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'All Is Lost' Is Far from Silent, Even with No Dialogue (VIDEO)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood November 22, 2013 at 1:37PM

In space or on the ocean, no one can hear you scream. Comparisons abound between solo adventures "Gravity" and "All Is Lost," but unlike space, the ocean is far from silent. Even though J.C. Chandor's remarkable open-water survival thriller starring a 77-year-old Robert Redford boldly stepping out of his comfort zone is virtually dialogue-free. Thus the director was totally on board with making the sound design a driving narrative force.
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No more boats.
No more boats.

In space or on the ocean, no one can hear you scream. Comparisons abound between solo adventures "Gravity" and "All Is Lost," but unlike space, the ocean is far from silent. So although J.C. Chandor's remarkable open-water survival thriller (starring a 77-year-old Robert Redford boldly stepping out of his comfort zone) is virtually dialogue-free, the director was totally on board with making the sound design a driving narrative force. 

That was up to supervising sound editors Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns of Skywalker Sound. "Selfishly, I thought this was a great opportunity for sound to play an important role without having to convince the director," admits Boeddeker ("Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Seven"), who also served as the film's sound designer/re-recording mixer. "J.C. said he wanted very little dialogue and almost no music. He wanted to use them as punctuation marks so that the story was told with acting, sound, and sound effects. And the emotions were cued by the dread he's feeling and the music takes it to the next level when he gets introspective."

The film was all shot on Redford's eye line and we only hear what he hears. But it's also filtered through his perceptions; as the journey goes from bad to worse with the storm, so do the sounds of the crashing waves or the thrashing of the sailboat. As a result, the best logistical and emotional approach was to treat the boat as a primary character in this existential adventure.

"I kept thinking of the story as a western," Boeddeker suggests. "Instead of a cowboy, we have a sailor; instead of a horse, we have a boat as a sidekick; and instead of the desert, we have the Indian Ocean. That metaphor helped us figure out how to do it. Brandon Proctor focused on Redford and I handled the boat. Richard as a supervisor and lifelong sailor, organized the logistics and arranged for recording trips on sailboats to get authentic sounds. And also for me was a safety net. I could experiment with sounds to convey the emotion and Richard kept it technically authentic." 

Since there was no usable audio for the boat while they were shooting in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, production recordists had to create a library of sounds. It was Boeddeker's intention to take the sound to extremes and Chandor was fine with that.

"He wanted it to be the biggest storm ever because in Redford's mind, this might be it," Boeddeker recalls. The storm was shot in one of the world's largest tanks at Baja Studios in Rosarito Beach, where "Titanic" was filmed. In some cases, they shook up the surface of the water with jet skis.

This article is related to: All Is Lost, Immersed In Movies, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Robert Redford, J.C. Chandor, J.C. Chandor, Sound and Score, Oscars, Immersed In Movies, Thompson on Hollywood


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.