Stephen King is one of the most celebrated American horror writers of all time. It took experienced film and sound talent to bring IT, King’s hit novel, to the big screen, nearly 30 years after the TV miniseries. To bring the horror flick back to life, the post production team relied on Avid’s creative tools and workflow solutions—including Media Composer | Ultimate (formerly Media Composer) for editing, Pro Tools | Ultimate (formerly Pro Tools | HD) and Pro Tools | S6 console for sound mixing, and Avid shared storage. A supernatural coming-of-age story with plenty of spine-tingling scares, the film is a nuanced combination of real-life issues and laughs.
Every film requires the right balance and interplay between picture and sound. But perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the horror genre, where music and sound are important components used to build anticipation or evoke an emotional response—perhaps give a false sense of calm before an impending scare. Editor Jason Ballantine explains, “The biggest challenge was keeping the tonal balance. The film is as funny in parts as it is terrifying, as sensitive as it is suspenseful.”
Finding the right balance
For Jason, developing a cutting style starts with the film itself. “I look and listen to everything that’s come before me to craft the best of performance, composition relevance and story flow,” he says. “You have to feel what the scene emotionally requires and therefore the film at large too.” Jason sums up the process as “the perfect blend of storytelling through manipulation and collaboration.”
The biggest challenge was keeping the tonal balance. The film is as funny in parts as it is terrifying, as sensitive as it is suspenseful.
Jason Ballantine, Editor
For that storytelling, he turned to Media Composer, the obvious choice not only for its position as the industry standard but also for its reliability and easy integration with Avid shared storage solutions. Four Media Composer workstations moved from the Toronto shooting location to Los Angeles for post production.
The cutting room setup was maximized for workflow efficiency, not only facilitating the demands of the picture cut, but also providing creative support for the music editor, VFX editor and assistant editors. Many elements were channeled through Media Composer and its powerful features were instrumental to bringing director Andy Muschietti’s vision to the screen.
The process for IT was, in its entirety, a labor-intensive endeavor for Jason that included watching dailies, pulling selects, building assemblies and refining the edit through a long process of continual assessment.
He calls out several noteworthy capabilities that help the storytelling and streamline the editing process. “I enjoy Frame View for the bins and the ability to cut with group clips to change camera angles in the timeline,” he says. “I like that I can map the keyboard and GUI to my preference.”
Avid solutions were also used for the film’s sound workflow, which brought built-in advantages. Easily transferring scenes was critical when the teams were faced with sections of the film at varying stages of completion or when multiple audience test screenings demanded quick turnarounds.
Re-recording mixer Michael Keller spoke about how a synthesized workflow benefitted individual components and the film as a whole. “Obviously the entire industry works with Pro Tools. Its compatibility between editorial, picture, admin, operations, and mixers is essential—all need to interface seamlessly.”
This synergy was also critical as the team faced an abbreviated timeline, creating a situation where the temp dub—a preliminary mix of dialogue, music, and sound effects created for a first-cut viewing—became the basis for the final. Michael explains, “We wanted to carry the temp dub automation in Pro Tools forward to the final, since it was a very condensed schedule. Normally, we do a temp dub, then throw it out and create a final from scratch. For this kind of movie that’s more actor and character driven, it makes total sense to do a temp dub virtually in Pro Tools with the Pro Tools | S6 console, and then build off that in the next go-around.”
Terror and timing
For both Michael and Jason it’s a constant process of analysis and refinement. There’s a scene in the film where the main group of young protagonists known as the Losers’ Club is confronted by the film’s villain Pennywise through a projection screen. The buildup of the kids watching the clips as they slowly reveal Pennywise is terrifying. Perfectly timing each moment to keep the audience engaged was essential. “This one scene probably went through the most permutations in the trial and error to have it work well,” Jason offers. “There is nothing more satisfying than watching an audience’s visceral reaction to pictures and sound.”
But there are also times when cuts don’t come together as expected. “When it comes to us and we piece it all together with music, effects and dialogue, sometimes scares don’t work as well as they should—due to either too much or too little ambient noise, for example. You’re trying to find that happy in between, a fine balance by keeping it realistic so you’re not foreshadowing that something’s going to jump out at you. We experimented with taking music out in certain sections to get the biggest impact we possibly could.”
Native Dolby Atmos® mixing
For Michael, the evolving nature of Pro Tools brings ever-expanding benefits. “The plugins and what Pro Tools can handle these days is quite impressive,” he says. And now that extends to native Dolby Atmos mixing. “Pro Tools 12.8 came out right as we were finishing. The new version was released just in time for us try it and it worked great. So, from a mixing standpoint, that’s really fantastic, allowing us to do Atmos in Pro Tools natively.”
Pro Tools 12.8 came out right as we were finishing. The new version was released just in time for us try it and it worked great. So, from a mixing standpoint, that’s really fantastic, allowing us to do Atmos in Pro Tools natively.
Michael Keller, Re-recording Mixer
Asked about predictions on the future of production and he answers with a simple, “more dailies and tighter schedules. The biggest challenge is always time. The further movies push back in post production and get closer to the release date, there’s less time for us.”