Westchester, New York— Now in its second season on EPIX, the tense cloak and dagger drama Berlin Station centers on undercover agents, diplomats and whistleblowers inhabiting a shadow world inside the German capital. It’s hard to tell who’s working for or against whom in this nothing-as-it-seems tale where a CIA team operates out of hidden quarters within the American embassy and where even footsteps seem to be concealing something.
Working under the direction of series Supervising Sound Editor Ruy Garcia, Foley studio Alchemy Post Sound is using every resource at its disposal to provide Berlin Station with cinematic sound. Practical effects, like the clatter of weapons and clinking glass, are recorded on the facility’s main Foley stage, which is designed to capture sound effects in a pristine state. Certain environmental effects are captured on location at sites whose ambiance is like the show’s settings. Interior footsteps, meanwhile, are recorded in the facility’s new “live” room, a 1300 square foot space with natural reverb that’s used to replicate the environment of rooms with concrete, linoleum and tile floors.
“Ruy wants a soundtrack with a lot of detail and depth of field,” explains lead Foley artist and Alchemy Post founder Leslie Bloome. “So, it’s important to perform sounds in the proper perspective. Our entire team of editors, engineers and Foley artists need to be on point regarding the location and depth of field of sounds we’re recording. Our aim is to make every setting feel like a real place.”
A frequent task for the Foley team is to come up with sounds for high tech cameras, surveillance equipment and other spy gadgetry. Foley artist Joanna Fang notes that sophisticated wall safes appear in several episodes, each one featuring differing combinations of electronic, latch and door sounds. She adds that in one episode a character has a microchip concealed in his suit jacket and the Foley team needed to invent the muffled crunch the chip makes when the man is frisked. “It’s one of those little ‘non-sounds,’ that Foley specializes in,” she says. “Most people take it for granted, but it helps tell the story.”
The team is also called on to create Foley effects associated with specific exterior and interior locations. This can include everything from seedy safe houses and bars to modern office suites and upscale hotel rooms. When possible, Alchemy prefers to record such effects on location at sites closely resembling those pictured on screen. Bloome says that recording things like creaky wood floors on location results in effects that sound more real. “The natural ambience allows us to grab the essence of the moment,” he explains, “and keep viewers engaged with the scene.”
Footsteps are another regular Foley task. Fang points out that there is a lot of “cat and mouse” action with one character following another or being pursued, and the patter of footsteps adds to the tension. “The footsteps are kind of tough,” she says. “Many of the characters are either diplomats or spies and they all wear hard soled shoes. It’s hard to build contrast, so we end up creating a hierarchy, dark powerful heels for strong characters, lighter shoes for secondary roles.”
For interior footsteps, large theatrical curtains are used to adjust the ambiance in the live stage to fit the scene. “If it’s an office or a small room in a house, we draw the curtains cutting the room in half; if it’s a hotel lobby, we open them up,” Fang explains. “It’s amazing. We’re not only creating depth and contrast by using different types of shoes and walking surfaces, we’re doing it by adjusting the size of the recording space.”
Alchemy edits their Foley in-house and delivers pre-mixed and synced Foley that can be dropped right into the final mix seamlessly. “The things we’re doing with location Foley and perspective mixing are really cool,” says Foley editor and mixer Nicholas Seaman. “But it also means the responsibility for getting the sound right falls squarely on our shoulders. There is no ‘fix in the mix.’ From our point of view, the Foley should be able to stand on its own. You should be able to watch a scene and understand what’s going on without hearing a single line of dialogue.”
The challenge to deliver sound effects that can stand up to that level of scrutiny keeps the Foley team on its toes. “It’s a fascinating show,” says Fang. “One moment, we’re inside the station with the usual office sounds and in the next edit, we’re in the field in the middle of a machine gun battle. From one episode to the next, we never know what’s going to be thrown at us.”
About Alchemy Post Sound
Alchemy Post Sound is a 3,500 square foot, dedicated Foley studio designed specifically for Foley by resident Foley Artist Leslie Bloome. The company’s Emmy Award-winning staff has created sound for numerous major feature films, long-running television series, independent films and popular games. Alchemy’s services also include music recording, live performance, video production, ADR, and sound design.
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