Talking The Sounds Of Minx And The CW Universe With Supervising Sound Editor Ethan Beigel


How did you get into entertainment and what was your big break?

I grew up as a movie obsessive, so from very early on I knew I wanted to be involved somehow. I originally thought I would be a critic but when I was in high school, I went to a summer film, TV, and radio production workshop and fell in love with the process. So I committed myself to go to film school. After I graduated, I’ve had a series of very fortunate breaks, the first being my first job as a professional sound editor. I was unemployed, living in New York and as I was waiting for the subway, I heard a saxophonist playing. Being a saxophonist in high school, I went to drop a dollar in his case and it turned out the saxophonist was my sound design teacher at NYU. So we started talking and a job had just opened up at his studio earlier that week. He hooked me up with an interview and the next Monday, I was editing sound effects on my first feature.

What were some of the biggest challenges with Minx and your greatest success stories?

Unsurprisingly, I think they’re one and the same. Minx has a lot of very unique crowd work that we needed to recreate. The scenes on set are rarely if ever, filmed with the crowds making noise so we had to do that all ourselves. Office chatter, protests, riots, talk show audiences. Every episode has something unique involving the people surrounding the main characters. That we were able to successfully recreate those environments in a Covid world where we aren’t allowed to bring crowds into recording studios is the feather I’ll stick in our cap, sound-wise.

Did the fact that the show was set in the 70s present any unique challenges compared to a film with a more modern setting?

Yes, but not in the way I would have thought. We think of period pieces as these kinds of alien-sounding environments but the truth is, we have sounds of the 70s everywhere. We have access to a lot of vintage cars, typewriters, etc… so finding and curating those sounds was less challenging than I thought. We did have to be diligent about modern technology creeping in. Say we have a background recording of an office and it features everything you want like manual typewriters. But then a digital phone ring from the 80s sneaks in and you have to make sure that doesn’t play.

Where the time period got a little more challenging was to conform to gender roles in the creation of our sounds. For example, when we were in a high-end magazine office, we needed to record women separate from men and make sure that the character of the sounds we were creating reflected the gender dynamics of the time period. Women had to sound like receptionists, and men had to sound like the executives.

What type of prep did you do?

I try to read the scripts in advance so I know what’s coming. My crew will also start building what we call ‘commons’. TV shows tend to visit the same locations over and over again, so we were building the ambient sounds of those locations prior to getting a locked picture.

Even prior to getting hired for the show, I made sure to watch some of the work of the key creatives, Rachel Lee Goldenberg who directed the pilot, Ellen Rappaport, our showrunner, and Paul Feig, our executive producer. I always want to have some understanding of the tastes of the people I’ll be working with before I start on their show.

How far in advance of filming do you begin to prepare and how much is done as the show is filming and in post?

It depends on the show and their budget, but typically we don’t do much prior to them finalizing their picture edit. On some shows, like Riverdale and You, for example, there’s a lot of voice over and we’ll record and prepare that in advance of them starting to edit the episode. During the picturing editing process, I’ll often get requests for sound effects. Occasionally, there will be a scene with very noisy dialogue that the editor will send me to clean up. And we can make some decisions about whether we’ll have to rerecord the dialogue then. But the bulk of the work happens after they finish the picture edit.

Do you prefer a Foley-style sound or digital creations and why?

To me, they’re two sides of the same coin. We do a lot of both on every show. Because of the limitations on time and budget in television, we do lean a lot on pre-recorded sound effects. It’s a library that has been built over decades of custom recordings. But every show is unique and we also budget a couple of days for custom foley recording. For example, Riverdale had an episode where there was a fencing duel and I wanted to make sure the fencing sounds were accurate for the weapons they were using and the space they were in. So I brought a recording crew to my kid’s fencing studio and we made our own library of fencing sounds. We’ll do that as often as possible because you always want to update the library using newer and better technology. But sometimes, the time crunch gets in the way.

Foley, sound effects libraries, field recordings… These are all tools. Every moment requires us to choose what is the best tool. How we get the sound is less important to me than knowing it’s the right sound to tell the story.

What is the sound process like during film and post-filming to get the final cut?

There’s a pretty diverse division of labor on a sound crew. On set, the primary concern of the sound crew is to record the dialogue. Everything else, we add or enhance in post-production. The production sound mixer will typically record sound from multiple microphones. They’ll also make a mixed track of those microphones that the picture department uses for a guide to their editing. Once the show is edited, there’s a process where my team rebuilds the dialogue tracks from the original recordings including all of the microphones. We then sift through them, line by line, microphone by microphone, and pick the best sounding recording. That’s the dialogue department. We also evaluate every line and decide if we need to rerecord it as well as prepare to record any additional dialogue that’s been written after they completed filming. That’s the ADR department. The FX department is searching libraries and recording their own sounds for everything you want to hear that’s not dialogue. Birds, winds, cars, guns… whatever. They will pick and prepare those sounds. The Foley department will record custom sounds in sync to picture. These are typically sounds that need to be performed in order to sound right. Things like footsteps, flipping through the newspaper, etc… Sounds that a character makes that need to be recreated as if by that character. For a demonstration of that process, my foley crew on Minx, and Riverdale has a great TikTok and Instagram feed. @ReelFoleySound. Lots of fun stuff there.

Do you have to work with the Composer to link up the sound with the music or do you mainly work with the Director?

We do communicate with the composer but usually through the director or the producers. It’s usually broad conversations about what the music might sound like so we can stay out of their way. Sometimes, on horror movies, for example, there’s a lot of crossover between what might be considered music versus sound design. Lots of drones, jump-scare stingers, etc… In cases like that, we’ll definitely talk to the music department so we’re all on the same page as to who is responsible for creating each part of the soundtrack.

What is a typical workday/week for you when working on a show and do you ever have projects overlap?

Every day is different. It’s a big part of what I love about the job. It’s never repetitive. For example, yesterday, an episode of Riverdale was locked and turned over to me and I spent the day evaluating the dialogue and deciding what would be rerecorded in ADR. Today, we did a bunch of that ADR recording so my day was spent working with actors. Tomorrow is the first day we’ll be mixing so I’ll be available to address any notes that come from the mixers. And when they’re running smoothly, I’ll be preparing the episode we’re going to mix next week.

As for projects overlapping, oh yes. These days, there’s so much content that I don’t know many sound supervisors who aren’t overlapping in some form. Currently, I’m on two shows, Riverdale and a new Pretty Little Liars series. As these wrap-ups, I’ll be starting You season 4 so there’s going to be some overlap between the ends of these shows and the start of that one. And then we’ll overlap again as You are finishing their season, Riverdale season 7 will be starting. With a lot of good fortune, there’s always a project to work on.

Having worked with many CW shows, can you compare/contrast how the process may differ from an action-oriented series to a show like Minx?

On the CW superhero shows, the process was very different because of visual effects. Those take a lot longer and they’re rarely finished when sound work begins. So we always had to make adjustments until the last possible minute we could before delivering to the network. We would mix the show using temporary effects, grayscale animations, etc… things that could get us in the ballpark. As the week would go on, we’d get batches of new, fully rendered VFX and we’d have to adjust. Sometimes it was synced, sometimes the color made us feel like we needed a different sound. So we were always tweaking the sound design and mix on those shows. And because it was a broadcast network, we were almost always up against a hard deadline to get the show on the air. It’s much faster and easier to adjust sound than it is to adjust pictures, so it was more efficient for us to work on temporary VFX and adjust later.

On Minx, we finished the entire series before the first episode aired. So there was little more time to experiment and work on the details. We also don’t have many VFX that affect sound so the process was a little easier to keep track of where we were. And because we weren’t up against air, we didn’t have to fix some things RIGHT NOW. If the producers didn’t like the performance on a line of dialogue, we were afforded the luxury of bringing the actor back and rerecording it even after we ‘finished’ the mix. It’s a very different process because, on the action series, we know our sounds are often temporary. On a show like Minx, our sounds are what will be in the show and the producers know immediately if they want to change anything.

How does the process change from movies to television and which do you prefer?

The biggest difference between TV and movies is time and usually money. For example, a ninety-minute movie might have 4-to 5 weeks of editing and another 2-to 3 weeks to mix. That’s a relatively small job. Maybe a romantic comedy, or a low-budget indie movie. Ninety minutes is the equivalent of two episodes of a network television show. For two episodes combined, we’ll have about 12 days of editing and 4 days of mixing. It’s less than a third of the time that a feature film will get.

When you sacrifice time, you sacrifice detail. Sound is very subjective and we might do a pass of the sound work that’s really good. But could it be better? With time, we have the opportunity to try some other ideas and see if they’re better. Without time, really good ends up being what we go it. The difference is less catastrophic than I’m making it sound. TV speakers, laptop speakers, earbuds… Those erase a lot of the details anyway. But I think we’re seeing a slow change in the industry. The streamers and premium cable networks are putting out a lot of content that takes the feature mentality into a ten-episode series. We’re getting to the point where we’re making ten hours of movies and the lines between TV and movies have been blurred.

As for what I prefer, they have their pros and cons. As I said, features have more creative freedom in terms of really digging in and making it perfect. But TV has a rhythm that’s very comforting. From a purely life/work balance standpoint, it’s very secure being on a long-running TV show where I don’t have to worry about my next job for nine months. And if I don’t have a show for the other three months, I know that my long-running TV show is coming back. But I really love both TV and movies and I enjoy bouncing back and forth. Ultimately, I love working and I love the people I work with. It’s all storytelling which is what I got into the industry to do.

What do you have upcoming?

Currently, we’re in the home stretch on Riverdale season 6. I’m simultaneously working on the new Pretty Little Liars series for HBO Max. In the summer, I’ll be returning for You season 4 and then back on Riverdale season 7 in the fall. Hopefully, Minx gets picked up for a season 2 and I can go spend some more time in that world. I’ve definitely been blessed with a run of great shows with a lot of variety. This job is never boring.