The world of John Wick is just getting started. The Continental is premiering on Peacock September 22, and to make a show of this caliber takes a team of the most talented experts in the industry.
Fortunately, we were on hand at a special event for the series to discuss what it took to dress up the crazy characters from the John Wick universe with costume designer Sarah Arthur, and how to make them sound dangerous, with John Wick sound editor Luke Gibleon.
We were able to attend two demonstrations with Arthur and Gibleon, in addition to a round table discussion. Here’s a breakdown of everything we learned from the event.
The day began with Gibleon, longtime sound editor for the John Wick franchise, who invited members of the press to an exclusive showcase of how sound is integrated into every scene of the series.
“You’re hearing vehicles, guns, bullets, crashes, and a subjective sounds that you may think are music, but are actually sounds that create tension, size, impact, weight playing on your subconscious to heighten the experience. As many of you know the only sound recorded on set is the dialogue. Everything else is crafted by a sound team… We do a lot of cleaning up of the dialogue on set to make it sound smooth and give it clarity… Sound design is more than just ‘see a car, hear a car.’ Our job is to help realize a vision and tell a story. And we do that in so many different ways. We use it to inform the audience about the world around them.”
Gibleon then gave a demonstration showcasing the different sounds he’s programmed into a keyboard, syncing each blast and ricochet to the images flashing on screen. With every stroke of his keyboard, he added depth and mood to every shot and hit, making us all feel the stakes of the action scene.
When discussing what it is that defines the sound of a John Wick project, Gibleon had this to say:
“For John Wick we created our own sound for the action within the world. And I like to call that sound Precision Violence. It’s precise. It’s articulate. We want each moment to be heard and have its own impact. These fights and action scenes are so well choreographed, it’s important we do our job with sound to help tell that story and give you all that information that’s happening so quickly in a fight. And that could be us working with seconds or fractions of a second, frames at a time. If it’s not precise and carefully crafted it can get messy and unfocused quickly. And the audience won’t be able to experience the story in the way it’s meant to be interpreted. So for John Wick we created this hyper real, graphic violent action. And in addition to that it’s got to feel kind of natural. And that was very important to Albert, that it feel very natural. Every gunshot each time is fired sounds a little bit different. If you had the same sound effect on a gun for a person shooting a bunch of times, we as an audience would go ‘wait a second.’ Because it sounds exactly the same… [The way a gunshot] reflects off the walls in a natural environment will sound different to our ears. So in order to make that sound with the guns and the fighting, we do it in layers…and every time it’s fired we’re changing those layers… all to create this natural sound and action.”
As the day continued we also had a chance to check out an intimate panel with Emmy-nominated costume designer Arthur who designed all of the outfits seen in The Continental. Adorning the room of the panel were the impressive costumes themselves.
Arthur, whose filmography spans from Sherlock and The Sandman spoke about what it was like to design for a period show set in the 70s.
“It was only 50 years ago, so there’s a lot of reference out there. So I found the book… New York in the ’70s, filled with original photographs from that time… a variety of documentaries I watched, and films from the ’70s like Taxi Driver and other similar films… I started on the process with my own designs. I wanted the actors to connect with the costumes, to make their process easier… I like to use original pieces in any work I do, whatever period it is. And of course there’s a huge amount of original pieces out there from the ’70s. I found some amazing pieces… and incorporated those incredible pieces… wherever I could in the The Continental. So a lot of the crowd scenes had the original pieces.”
On the topic of designing for the action in the series, Arthur said this: “With the stuntwork I realized very quickly looking at our action director, Larnell’s choreography that we needed multiple costumes for the stunts. So I commissioned 150 mens’ suits and ladies suits… and multiples of each of them so that we had plenty of back up shirts and jumpers for that reason.”
Arthur went around the room and walked us through some of the unique looks of the crazy characters that inhabit the world of The Continental. One of the most interesting designs was what she put together for this series’ version of The Adjudicator.
“This is a take on an original suit that I have in my stock… the big shoulders. The nice original pieces. The black trim. It gave [Katie McGrath] the stature that she needed for this part. The belt. We made these shoes. We didn’t want her teetering on stilettos so we made them quite sturdy so she could walk more with purpose.”
We were then treated to a roundtable discussion with both Arthur and Gibleon.
When asked about whether or not the two coordinated on how different fabrics would sound in the context of a scene, they had this to say:
“We usually don’t get a chance to collaborate,” stated Gibleon.
“I do collaborate with sound… But Luke does the post-sound,” added Arthur. “So when we have sound recorders on set… some fabrics annoy.”
“Yeah, that’s the funny thing is usually it’s because the idea is you want to capture as clean a sound as possible,” continued Gibleon. “A lot of her, what she’s doing when she’s crafting these are actually making fabrics that don’t get picked up by their microphone. So that way we can hear the quality of the dialogue. And then, and then my team, we come in and we try to recapture what that fabric might sound like. And Hansel and Gretel are amazing examples because these are the characters who are me. They don’t speak, you know, and we don’t even give them breaths like we would or efforts like we would give other characters. And that actually helps make them feel even more menacing and threatening. Like these guys are doing these, as you’ll see if you haven’t yet, they’re doing these amazing fights. And it’s not like they’re even out of breath. But because of that, we make sure you’re hearing their, you know, costumes as they move around. But I think it’s amazing what she does to usually create these amazing costumes that usually don’t get picked up that well on the microphone so we can make that sounds ourselves so we can decide when we want to hear it and when we don’t.”
The pair was then asked about the signature sounds and designs that they place in each projects to give their work a unique stamp.
“So from a costume design part, you know, every project is very different,” began Arthur. “You know, I’ve just finished a sixth century King Arthur, you know, up to our necks in mud and just using linen and wool and sack cloth. So no, my work is very broad. So I can be doing, you know, just stop filming on the Sandman season two. And we created costumes for an African scene 10,000 years before Christ. So obviously, is there a fantasy? That’s what I think. And so, you know, every job is different. And that’s why, you know, as a costume designer, you need to be quite flexible with and you read every script, you think, oh, great. You immerse yourself in that world for that job. And that’s all you really think about. That’s what makes it so fascinating and really exciting.”
“I agree 100%,” added Gibleon. “Every story is different. So really what you want to be able to do is craft something unique to that story. And that’s usually the whole end game. So it’s really looking, sometimes it is looking at the script if we get ahead of time. Sometimes look at the picture and go, how can we do something different? And it actually makes it neat to me. It makes it more fun because sometimes you can get pigeonholed into certain things. Like one thing I’ve kind of become a little known for is fight sequences. I’ve done a lot. And I got a good fight sequence for you, right? But I also don’t want to be put in a box or pigeonholed. So I make it a job, a mission to seek out different projects. And I’m grateful because by doing that, often you can discover something on one project that’s totally different than then you get on a project that’s way different. But the discovery you made on that other project and the tools that you used to do it, you go, you know what? I might actually be able to use that same kind of tool that I discovered with that for this. And I would have never thought of that before. So that part is where I think those things start to mend a little bit is these discoveries that you have about how you can do what you do.”
In short the takeaways from both presentation are how hard the designers and sound engineers work to help tell the story. So much credit goes to directors and writers, with good reason of course. But sound and costumes play a significant impact in how this story comes together!
The Continental debuts on Peacock September 22.
And keep your eyes posted to The Nerds of Color this week for more coverage of The Continental!
*This event was conducted during the WGA and SAG/AFTRA strike. To support the strike, please donate to the Entertainment Community Fund.*