Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Sound Design Team
ComingSoon was given the opportunity to speak with the sound designing team of Everything Everywhere All at Once, consisting of Alexandra Fehrman, Andrew Twite, Brent Kiser, and Julie Diaz. The group discuss the challenges they faced while working on the critically-acclaimed motion picture and the amount of work that went into making the astonishing sound come to life.
ComingSoon: Talk about Everything Everywhere All at Once. What led you to the project?
Andrew Twite: Brent and I have worked with Daniels on a number of projects over the years. I think the first for me was a Nike commercial back in 2012 that never saw the light of day. Then we did a couple of commercials with them, and their short, Interesting Ball, which I remember them screening at a small party for their friends in someone’s backyard in Koreatown. My first big project with them was their first feature, Swiss Army Man. It was the first project I ever cut for Atmos as it was very new at the time. And that brings us to EEAAO.
Brent Kiser: To give the simple answer I will quote a previous A24 film that we worked on with Daniel Scheinert, The Death of Dick Long. Scheinert’s character turns and says “Y’all motherf—ers want to get weird?” That’s basically how we were approached.
Julie Diaz: I was so fortunate to already be included in Brent’s team at Unbridled Sound as an ADR Supervisor and sound editor. So when we were approached by The Daniels’ newest project I was so grateful to be asked to also come along for the ride!
Alexandra Fehrman: It all started with coffee. Brent asked me if I’d be interested in mixing FX on this great movie they had been working on. I watched it late that night and was so excited about it I couldn’t wait until the next day to call him. We didn’t know each other at the time and I was worried the level of giddiness in my voice might seem like too much, but he called me in to to meet with the Daniels anyway. We had a fun conversation about everything from sound to cat parasites and they invited me to join the team!
What was the most challenging aspect of Everything Everywhere All at Once, and how did you overcome it?
Twite: For me, the sheer magnitude of the project and the time we had to get the editorial into shape. So it was time for sure. We had about 8 weeks to really hustle and get the editorial into shape. It was a huge undertaking. We had the film broken into 7 reels. I handled a lion’s share of the design/editorial, which included the highly conceptual ideas, all of the practical sound effects, and a large amount of Foley support (there are times when cutting Foley elements is crucial to better illustrate to the directors exactly how a scene will/should sound along with the more conceptual design elements since Foley material tends to be delivered and folded in later). Once we had a solid pass on the editorial, we spent the remaining 4 weeks prior to the mix-up at Unbridled in Highland Park simultaneously sitting with the Daniels to fine-tune the design and pre-dub the movie. Brent would be on Stage A pre-dubbing a reel with Scheinert, while I would be in the Barn (stage B) with Kwan fine-tuning design and other editorial concepts.
Kiser: The largest challenge for me was wrapping my head around the fact that anything goes. In some multiverse, it could be happening. Which is a great problem to have. There was a lot of throwing anything and everything against the wall to see what would stick. But to echo Andrew, there was a lot of discovery in a little bit of time.
Twite: The time up at Unbridled was invaluable for being able to work efficiently once we got to the final mix. Typically, on bigger features, there would be at least a couple of temp mixes to go through the movie and smooth things out, address issues, and work through concepts. We didn’t have the time or budget for that, so our solution was to have that month, together with the Daniels at the studio, to kind of fine-tune and whip the movie into shape so we could go into the final mix without any major issues or surprises. It was a grind – fun no doubt – but a ton of work!
Diaz: One of the biggest challenges for me was coordinating and making sure we could record all of the actors timely and all over the world through Covid! Michelle Yeoh was in Paris, Jamie Lee Curtis was filming elsewhere in Europe, and many others were traveling back and forth from the East to the West coast and had to maintain quarantine periods. Thankfully we had Zoom for remote sessions with wonderful engineers in other studios for our European friends. And we were able to get everyones’ busy schedules aligned to safely record everyone else in LA.
Fehrman: Coming onto this team, I knew there had been SO MUCH hard work, energy and thoughtfulness already poured into the sound for the film. The hardest part for me was making sure I represented all of that work through the final mix while opening it up and weaving it all on stage. I wanted to make sure the builds were pacing correctly and that we were highlighting all of the right moments in the midst of the chaos.
This movie is insane –- it hops around from various dimensions and time periods, often with overlapping dialogue, score, etc. Was there a conscious effort to make each local/dimension/time different from the other from a sound perspective?
Twite: Building out detailed backgrounds and ambiances really helped sell this idea. This isn’t a unique concept really, but the devil is in the details. There are times when we flash to a location for a few seconds at a time – Brent and I felt it was crucial that even if you are in a location for a short time that you should really feel that space. So we used Atmos to really bring you into a location and typically would add specific mono elements panned strategically to give each space its own signature while using stereo elements positioned within the virtual space to really help encompass you and pull you into the location. It had a really cool effect throughout the film. A great example of this is the culminating battle between Evelyn and Jobu when they are fighting in front of the Bagel, and they are flashing through multiple universes (the desert, the street, the prison, the birthday party, etc).
Diaz: For the dialogue, each character had a different version of themselves for different universes. For example, Ke Quan had many different voices and styles for those versions. In the ADR process, we had to be conscious to make sure we were using those tropes so that the performances fit along with the production dialogue. The Daniels did a ton of playing with modulating the dialogue and ADR to fit things from one scene into another later on in the film when it gets more intense and chaotic. Each multiverse leaks into one another once Evelyn’s “clay pot breaks” before the final fight. We incorporated different ADR and production takes with the sound effects to make that moment as chaotic as possible. You’ll hear our use of that again in the final tax office scene when the multiverse again starts to break through. Also! Make sure you stick around through the credits for more of the multiverse!
Kiser: Focused cacophony is what came to mind while Andrew and I were workshopping options for the multiverse. The Daniels concept of finding meaning in all of the noise helped us take strong background beds and use identifiable elements to cut through to help guide the audience.
Fehrman: It was built out with this in mind and as Andrew said, the changes in ambiances did let us know when we were somewhere new. We also mixed sounds from alternative dimensions that would leak in from the back or side of the room, for example, before we landed there.
What are the advantages of working with directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert?
Twite: They are truly kind and conscientious people with a big vision. I’ve never met anyone like either of them. They are inclusive, and considerate, but also know what they want. They think through their decisions deliberately and consciously. They are funny and imaginative, and I feel they encourage their crew to do the same. They empower us all to bring our expertise to the table and contribute in a way that will make a project unique in a way they couldn’t achieve on their own. They encourage experimentation and taking chances, which inadvertently allows us all to contribute a little of our own voice in a way. That is any creative person’s dream. Their work ethic is nothing short of inspiring, and as a result, it makes you want to work just as hard and push your own creative abilities as far as you can.
Diaz: To echo Andrew, they are just the coolest, most imaginative guys. It’s amazing how inspired they are, and they bring that out in everyone around them. They also make every part of the filmmaking process from production to post-production a safe, inclusive, and collaborative space, which is sometimes rare in the industry.
Kiser: The main advantage of Daniels is working with geniuses. I always leave with a better understanding of storytelling every time we finish a project. The sound ideas may seem absurd and comical, but Dan and Daniel are able to tie meaning and relatable nostalgia into the bizarre choice.
Fehrman: There are so many advantages to working with directors like the Daniels. I was really in awe of their work throughout the entire process. Every frame was carefully planned. I learned to really trust them in terms of working in the micro to achieve the macro. They are such amazing storytellers, and their choices add up to such a profound effect. I also very much enjoyed them as people. They were kind and patient, as well as adventurous. They were happy to have input, and it was a very safe space to introduce ideas or try things out. I think that process of having a safe space to experiment is part of the reason why there are so many unique elements to the film. They always had an elaborate plan and vision, but are open to finding the way there.
Googly eyes, hot dog fingers, and a culinarian raccoon are the ingredients that make up the piping hot Everything Everywhere…
Do you have any fun, behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Everything Everywhere All at Once that you can share?
Twite: The final mix took place at Signature Post, and every morning before we started we would do group handstands. It was silly and hilarious at times, 6-8 “adults” trying their best to do handstands, but it helped us to just shake off the cobwebs and remember that even though movie-making is hard work we are supposed to be having fun.
Diaz: One of my favorite memories was recording with the Martial Club, Brian and Andy Le. We brought them into record fight efforts and screams for their characters as one of the security guards and the IT guy in the big butt plug fight with Evelyn. They were so excited they started recreating their moves in the recording booth! I was so scared they would accidentally kick a mic or flip into a chair but because they’re super-skilled choreographers, that never happened. It was so cool to see them in action and they were the nicest guys.
Kiser: It’s not that crazy, but some of my fondest memories on EEAO is presenting off-the-wall ideas to Scheinert. Either I would get a “yeeeaahh girrrrl”. Or he would burst out with laughter and say, “nooooo”. It helps to take swings when you know there is no judgment and it’s just friends having fun 🙂
Fehrman: The handstands were definitely a highlight, just as Andrew said. We would have like 20 minutes of acting like kids and then get our focus on for the rest of the day. It was a really fun way to start the day and get all of our sillies out. We also had the pleasure of having lunch with Ke Quan, who stopped by to say hi and hung out for a bit. I really enjoyed talking with him about his career.
What was your collaboration with composer Son Lux like?
Twite: Ryan, Ian, and Rafiq are incredible. Badasses if you will. Ryan was in on a good portion of our virtual spotting sessions we did use Zoom and Frame io (remember we were cutting this film during the thick of Covid so our spottings and initial editorial all took place remotely). But those guys had been brought in by the Daniels at a very early stage – I am pretty sure the movie hadn’t even been greenlit. They had given the Daniels access to their entire catalog, including their solo projects. Some of that stuff, along with early unfinalized cues, were used as temp that we were able to work with in the edit.
When it came to collaboration they were extremely humble. Oftentimes when making films it can feel like ‘music/score vs design/SFX’. My experience with this film was that we were very considerate of what the others had brought to the table. There was a lot of mutual respect. There were times when it was obvious the score needed to be the driving force, and times when design needed to take the wheel. If there was ever any uncertainty we would discuss it or defer to what either Kwan or Scheinert felt was the way to go. As an editor/designer I love throwing in quirky accents and elements that heighten a moment or add an emotional depth, and there would be times when Son Lux would hear something I had added and be like “what was that?! That’s tight!” and realize it was something I had contributed.
Not all of those kinds of contributions would stick but many did, and by the end of the mix their saying was “that’s so Twite!”. It was flattering, but also so cool and fun to know we were really working together and sharing in this colossal creation. It really felt like being part of a team. And, make no mistake, the score for this film is incredible. There are something like 170+ cues in the entire film I think. The guys from Son Lux are sonically brilliant and I have a ton of respect for their work ethic, sensibilities, and everything they brought to this film. I don’t think anyone could have done it better, and I certainly hope I get to work with them again.
Diaz: I got to work closely with Son Lux which is pretty rare for dialogue. I did a lot of handing off ADR and production audio for them to incorporate into the score. A few of the moments are heard in the final fight in the tax building, with Jobu’s background singing of her dialogue as her K-pop version. And Evelyn’s final line in the fight, her yelling of “I am your Mother,” was a mix of score and production dialogue. I worked with Ryan Lott of Son Lux for Randy Newman’s recording as Raccacoonie which was an absolute blast, and we have at least an hour’s worth of recordings that didn’t make it into the final cut! That was definitely a childhood dream for both of us.
Kiser: Once again, working with geniuses leaves you with a new understanding of storytelling. This was definitely the case with Ryan, Rhafiq, and Ian. Their understanding of rhythm and how addition is sometimes less important than subtraction. Son Lux, 10 out of 10 recommend.
Fehrman: I had been a long-time fan of Son Lux, and I was really excited to collaborate with them. I shared with them that I had gone to an early show of theirs and they remembered that show specifically. I was, and remain stunned by their talents and how powerful they are in evoking emotion. It was great fun working with them on stage, and it really did feel like a genuine collaboration. They were interested in the sound design as well, so it was fun picking and choosing moments to trade between music and effects when everyone in the room was on board.
Were there things you learned from working on Everything Everywhere All at Once that you’re excited to apply to future projects?
Twite: This movie was a humble reminder that not everything you do is going to be on target the first time. Evolution is key to the design of any project like this. So allowing an idea to grow, mutate and take on a whole new form is a big part of the process. Time is obviously a factor, but sharing ideas and getting feedback and input is such a huge asset.
Kiser: I learned so much on this film, but my big takeaway is how important it is for the sound department to be there to support the picture editing process. Discovery usually happens in the picture edit—not in the small window between picture lock and mix. How are you going to know that the scene’s timing is right without the sound?
Fehrman: I too learned so much, the one thing that stands out to me most is collaboration. I think it’s really important to trust each other when you’re on a team. I’ll also remember how wonderful it feels to work on a team where everyone has love for the work they are doing, but in a giving way, rather than a protective way. We all had the same goal, to make the sound of the film the best it can be. I hope to take that sense of collaboration into every project I do.
Do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?
Twite: Brent, Julie, and I just wrapped Mel Brooks’ History of The World Pt. 2 for Hulu—was a wonderful and light-hearted project. We really enjoyed it. We just completed a killer documentary on none other than Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson. Brent and I are currently doing pre-design and literally today starting our editorial for Gen V, a spin-off of The Boys for Amazon. About six weeks ago, I finished editorial on the comedy/musical series Rise of the Pink Ladies for Paramount+, which is scheduled for release in early 2023.
Diaz: I also wrapped dialogue and ADR supervising for History of The World Pt. 2 for Hulu, with Brent and Andrew. Again with Brent and Andrew, we just wrapped a documentary on Reggie Jackson, which you don’t want to miss! I Co-Sound Supervised The Apology, a thriller feature with RLJE Films and Shudder. It will be in theaters, AMC+, and Shudder on December 16th! We also just wrapped Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Murder Mystery for Netflix’s comedy crime series, Murderville. It premieres December 15th!
Fehrman: I recently mixed music and dialogue on a film called Chevalier, which will be released in April, which I am really excited about. It was also a really important story to share. Currently, I’m mixing a film called Turtles All the Way Down, and I’m really enjoying it as well.
Twite: To me, this film came at a time when we really needed it most. It is a movie that isn’t afraid to be silly and sincere at a time when the world is chaotic, confused, and honestly quite scary. EEAAO is a great reminder of what film-making and the theater-going experience are supposed to be (and hopefully a film that will contribute to its survival) – an experience. It is a healthy reminder, in a world of streaming and instant gratification, of the value and importance of getting back to the theaters to see and experience movies. Being able to escape into our imaginations and into stories while being away from our phones, computers, and the isolation of our own homes. Going to the movies to communally laugh and cry with complete strangers…to experience something together! I am very proud of our work and the work of the entire crew of Everything Everywhere All At Once. Every department worked so hard and poured a lot of love and inspiration into this film. I am grateful to be a part of that contribution.
Diaz: Wow! Beautifully put, Andrew! Yeah, this film holds a special place in my heart big time. I can’t tell you how much I resonate with it on a personal level. I still cry every time I see it, and I sat with it for months! The Daniels are mad geniuses and I couldn’t think of anyone else able to execute this story and the messages it holds other than them, the cast, and the crew we had. Everyone worked so hard and cared so deeply to make this film what it is. I hope Everything Everywhere All at Once stays in everyone’s hearts and minds for many, many more years to come.
Kiser: I’m just truly blessed to have been a part of an amazing sound team and an awe-inspiring film team.
Fehrman: I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this wonderful team. This film was incredible, I am so moved by it even watching it for the 30th time. I think the Daniels made a film that so many people can relate to in such a beautiful way. The film shares ideas of kindness and acceptance, and I think we could use more of that in this world. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to work on it. I have so much gratitude for all of Unbridled, and for Brent for inviting me on.