This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
If the gunshots and whipcracks in Django Unchained sound strange, it's because director Quentin Tarantino ordered his team to make everything about the film feel "analog and spirited."
"Analog means he wants it to have a vintage feel, and spirited means he wants a hyper-real perspective in places, like Charley One-Eye, Once Upon a Time in the West or For a Few Dollars More," says supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman. "Those films really inspired Django."
So instead of using audio library sounds, Stateman says, "We have redefined what a whipcrack sounds like, and the sound of the gunshot."
In August 2011, Stateman and an editor trekked to Death Valley to "map the echoes" of its wide-open spaces. They also recorded in Zion National Park in southern Utah and Monument Valley. "We chose a time when the weather was very much overcast, which gave us a more reflective sound off the sky in these box canyons."
Stateman took the collected echoes to L.A. and got to work on the soundtrack. "Our gunshots in Django are not just digital sounds of a gun report; they're backed up by these beautiful impulse responses created on those three very distinct locations. We used some of that element for the bullwhip, too."
Such detail mania sounds crazy but pays off. "There's the sound something makes and the acoustical environment that puts a fingerprint on the sound -- an attitude," Stateman says. "And we are very much making a film with attitude."