There’s a lot of overlap between sound mixing and sound editing but both have a lot to do with creating believability of the story and mood of a picture. For Universal/Emmett Furla’s war pic Lone Survivor, a team of three are nominated for Best Achievement in Sound Mixing (Beau Borders, Andy Koyama and David Brownlo) and one is nominated for Sound Editing (Wylie Statemen). The film, which is told from the viewpoint of Navy SEAL hero Marcus Luttrell, is the story of Operation Redwings and its ill-fated mission fighting al-Qaeda in the mountains of Afghanistan. It begins with the camaraderie of the Navy SEALS at the base before their mission, continues as they move stealthily into overwatch positions, erupts in a bloody battle and ends in a remote village.
To capture the first section when the audience becomes familiar with the team, Borders noted that the soundscape is very “smooth. They’re on an active military base, so you’ll hear the sounds of jets and helicopters. They kind of bleed over cuts and even the music really just swells and kind of comes and goes, and everything has a little more of a thinned and almost pleasant and almost romantic feel to it,” he said. But when they are called into their mission, the adrenaline kicks in. “That’s when the helicopters are really big and bold. Wylie (Stateman) and his crew went out and recorded all the actual helicopters … we just made sure that they were filling up the room and we allowed the music to really breathe and be extremely bold and it has to feel like, ‘Uh-oh, here we come.’ ”
And then comes the stealth positioning and the eruption of battle. In those scenes, Borders noted that they went against what is normal for action movies — and he should know as he’s worked in various capacities on sound on such films as Iron Man 3, Transformers, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King and Titanic, to name a few. “One of the things we tried to do is we tried to keep the Navy SEALs really quiet. We don’t want them jingling and jangling with gear. They would never do that. They would go to great lengths to make themselves as quiet as they possibly can. And when the battle starts, there’s very little talking. There’s some yelling and screaming, and you know, a few swear words from our soldiers, but that’s an authentic stain.”
Then the movie take a turn into the abyss of war. When the mission goes awry, the sound mixing goes for the chaotic and frenetic to put the audience in the center of the confusion of war. “That’s where we really went against the grains of reality. We would rely on things like distortion and grime and funk, and a lot of heavy breathing and breathing in the microphones and we would purposely put sounds coming out of the wrong speaker and we would purposely, even though they’re in the jungle, take out any signs of life, any birds and crickets, and things that would kind of add like a lushness,” Borders said. “We wanted everything to sound brittle and awful. We wanted you, as an audience member, to know that you’re going through a horrible, horrible experience.” They achieved that. The sounds of war in Lone Survivor eventually becomes a dizzying maelstrom of the unthinkable and unspeakable.