“This isn’t a normal movie,” says “The Passion of the Christ” sound effects mixer Bob Beemer. “It’s not designed to wow people in the short term — it’s designed to stand the test of time.”
That test formally begins Wednesday, when the much-talked-about Newmarket Films release directed by Mel Gibson opens in nearly 3,000 theaters nationwide.
Achieving cinematic timelessness was the primary challenge for Gibson’s small 12-person sound crew on “Passion.” The crew was led by co-supervising sound editors Sean McCormack and Kami Asgar, who both quit their day jobs at Sony to work as independents for the first time on “Passion.”
By all accounts, McCormack and Asgar, under Gibson’s direction, tried to avoid the easy contemporary effects and audio gags at their fingertips on Sony Studios’ Kim Novak stage, where the latest rendition of the greatest story ever told was dubbed and mixed.
Achieving authenticityIn large part, “Passion’s” director counseled his crew on why it was necessary to avoid using all the bells and whistles that their fully digital Harrison MPC console had to offer.
“Mel wanted it to be incredibly realistic and not Hollywood-ed out,” dialogue and music mixer Kevin O’Connell says. “Do you know what I mean when I say ’Hollywood-y?’ It’s when every whoosh of the whip or every blow of the hammer sounds like an earthquake or a giant whoosh storm going off.”
It was O’Connell’s responsibility to edify cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s visuals with an authentic Aramaic dialogue track and mildly sweeten the onscreen pain with composer John Debney’s score. Beemer’s task was laying in the sound effects and transitions.
“To hear something that sounds real cool and modern would have been inappropriate,” Beemer says. “It was definitely tempting because there are a lot of cool, slow-motion, psychologically shot events in the movie. But stylized sound has a tendency to feel very contemporary and go out of date quickly.”
While Beemer tackled contemporary sound seducements, O’Connell navigated more murky ancient waters.
The 16-time Oscar nominee was guided in his application of indecipherable Aramaic replacement lines by William Fulco, a Jesuit priest who attended the daily dubbing sessions every day for three weeks. On one occasion in the middle of final mix, Fulco even performed an impromptu Saturday-morning Latin Mass.
“It was the first time I’ve ever been to Mass on a dub stage, and I’ve got to tell you, it was pretty cool,” enthuses O’Connell, who was raised Irish Catholic but stopped attending church services when he was 8 years old.
“It was very sweet and very respectful and private,” says Beemer, a practicing Catholic. “It wasn’t weird. I think what it speaks to is Mel’s devotion to God and to regularly reassessing himself to make sure his heart and mind are in the right place for the project.”
Gibson’s focus and devotion clearly spilled over into the work of his sound crew.
“Most of the directors we work with are thinking about their box office and how they can get their next movie,” Beemer says. “They’re not thinking about how their work will be judged a century from now, whether it will it hold up, if people will find it stilted or if they will find it natural. It was a wonderful challenge.”