Amazon’s Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Behind the Scenes and Sound of the Series
Organized by the IndieWire Crafts team, Craft Considerations is a platform for filmmakers to talk about recent work that we think deserves accolades. In partnership with Amazon, for this edition, we take a look at how supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer Ron Bochar created the complex yet clear soundscapes of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
From the start, the Amazon series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has raised the bar for television ambition and daring, with painstakingly choreographed 360-degree camera movements, a wide and vivid color palette, and glamorous lighting and costumes that invite and win comparison. with some of the greatest films in Hollywood history. However, the series’ connection to classic cinema goes far beyond the visuals; perhaps its greatest evocation of classic Hollywood flair comes from its lightning-fast squishy dialogue, a longstanding tradition in the work of showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino.
Getting that dialogue across to audiences without losing sight of the series’ wider sonic demands is just one of the challenges that sound editor and re-recording mixer Ron Bochar has faced since beginning work on the series at its creation. “When we did the pilot so many moons ago, Amy and Dan came up to me and said, ‘We don’t want this to sound like conventional television,'” Bochar told IndieWire. “’We don’t want it to sound like a sitcom. We don’t want it to look like anything other than a full-fledged feature film. We want it dense. We want it populated. We want him to be busy. Oh yeah, and we want to hear all of our dialogue. So it became the challenge of trying to maintain a balance that would make them happy and allow us to go as crazy as we wanted.
One of Bochar’s biggest challenges in terms of prioritizing dialogue and keeping it clear is the amount of discussion the writers cram into each hour. “Their scripts are 80 to 100 pages and the show is 50 or 55 minutes long,” Bochar said. “There aren’t a lot of things left behind and you can’t get in the way of that dialogue. What I learned on ‘Maisel’ is that you only have a short time to sell the scene to the audience – you have to do it from the start.
This meant that for material like the Coney Island sequence seen in the video above, Bochar had to immediately establish a complex soundscape and then quietly remove the various elements. “Before even entering the dialogue, I wanted to have the atmosphere from below to continue to float. There’s music, and every once in a while there’s a few lines of dialogue from the band that progress. There’s the Spookarama, which goes on constantly, and there’s the seagulls and the ocean. When Midge first walks into Coney Island, we can do anything with the crowd noise and stuff, and when they first show up at the Wonder Wheel, I can set the Spookarama and all sorts of other things background. But then you have to subtly take it all away and shape it around the dialogue – the dialogue should always be supreme.
Giving supremacy to the dialogue is further complicated by the fact that the creators of the series hate loops and try to limit them as much as possible. “Every season Amy and Dan try to throw us one more curveball where we have to find a new way of doing things,” Bochar said, noting that in one instance a scene of Midge and fellow comedian Lenny Bruce running in the snow was shot in summer in front of facades on the studio grounds. “There were snow machines, wind turbines, etc. – everything was noisy and there was hardly any loop other than additional sounds of people running away. As for Lenny and Midge, that was their entire production track. How we ended up getting there in such a short time is beyond me.
Many of Bochar’s most sophisticated soundscapes are those least noticeable to audiences, such as the many scenes in which Midge performs her stand-up comedy routines. Whether or not the jokes land and whether the period details are convincing or not largely depends on the subtle tweaks Bochar makes to the mix. Often understanding these changes is a matter of intuition and just following the example of the sequence. “The moment you start working with the material, the film tells you what to do,” Bochar said. “You start to feel the ripples and you can feel that maybe you need a little more detail here, or the band sound more there, or it’s not feminine enough.” Creating that vibe is a big part of how Bochar uses sound to strengthen the connection not only between Midge and the audience on screen, but Midge and the audience at home. “Whenever Midge performs, it’s never just a generic laugh. It’s all bespoke and it’s all in the detail, as the sound is there to guide the transitions and the emotions. It goes a long way towards the storytelling. —Jim Hemphill