Image source: It official website
You make creative use of score, sounds, and songs as three sort of buckets that each scene falls into. For the first half of the film, each one almost exclusively has its own role: the “score scenes” are emotional/dramatic, the “sound scenes” are scary/intense, and the “song scenes” all involve some kind of childhood/loss of innocence (bullying, growing up, etc.) This sets the foundation nicely for the second half of the film which operates in a more conventionally-scored manner. Was this a conscious decision or something that happens naturally?
PH: The very essence of It was a coming-of-age story. Emotional scenes were driven by the majestic score from Benjamin Wallfisch as well as the cues discovered by music supervisor Dana Sano and her team. There were ebbs and flows that called for sound design elements. The kids of Derry live in this ‘80s small-town landscape strangely absent of adults. We had to ask ourselves, “what does summer sound like?”
I became enamored with recordings of distant children playing in real world environments. I extracted fragments of voices and laughs from every recording I could get my hands on. This could only be achieved with the help of iZotope tools that allowed me to extract the fundamental sounds from noisy recordings. There were other small-town summer break motifs, such as trains, insects, dogs, and wind that needed to be isolated (and often mangled) to create a hyper-real environment.
The most emotional ensemble scenes were almost completely driven by music. Growing up in the 80s, my friends and I put enormous attention into making mix tapes. Whether it was the amazing scene of the kids swimming in the quarry or mopping up Beverly's bathroom, the pop music cues playing at full volume transported you into the filmmaker’s mixtape for the Loser’s Club and Derry.
One of my favorite moments is when Beverly arrives at the quarry and she is revealed in slow motion. Victor Ennis, our supervising sound editor, had the simple but brilliant suggestion to put a bird very present in the mix. It had the effect of the birds singing for a princess in a classic Disney film.
As for the second half of the movie, the members of the Loser’s Club slowly become superheroes in their own lives. Sound design had to shift focus to create scale and heaviness and emphasize the mythological power of It and the heroic realizations of the kids. Every time we saw Pennywise or the other incarnations of It, we needed to believe he was big and scary. That meant changing the pitch and depth of his voice as well as creating power and energy in his movements. In order to fight Pennywise, the kids had to wield weapons that seemed deadly and sharp to the monster.
KF: I think any good director and sound team tries to create a film that is constantly interesting. Music and sound design can be competitors, or friends. When they work together and move back and forth at different levels of importance, I think it creates the best type of soundtrack. I think the horror genre really benefits from dynamics. Understanding when to have restraint, and knowing when to go big.
There are several uses of repetition in sound to create tension (e.g., the pages turning in the library, the dripping faucet, the measuring tape being pushed down the bathroom drain, the projector slides turning, etc.). Why do repeated, rhythmic sounds create tension in horror movies? How do you emphasize that with sound design/editing?
KF: It’s not necessarily rhythm itself, but how the pitch, tempo, or volume might be subtly increasing. It’s subliminal tension that the audience might not even realize. It’s a standard sound trick, but really effective.
PH: The real horror of Derry is the complacency of the adults during the horrific events the children endure. Bullying, abuse, and family trauma go unnoticed. The horror genre throws away the rules about what is music and what is sound design.
Horror is basically expressed using the soundscape pioneered by Musique Concrete in the early 20th Century. Composers created noise and performed with magnetic tape to manipulate sound recordings—reversing and pitch shifting. In the horror genre, sounds do not have to be anchored in the documented reality. The filmmaker can use a composition of fragmented noises to pierce the character’s sense of memory, fear and pain. It’s fun because it always becomes a magical interplay between the sound effects and score.