Steven Spielberg gave his sound team a gift by opening "Bridge of Spies" with a Hitchcock-inspired chase through the New York subway with no dialogue and a sense of mystery surrounding Soviet spy Mark Rylance (nominated Best Supporting Actor).
Oscar-winning re-recording mixers Andy Nelson (dialogue and music) and Gary Rydstrom (sound effects) teamed up once again for a movie in which ambience plays an important sonic role. It's the late 1950s and there's a stark contrast between booming New York and chilly East Berlin.
"Down on the platform Steven wanted to create a few different languages of people passing by to sense that multicultural influence in New York, and the distraction of someone's line or a giggle or a laugh as they walk past them," explained Nelson, who's nominated with Rydstrom this year for both "Bridge of Spies" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." "It makes you move your head around. And, of course, in the midst of this crowd, the agents are losing their prey. It was about creating the normal distraction on a subway train and not many people speaking."
Skywalker Sound's Rydstrom added that we're drawn to Rylance because of his great physical presence. "He's a character you want to know more about. So the image of him painting himself in this room in New York City is really great. He does all these specific things like putting microfilm inside a coin and getting the coin from under a park bench, splitting a coin in two. They are tiny little sounds that are incredibly precise. We get to have our little intellectual spy things."
Rydstrom was at his creative best during the construction of the Berlin Wall, which has never before been depicted in a mainstream Hollywood movie. "The one thing that Steven really liked that Gary got was the sound of those bricks going down onto the walls," Nelson offered. "As the camera's tracking, you hear these different voices and arguments among families, we're hearing this sort of methodical clunk, clunk of bricks going in and the wall being constructed."
"What was interesting was the Wall was being built brick by brick, by hand," Rydstrom emphasized. "There are trucks and cranes that have a nice idling engine sound, but the important sound isn't the equipment or the bricks — it's the people. That was surprising to me because what do you do if you're standing there and they're building a wall between you and someone you love? So that's where the specially loop group comes in handy, especially those that speak German, to do very specific tasks for the crowd on either side of the Wall. The voices become the key sound for the building of the Wall scene."
Nelson said they wanted to represent the sound of the cold in East Berlin and have a chilling sensation to the wind sounds to make it as inhospitable as possible, which played well with Tom Hanks and his cold and the fact that he had to give up his coat. "And then when he was in the safe house, there was a lot of opportunity there with the whistling wind coming through the windows that didn't shut properly."
Without John Williams for the first time since "The Color Purple" because of his commitment to "The Force Awakens," Spielberg hired Thomas Newman, who's nominated for Best original Score, with his renowned lyricism and restraint. "The music had the same ambiguity to it that the story had," Nelson remarked. "There are no heroes or villains. The bridge exchange was equally as inspiring as distressing and his music captured that."
Meanwhile, the bridge exchange is punctuated by the sound of quietly falling snow: a wonderful sound absorption. "It gave the sound team the opportunity to convey a great spatial divide," Nelson recalled. "When you heard a command from the other side, we were able to put a soft echo on everyone, so you really sensed the distance between the two sides. We did it by making the atmosphere so quiet around us and the music was thin and almost eerie at times."