Photograph by Alex Dukay.
11.22.63 is based on the bestselling novel by Stephen King and follows high school teacher Jake Epping (James Franco) as he travels back in time to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. While the premise should be simple, it isn’t: Take out Lee Harvey Oswald and be home in time for supper… However, what if Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone? Moreover, what if the past doesn’t want to be changed? Each time Jake pushes, the past pushes back.
The past sends Jake warnings in many forms: an eerie phone call, an unexpected sickness, a sudden swarm of cockroaches skittering across a linoleum floor, and a mysterious stranger. These are among the many moments that required inspired sound choices. The Technicolor Sound team of supervising sound editor Mike Wilhoit, sound FX re-recording mixer Kevin Roache, dialogue mixer Peter Elia, and stage tech Jared Orlando infused the project with a unique combination of personal history and passion.
Twenty-five years ago, Wilhoit won a BAFTA for his work on Oliver Stone’s epic JFK. Many questions surrounding the tragedy of November 22, 1963 remain unanswered, and for Wilhoit the connection to the period remains strong. Roache, who was already a big fan of the book, tapped into his passion for the story from the start of the sound editing process and sometimes acted the role of in-house story consultant for the rest of the team during the pre-sound design phase.
Wilhoit, Roache, and Elia were brought on to 11.22.63 months in advance and worked with director Kevin Macdonald on pre-sound design, an opportunity not always afforded to productions. Farther along in the process, the team worked with the project’s co-writer and EP, Bridget Carpenter, to finish the sound mix.
In an interview at the Technicolor at Paramount Sound Facility, where Wilhoit, Elia, and Roache worked on the project, they discuss rotary phones, capturing Stephen King’s twisted dark side with sound, and how the universe is like a rubber band when it comes to time travel.
WILHOIT: I really wanted to work on this project. With JFK, there was a big connection and I wanted to have that connection again. My wife read the book. We were all interested in the story. You can’t walk down the street without meeting someone who hasn’t read the book. It’s almost as if you owe it to all these people who are going to see it, and sound can really help the story.
ROACHE: As a huge fan of the 11/22/63 novel, I was extremely excited to work on this project. Though there are differences between the two tellings, I felt it was an asset to know the entire original story from the start of mixing. Since I knew where things were heading, I could be more informed with sound choices and, hopefully, assist the rest of the team with this information.
ELIA: The show is full of period TV and radio sources. I had great fun finding character speaker sounds, warm tube-driven sounds, and old broadcast recreations. Also, Mike did a great job with the group, recording the town background actors with just the right accents and language. Dealing with real historic JFK recordings was also a huge treat.
Photograph by Mark Holzberg.
WILHOIT: ‘If you try to change the past the past pushes back.’ That was done with music and sound effects throughout the series. A normal phone call where the sound gets all twisted and distorted – to make the viewer feel that there’s something wrong here. It’s the dark side of sound. Pulses of sound and uncomfortable sounds that make you feel nervous and uneasy. Definitely Stephen King-y.
ROACHE: In the world of 11/22/63, if you try to change the events of history, the universe acts like a rubber band and tries to snap back to keep the past as it was. For example, an attempt to stop a murder might cause you to get a debilitating sickness beforehand. When you can’t get out of bed, you can’t change the past! The sound choice for this force took some brainstorming between the three of us. Ultimately, we landed on a processed bass synth. It gave a sense of enveloping power, but remained subtle enough to not draw away your attention.
WILHOIT: The sounds were different. We forget how much things have changed since 1960. We had old ringer phones, noisy V8 engine cars, and the music. There was definitely a contrast of time.
ROACHE: One of the ways we helped tell the story was by providing sound details from the time. These sound effects ranged from old cars to rotary phones to typewriters to tube TVs. Even though I’m 37 and remember a lot of old technology, there would occasionally be some element that reached beyond my years of experience. In that case, I would turn to the old men sitting near me (Mike and Pete) and ask what it used to sound like!
ELIA: Music mainly benefited from the unique speaker sounds of the sources it played from: sometimes a jukebox, or an old car radio, or old broadcast. Other times, the older recordings were presented in their full splendor while benefiting from a full 5.1 treatment. Some of the funniest music moments were transitions of original songs from a source treatment to full quality as the story and picture edit guided. Alex Heffes' score for the show was beautiful and propelled the emotions with its rich themes, orchestrations, and live orchestral recordings.
WILHOIT: Because this is a standalone mini-series, we treated this like you’d treat a feature film. We kept in mind people sitting and streaming it on their computers or phones, but it was still mixed and prepared for the best cinematic situation -- like when someone wants to stream it in 4k on their 80-inch TV.
ROACHE: Overall, this was an extremely satisfying project to work on. Long-form, unfiltered television has created so many storytelling possibilities. A novel like 11/22/63 can better be told in this format than a movie or regular TV series because none of the details has to be spared for time or censorship. Since Hulu already has great access into so many homes, it’s exciting to be a part of their first foray into original dramatic programming.
Technicolor’s Shirene Said, along with Trent Vernon, were the sales team on the project.
Jump down the rabbit role to 1960s America and catch 11.22.63 streaming now on Hulu.
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