How the Deepwater Horizon Sound Team Put Viewers on the Oil Rig

The sound team on Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg’s account of the 2010 oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, focused on realism starting with extensive research that even came down to examining the procedures involved on the rig that were featured in the story.

“Our goal was always to involve the ear of the audience in the characters and how involved, difficult and engaging the mission of oil exploration can become,” says the film’s seven-time Oscar nominated sound designer Wylie Stateman. “After all, the story of the Deepwater Horizon is not so much one of only destruction but of the many participants putting life, career and integrity on the line in pursuit of hard to reach sources of energy.”


The sound team, he says, also wanted to create “hold your breath tension and a feeling of documentary-like immersion,” which meant giving the viewer the sense that he or she is enveloped in the life of those in offshore oil exploration. “It’s technical, noisy, messy, yet highly coordinated work. Danger lurks everywhere; even with how the environment and machinery sound. All pressure sounds, the fire, the twisting metal and explosions, were developed post shooting. The alarms, radio and PA announcements were interpreted to enhance confusion and disorientation.”

Lionsgate and Participant Media spent $110 million to make the movie, which will additionally get a release in Dolby Cinema, which combines Dolby’s immersive sound format Atmos and its high dynamic range image format Dolby Vision (HDR means that the projector can display a wider range between the whitest whites and blackest blacks)

1280x720-2pM.jpgTo draw people in during the opening minutes of the film. Deepwater Horizon begins with a voiceover by real life rig technician Mike Williams — portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in the film — who give a description of what actually happened during the incident. And then from that mono voiceover the sound “opens up” to the sound supporting the imagery that puts the viewer underwater, Hoehn explains. “Our goal was to create infinite vanishing points above you and below you. [Coupled with] ambient, textured score [from composer Steve Jablonsky] the opening sets up the monster downstairs but also it gets you acclimated to the experience.

“From there, it was about playing with each of the elements and giving them their moments,” he adds.


For the imagery, the film’s senior colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld of Deluxe postproduction house Company 3 (he’s also chief creative officer at Deluxe) similarly focused on realism and putting the viewer in the experience.

“We tried to be more realistic and we [gave it a] sense of style inside the rig with color,” he says. “At the end, with the explosions, that was effects work. That was the trickest, integrating [the effects] into the piece so it looked real.”

He adds that for the Dolby Vision version, “there’s more range between black and white, which is perfect for a movie like this with the darkness and the [bright] explosions. It was about keeping the range as wide as possible without taking someone out of the story.”

Read the full interview here. Deepwater Horizon is in cinemas now. Read more about the film here


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