Grad Judah Getz on the Sounds (and Screams) of Emmy-Nominated ‘American Horror Story’

Grad Judah Getz on the Sounds (and Screams) of 'American Horror Story'

The amount of quality programming on television right now is evident in a quick glance at the nominees for the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, which broadcast this Sunday, September 22 at 8 p.m. EST on CBS. Shows like “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad,” “Homeland,” and “House of Cards” will go head to head in a number of major dramatic categories, including Lead Actor, Directing, Writing, and the coveted Outstanding Drama Series.

A number of Full Sail graduates helped contribute to the production of these shows. They worked as camera operators, audio techs, and visual effects artists on the above series as well as others like “Modern Family,” “Dancing with the Stars,” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

Leading everyone with 17 nominations is “American Horror Story: Asylum,” the second installment of Ryan Murphy’s popular FX miniseries, which takes place in 1964 at the Briarcliff Mental Institution for the criminally insane. (It’s considered a miniseries because each season of the series is a completely separate story with brand new characters.) Three Full Sail grads worked on the series, including Cesar Davila-Irizarry (Recording Arts, 2007; Theme Song/Theme Song Written by), Judah Getz (Recording Arts, 2006; ADR Mixer), and Eric Kovtun (Film, 2005, Production Coordinator).

We caught up with Judah earlier this week to talk about his work on the show.

As an ADR Mixer you’re responsible for re-recording dialogue and other background sounds for specific moments after the episode has been shot. What’s a day like for you working on ‘American Horror Story?’

JG: The day before recording actors, I’ll get my cues from the sound supervisor and set up my session. It’s usually a group session with about five or six actors. Ryan Murphy [the show’s creator] doesn’t like to do ADR for principal actors, which is sort of a testament to his pre-production. Nowadays ADR is mostly for script changes: once the show is edited together, there are sometimes plot holes, so an actor needs to come in and add that dialogue back in. But with Ryan and his crew, they are able to get the story together and edit it without needing any added lines or plot fillers. So for the most part, the group ADR becomes more of a sound design element.

The sound design element of “American Horror Story: Asylum” definitely includes screaming. Lots of it. How do you capture those and other eerie sounds?

JG: Most of our ADR work involved creating the atmosphere of the asylum, so it was hours and hours of recording screams. Since a lot of the screams on the show are coming from off camera, down a hallway, we recorded them pretty far away. I hung a U87 mic in the front of the room about 20 feet from the actors and just let them come in and scream. In the common area of the asylum, where the patients listen to music and play games, we had to create a subtle atmosphere that people were actually in the room, because on set, the only people that are mic’ed are the ones with dialogue. There were definitely some very interesting side characters we had to bring life.

Does it ever get tiring, listening to people scream all day?

JG: You start to get a little fatigued after a couple of hour of listening. But halfway through the season one of our crew members lost her husband suddenly, and I know just from talking to her and being in those sessions with her, letting loose and screaming was sort of therapeutic.

You’ve worked as an ADR mixer on dozens of television shows and movies. How important is it to know and understand the show while you’re doing your job?

JG: I work on so many shows there’s no way I’d be able to watch them all. But I’m definitely a fan of “American Horror Story.” I typically, especially when it’s a new show, try to watch the first episode all the way through to get a sense of where it’s going and talk to the sound supervisors ahead of time and get a sense of what they’re trying to accomplish. With ADR, I’m not the one calling out performance notes or directing, it’s more from a technical aspect. My focus is on sound. A lot of that being being mic placement and whether the noises needs to sound like it’s coming from inside or outside. So I would say it’s important to know the story and the story arc, but it’s not 100% necessary to accomplish what I need to do.