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Started at Sundance: The Daniels Talk Sound, Music, and Their First Oscar-Nominated Film, Everything Everywhere All At Once


[Above: Daniel Scheinert, Glenn Kiser, Peter Gloub, and Daniel Kwan]

By Stephanie Ornelas

Every great artist starts somewhere. For Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, writer-directors of Everything Everywhere All At Once, it all started at Sundance. The filmmaking duo's debut feature, Swiss Army Man, about a man stranded on an island who befriends a dead body, not only premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, it was supported by the Institute through a handful of Labs, including the Directors, Producers, and Screenwriters Labs. When the Daniels returned to the Institute to lead Sundance Collab's virtual Master Class: The Sound & Music of the Daniels' Everything Everywhere All At Once | Presented by The Dolby Institute in 2022, they shared some important lessons learned throughout their creative process - including during the making of Swiss Army Man - and takeaways to keep in mind for their next projects.

A still from Swiss Army Man starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Kwan and Scheinert (collectively known as the Daniels) were joined by some of their collaborators on Everything Everywhere All At Once - Brent Kiser, the re-recording mixer and supervising sound editor; Andrew Twite, sound designer and supervising sound effects editor; and Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia, and Ian Chang, the three members of the band Son Lux, who composed the original, spellbinding score - to discuss the process by which composers and sound designers can build the world with the filmmaker and be an essential part of shaping a film's story.

Sundance has been a big part of our development as creative artists, says Kwan during the discussion. We obviously got to go through the Labs, and I'm just really excited to put a little bit more of that magic back into the Institute because we would not be here without Sundance.

As we approach the 2023 Academy Awards on Sunday, March 12, everyone is talking about Everything Everywhere All At Once, a movie centered on an exhausted Chinese American woman (Michelle Yeoh) who is swept up into a bizarre adventure in which she alone can save existence by exploring other universes. The well-received film has garnered 11 Oscar nominations, including best Music (Original Score).

We often treat these two aspects of filmmaking [music and sound] separately, but there's a lot that can be gained from being consciously devoted to seeing what they can do together, and I think the film exemplifies that, says moderator and composer Peter Golub.

From lessons brought out by the COVID-19 pandemic to choreography and overall sound collaboration, here are five big takeaways from the virtual Master Class: The Sound & Music of the Daniels' Everything Everywhere All At Once | Presented by The Dolby Institute.

Prioritizing collaboration

Kiser explains that the collaboration was unique simply because it was uncommon for the sound and music crew to work so in sync with the filmmakers. They're typically brought on beforehand or at the very end.

Patty West, Daniel Scheinert, Glenn Kiser, Ian Chang, Brent Kiser, Rafiq Bhatia, Peter Golub, Daniel Kwan, Andrew Twite, and Ryan Lott. Collaboration in this is huge. It was definitely summer camp family vibes with everybody on this, and it's such a blessing because rarely do music and effects get to really be as close. I think that's what Dan and Daniel did so great. They wanted us to be together. There were early phone calls of putting us together and wanting this.

Balancing musical score and sound effects

The musical score and the sound effects flow together seamlessly in Everything Everywhere All At Once. To give virtual audiences a better understanding of how the two worked so cohesively, the panel showed scenes from the film with only the stems for the sound effects initially, then replayed the same scenes with only the stems for the musical score. Moderator and director of the Dolby Institute, Glenn Kiser, was curious how the team was able to balance the simultaneous presence of sound effects and score in certain scenes. On a number of occasions, the sound design and the music are actually hitting the same moment, he remarks.

Getting caught up in the practicality of, That didn't hit that frame exactly,' doesn't matter, explains Brent Kiser. The only time you'll notice is if I'm a half frame off or two frames off the downbeat. Then something's not right. We're playing support to the music, so the groove is set, and I'm just hopping in the pocket. What Andrew and I love doing is finding those moments where we can stay in rhythm, stay in key. When it works like this, there's never a question. And that's one of the bigger things - I never want to take anybody out of the experience. Bad rhythm, just because I get caught up on that one hit, just ruins the vibe.
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