The Art of Sound Editing in Sully – Robert Murray and Bub Asman (The VH Interview)

The art of sound editing is a rather overlooked skill, however it is absolutely essential in order to create suspense and tension in films like Sully: Miracle On The Hudson. This gripping Clint Eastwood film tells the story of Captain Sullenburger who, after a bird strike, landed his plane on the river Hudson, thus saving the lives of his 155 passengers.

I was lucky enough to talk to the two-time Oscar-winning duo Robert Murray and Bub Asman; two wonderfully passionate people who were at the heart of the team that created incredibly realistic and heart stopping sound effects for this movie.

I’d like you to cast your mind back to the day when you were asked to work on Sully: Miracle On The Hudson. What went through your mind? Did you start to plan ahead straight away for what was going to happen, for the kind of sounds that you were trying to capture?

Alan: It started with Clint letting us know that he was going to do the project and right at the beginning of shooting, we had a sit down with the actual captain, Sullenburger, and from that point, Bub and I realised we had to establish the realistic soundtrack first before we did any dynamic accompanying sounds. We actually wanted to hear what he went through in the cockpit, from the bird strike to the water landing. With the help of American Airlines, we got an actual transcript of the CDR cockpit recordings, and those were broken down into seconds. We were able to recreate the whole soundtrack inside the cockpit in relationship to the film, reflecting exactly what Sully had actually gone through.

That sounds kind of like forensics work!

Alan: Yeah, you meet the man and he is so impressive; he is such a true hero; you gotta get to into his mind and try and recreate what he was going through to bring the tension to the film.

Bub: I agree. Authenticity is one of our big things on historical movies. This one gave us an extra opportunity to be able to record some sound effects while the film was being shot, with the actual boats and later on, with a very similar plane. That makes all the difference in the world for us in terms of getting the sound exactly right. That was special.

Tom Hanks / Sully / Picture courtesy of Warner Bros.

When you work on this kind of project, I imagine that you have to give priority to certain sounds as they might be challenging to record and require quite a lot of planning in terms of logistics. What were the challenges that you encountered for this movie?

Alan: Well, I think the biggest problem is the time-frame and then logistics. To us the most  important thing was recording the actual Airbus H320, so because of security problems at the airport, they were not going to allow a recording crew onto a flight with passengers, and we kept on going around and around with that with American Airlines, which now owns US Air. So we all came up with the idea, “let’s find an Airbus H320 that is going on for maintenance work.” And they found one that was going in to be painted. So we got on that flight, just myself and the recordist with the pilot, and we were able to record everything we needed, outside the airplane and inside of it, which was very important to us. And all the other sounds that we needed going to New York; the ferries and all that; we were able to record them during the shooting of the film.

How long did the whole project take from start to finish?

Alan: It took 3 and a half months.

Bub: For the actual editing process, from the time they gave us a meaningful version of the film to the final sound mix, it took us indeed 3 and a half months. Alan stuck around afterwards as you have to do multiple sound versions nowadays of the film – IMAX version, 7.1, foreign versions and all these things and that takes 3 or 4 weeks beyond the actual main part of it.

For this particular movie, did you have to invent sounds, just as I understand it to be a current practice in horror movies for example, by adding different sounds together?

Alan: Yes, once we got the realistic soundtrack and listened to what we had recorded, we went back and ‘felt’ what we needed to accent or layer the sound with. We did that with a series of sound designs created by sound designer Tom Ozanich; like, for example, low end throbs in the airplane, putting metal stress sound design to make you feel the fate of the Airbus, coming up with the sounds of the birds impacting the airplane. There is a ton of outwork, but like I said, first we wanted to get the carpet laid down and we added on top – we built the soundtrack.

Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood / Sully / Picture courtesy of Warner Bros.

The landing of the airplane is a rather spectacular scene and it must have been an incredible amount of work for you. Can you give us an idea of what was involved in recreating the sound for it?

Alan: For the impact of the airplane, I had done recordings of a shipping container dropped from a hoist into a lake which gave me the heaviness of the impact and we used a tidal wave on top of that. The plane skidding to the water was a lot of sound design and also a recording of a large speed boat coming to a lake and then just shutting the engines off and just ripping through the water.

Bub: Fire hose into a swimming pool!

Alan: It’s layers upon layers of sounds trying to get the one sound you are actually after.

It’s my understanding that you have been working together for quite a long time.

Alan and Bub: Yes, four decades!

Bub: Yes, we’ve worked together since 1979!

Is it a standard for people in your line of work to work together for such a long time?

Alan: Bub grew up in film editing and I grew up in sound, so we bought our combined knowledge of that to the team and also our relationship with Clint Eastwood, who we’ve known for thirty-nine years. I think we all just hit it off. Clint likes hard work and impressive results and we are on the same plane with that. That is what stood the test of time.

Bub: It’s quite rare for two sound editors to work together for that many years… and to also work together with a director for that long… well, that’s a level of rarity that hardly ever happens. We are very much fortunate, let’s put it that way!

Sully: Miracle On The Hudson is out now on Digital Download, 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD