Horror Month: Marc Fishman, Sound Re-Recording Mixer for ‘Texas Chainsaw’ and ‘Friday the 13th,’ Talks Horror Audio

This October we’re celebrating “Horror Month” on the Full Sail Blog. Stay tuned over the coming weeks for a series of features and interviews celebrating the best in horror entertainment.

After years spent watching horror films, it has become more apparent that the audio – the music and sound effects – is the real pulse of the terror. The monsters, gore, and other visuals obviously leave the lingering impression when you’re lying in your darkened bedroom at night. But during the actual movie, it’s the sudden audio cues that punctuate the scares. The eerie score or that ramps up the tension. Even a deliberate lack of audio will lull you into an unsettling mix of calm and anticipation.

There’s a clever balancing act that goes into creating an effective audio score for a scary movie, as Full Sail Recording Arts grad Marc Fishman will explain. Marc is an award winning sound re-recording mixer with credits on such horror entries as Friday the 13th (2009), Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Open Water, Sorority Row, and Devil, among many others. He recently checked in this October to speak about his work in the genre, and offer his inside perspective on the power of audio in horror.

Full Sail: When watching a really scary horror film, I’ve noticed I’m usually more likely to cover my ears than eyes. Why is audio so effective in scaring us?

Marc Fishman: I think you can use sound to push and pull people with its dynamics, and that’s really important in horror – to lead the audience. These films are thrill rides, you want to take people up the hill then push them down the hill. A director and cinematographer can do it with shadows and light, but with sound you can do it with dynamics. You get the opportunity to go from silence to something really deafening. I believe the sound is 80% of the mood of a horror film.

FS: Are there some recent examples of horror film audio that you’ve found especially effective?

MF: I saw The Conjuring, which has an unbelievable sound job. It’s hugely dynamic, and interesting in that it saves its bigness of the track until the last act. They were very smart in that they reserved an extra 15 % until the end. It’s one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in years, and a great example of unexpected ways of using sound.

FS: What about some classic horror films that you have found influential in your own work?

MF: I can go from The Conjuring back to the 70s where The Exorcist was a milestone for sound. They used dynamics not how we would think of it today – where it’s quiet and then there’s a bump scare – but it’s in the use of scene cuts and transitions. You add to that an iconic score and it’s just an overall great use of sound in an amazing film.

FS: It’s interesting to note the differences in two of your own credits like Open Water and Teas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, where one mix is so subdued and the other so blatantly in your face. What was your approach to those two styles?

MF: Open Water was a different kind of challenge where it was much more about how much can we get away with in a minimalist way. We were always taking stuff out and pulling it back to make sure that we were staying true to the reality. With Texas Chainsaw it was always about how we could push it more. How can we make it more and more visceral. So it was creativity it two different ways. Pushing the envelope with dynamics with Chainsaw, and fighting to be restrained with Open Water.

FS: Is there any joy in thinking of all the nightmares you’ve probably helped give audiences over the years?

MF: Horror is one of my favorite things to do because you have so many vast opportunities to be creative with sound, so I jump at the chance whenever I get the opportunity. I’ve also definitely had some fun going to watch movies with a theater full of people. You know where the scares are, and can sit back and watch them jump. It’s always a great satisfaction knowing you were involved with that.