The Conjuring 2 has received impressive critical praise to complement its already stellar box office performance since its release on June 10th. Those who have seen the film surely squirmed and recoiled in terror at its numerous highly effective thrills and chills, and these moviegoers, in large part, have Joe Dzuban and his team to thank for that, as the film’s lauded sound design beautifully reinforces the on-screen scares. Dzuban was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to talk with us about his experience working as the film’s supervising sound editor and sound designer.
How did you first begin working with [director]James Wan?
I met James on Insidious, and since then I’ve gone on to do The Conjuring, Insidious 2, Fast and Furious 7, and most recently The Conjuring 2. It’s been nearly the same post-production crew of Kirk Morri, Joseph Bishara, and myself throughout, so by now we’ve developed a nice shorthand. James is just an absolute pleasure to work with. There’s a level of trust that has developed, and I can usually anticipate where he wants to go. He understands that there’s a process involved in making a soundtrack, and he allows the sound team space to find the sounds as the film evolves. He’s a phenomenal director who understands all the components of the filmmaking process. He loves sound and gets excited about how it tells the story and adds emotion, suspense, tension, and drama to a scene. He understands all this innately. So any time he has a film coming up, I always get excited because I know there are going to be so many opportunities for fun, intricate, subtle, and dynamic sound work.
Tell us a little about your design process.
During production, I’ll provide the picture department new sounds that they may need specifically for the cut. I’ll read the script, do some field recordings, and try to get a sense for what types of sounds are needed, but I usually start my design work once the picture has begun to take shape.
James has me come on board full-time during the director’s cut. We’ll watch the film through and talk about it, not really specifically, but more in generalities and broad-strokes and emotional undertones. We’ll try to get to the essence of how a scene should feel. Of course there is a good bit of “This is the type of sound we’re looking for here” and “We need to figure out how this demon is going to sound” or “Let’s nail down the clackity-clack of the zoetrope,” but James allows a lot of creative freedom on my part, which is really refreshing.
My team and I work against the goal of a director’s screening for the studio. I have typically four to eight weeks of sound editorial to build ideas, gather more sound effects, and slowly learn the general shape and flow of the film. Then we’ll do a temp mix for three or four days and go through the film slowly and further discuss ideas. We sit and listen to the sounds. Some things work, some things don’t. There are a lot of “works in progress.” It’s always an evolution because the film itself is developing. The temp mix is essentially a second spotting session, and this serves as a template for moving the sound process forward.
Who was on your post sound team, and in which facility were you working?
I’m based at Formosa Group in Hollywood, where we have state-of-the-art mixing stages and equally state-of-the-art personnel. For this film, I had an incredible team. I worked closely with sound designers Peter Staubli and Eliot Connors. I’ve known Peter for years, but this was our first time actually working together. Charlie Campagna, head librarian and ace sound effects recordist also based at Formosa, was another invaluable asset for the team.
Lauren Hadaway did a fantastic job supervising the ADR and dialogue. Whenever the film’s victim, Janet [Madison Wolfe], was possessed by this entity named Old Bill, she would speak in his voice. So a tremendous amount of work went into creating dialogue effects that were terrifying but still believable. Justin Dzuban edited the dialogue and helped with editing ADR, as well. We had a great Foley artist up north – John Sievert and his team in Toronto. I’ve worked with them in the past, and he does really intricate and very nicely textured work. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a big shout-out to my assistant Pernell Salinas. He did a great job of keeping the ship running, so to speak.