
Do you have any other scenes that you really enjoyed working on from Season 1?
Because it was the first season of this show, we spent a lot of time establishing all the sounds of these superheroes. In the final episode, Homelander is blasting all these people throughout the episode and at the end we had the big fight scene with Starlight. That scene with Starlight was really cool because we got to display everything that we had been working on the whole season. Visually it looked really cool and it was a longer fight scene than we had worked on with her. This one had slow-mo shots and it was visually really cool, that was maybe my favourite just to sit back and watch the final product. I was really happy with the way it turned out.
You just said you spent Season 1 establishing the sounds of it all, so how did Season 2 compare to Season 1?
Well, it was a nice to have a lot of the groundwork, having a template to work from for a lot of the characters. We do have some new superheroes in Season 2 so we had to establish those, and we also have a lot of location based shooting rather than set work, so we had to establish all these new locations that we’re dealing with. We had some obstacles in Season 2 [laughs] but I’m really excited about it. They don’t take their foot off the gas pedal at all, Season 2 comes out with a bang and I think the fans are going to be really happy.
A massive thank you to Wade for talking to us!
The Boys is now streaming on Amazon Prime.