Keanu Reeves’ John Wick franchise has long been a beloved blockbuster action series on the big screen. However, up until now, Wick’s unique world and bone-breaking fights never expanded past the films.
But with The Continental, that’s all set to change. The streaming show tells a story over three installments which follows a younger version of Ian McShane's Winston working to take ownership of the infamous assassin hotel, which is run in the series by Mel Gibson’s maniac crime boss.
The Direct exclusively sat down with The Continental’s supervising sound editor Luke Gibelon and re-recording mixer Joe Barnett, where the two discussed how they made the project a reality.
The Seven Secrets from Behind The Continental
1.) Juggling the Many Facets of the Show’s Action Scenes
With a show like The Continental, there is plenty of action throughout the series. These sequences can be intense and have many different facets to worry about.
How do they juggle it all?
Gibelon stated that they “are very articulate” and “very deliberate” with the sounds they choose to use during the project’s action-heavy sequences:
“Well, for that, it's very much a process of what I like to call, in the world of 'John Wick', precision violence. And that's where we are very articulate, we're very deliberate about the sounds we're using, where we're placing them, you know, that action and the choreography is so well done, that if we're not appropriately telling that story with sound, it's gonna get sloppy and messy, real quick, and the audience won't be able to interpret the action and the story of the action, the way it's meant to be interpreted.”
He continued, noting how they go through “frames at a time” to make sure all the right sounds are present:
“So it is very precise. I mean, we're talking frames at a time. We're going, let's hear this moment, on the next couple of frames, we want to hear this moment. And then, in the next couple of frames, we want to hear this moment. So while it's very busy and fast moving every little, you know, few frames often even, we're being very selective about what it is that we're hearing.”
On Barnett’s side, he compared his role in the process as “equivalent to the lens finder for a [director of photography]:”
“You know, when we're on the mix stage, you know, we do things in layers. So, we'll do a pass of ambiances, and we'll do a pass where we do the dialogue, and then we'll do some of the other ancillary-type effects. And, also keep in mind that the big action is going to be dominant at any given point. So, you know, what mixing is, is like a selective focus in a sense. The sound mix is equivalent to the lens finder for a DP. Where we can decide to focus on, you know, something really small, or something really big. We can zoom out and zoom in. And the thing is, Luke's preparation had, you know, had to be precise in that way.”
According to Barnett, balancing the sound design for The Continental would be “incredibly difficult without the precision” previously mentioned by Luke Gibelon:
“So we can actually make those kinds of maneuvers because, you know, the thing is these three nights (each a separate installment of the series) are basically three small movies, you know, but three small 'John Wick' movies, right? So, you know, to try and do that on a broadcast kind of scale is incredibly difficult without the precision that Luke was just talking about. It never would have happened without that kind of forethought.”
As revealed by Barnett, that forethought includes Gibelon and director Albert Hughes sitting down multiple times to map everything out ahead of time:
“And that involved having [director] Albert [Hughes] in very, very early and having Luke and Albert sit down multiple times going through stuff and saying, 'Okay, this is how we're going to map this out.' I mean, there's one scene, the famous car chase spin-around thing, you know, the one where we basically did not touch on the stage. There's no music in there, there's very little dialogue, it's all sound effects. And I don't think one fader was moved inside that section. It came from Luke that way, with Albert's blessing, and if it's going to be on your TV that way. It's that precise."
2.) How To Avoid Going Overboard With the Action Scenes
While juggling the many aspects of the show's action sequences can be a lot, how exactly does the team avoid going overboard?
Barnett noted how the “important thing is to build those peaks and valleys” within the mix in order to “keep it sonically interesting” for audiences:
“Well, there was a, there was a famous saying that [director] Albert [Hughes] used on there, he would say, you know, something isn't quite bold enough, he'd say, 'oh, that's half-ass, I want to go full-ass.' And that's an Albert quote. So, this show is full-ass. But again, it goes back to... finding the right sound for the right moment and also building in those quiet spaces so that the dynamics are there, because if you're just loud sounds all the way through, nothing's loud anymore, especially in broadcast people just kind of turn it down. So, the important thing is to build those peaks and valleys to keep it sonically interesting.”
Gibelon added that “if you’re just throwing sounds at the wall, it makes it muddy.”
"On top of that, editorially, you don't want to just toss in layers and layers of sound. You have to be mindful of what you're doing, looking for activity, movement, color, textures–If you're just throwing sounds at the wall, it just makes it muddy. And that's really where you get in trouble when you're talking about throwing in too much, too busy—all that stuff. You have to be very mindful. You have to be even more mindful the busier it gets. What am I using? Is what I'm using telling the story? If it's not telling and supporting the story, then I need to get rid of it…”
3.) Matching ‘The Continental’s Time Period
When asked if the duo took any specific and unique steps to make sure the series felt authentic for the time period, the duo revealed some of the ways they went about matching the project to the correct era.
Gibelon was quick to point to the vehicles in the series, which “weren’t higher pitched” like more modern-day cars and “[don’t] have whines to them:”
“Vehicles of that time were big, heavy, throaty sounds. They weren't higher pitched, or they didn't have whines to them. So, you know, giving them that character, we wanted to give everything kind of that age and character. We're also very mindful about things in the world itself and making sure we're not using anything that wasn't of that age.”
He continued, noting how one particular problem they discovered was if they could include “OSHA beeps,” a topic they took a deep dive into research in order to figure out whether their inclusion would be accurate to the times or not:
“For instance, [director] Albert [Hughes] and I had a conversation once when we were going through it, like, as we were talking about different sounds we can put in the world, was OSHA beeps. Were OSHA beeps, you know, around in the 70s? And we, you know, did a little deep dive and found out no, OSHA beeps weren't around to the 80s. Let's make sure we didn't don't have OSHA beeps there. So there were all these little things that we discussed when it came to that kind of stuff.”
Barnett added that on his side of the equation, “it’s music-driven,” though there are “a couple of places where [they] cheat:”
“And on the mixing side, yeah, absolutely, we're cognizant of the setting, both time and place. And, as it relates to my part of it, it's music-driven. So if, as you watch the show, you know, there is a hell of a lot of music drops in this. And they're all periods specific--until they're not. There are a couple of places where we cheat. But, for the most part, the music is telling us what time we're at when we have, you know, ACDC…”
4.) Re-Creating the Soundscapes for Exterior Locations
Many of the exterior locations of The Continental are recreated on soundstages. So, how exactly did Gibelon and Barnett go about recreating those soundscapes?
Gibelon pointed out how “there’s always something going on” and that sometimes they were trying to create “organized chaos:”
“It was a lot of fun. Albert [Hughes] emphasized how much he wanted the whole show to be immersive and how much he wanted to be full of life. And it's always active. There's always something going on. So it was very fun to put that all together and try to piece it in. There's a lot. Sometimes, it's organized chaos that you're trying to create."
Despite all that, they still needed to make sure "the intelligibility is there:"
"And it made it a lot of fun. Because there are other filmmakers who might be like, 'Turn it all down, get it out of the way dialog,' but that was definitely not Albert. It was more about okay, the delicate balance of how do we make this feel like we're here and experiencing everything yet still, all of the intelligibility is there.”
Barnett reasoned that for his job as a mixer, despite all the organized chaos, “you can’t just at 11 the whole time:”
“The answer to your question, on my side, is kind of indicative of the difference between the two roles that Luke and I play. Luke is the sound supervisor, right? He's the guy who creates the palette for us as mixers to sort of paint the soundscape of the story. And the thing is, while [Lucas Gibelon is] absolutely 100%, right, in the sense that Albert is like, 'keep it busy, keep it busy, keep it alive'... for me, as a mixer, you can't just be at 11 the whole time with the action and all the craziness around you. You've got to find the quiet spots... it's all about contrast. So, yes, we have it super busy. But in the moments that we do get quiet, they're even more impactful because of the absence of the sound. So we call it like negative sound spaces, just to something I would say.”
5.) How Much Sound Is Recreated vs. Recorded in the Moment
When it comes to designing the sound of a project, a lot goes into it. There’s also plenty of audio captured while filming that never makes it into the final mix.
So, in the end, how much of the original recorded sounds make it into the final product, compared to what’s re-recorded after the fact?
Joe Barnett shared that most of the “[action] stuff is replaced” and that “about 90%” of the dialogue is kept from its original recording on set:
“… For the most part, every gunshot, every car, all that stuff is replaced. Dialogue-wise, I would say, probably, with the exception of the one character, I would say that it's about 90% production. That means captured on the day of shooting. [Ray McKinnon’s Jenkins] had an intelligibility problem... He had to be replaced, mostly because of intelligibility. He kind of was a mumbler, and Albert [Hughes] and Kirk [Ward], the other producer, wanted to make his performance more clear for the audience to understand without trying too hard.”
Luke Gibelon noted that the team also “had a ton of loop group,” which is a group of artists who help fill in the noise coming from characters in the background of every shot:
“But we also had a ton of loop group in here. And Kirk Ward, the showrunner, and our ADR supervisor, Angelina Faulkner, they were fantastic in putting that all together. And what loop group essentially is, is all these background actors you see in the background, on production, on set, they're quiet. Their job is to make things look active and be as quiet as possible so the microphone can pick up the main actors."
Gibelon elaborated how the loop group "basically put words into all of these background characters' mouths:"
"So what we do with loop group after the fact is we basically put words into all of these background characters’ mouths, and we make that very deliberate. And it's additional storytelling things. And that's why Kirk was so involved in that, as far as informing the audience more about the world around them.”
He continued noting that a lot of times, “loop group actors improvise,” but Kirk Ward “wrote a lot of the dialogue for the actors” for The Continental:
“Because a lot of times, loop group actors improvise, and there's still that happening on this, but [Kirk Ward] also wrote a lot of the dialogue for the actors. That alone was quite a bit of work. But as far as all the sound effects side, sounds, sound effects, ambiances, the design--I mean, that's all put in after the fact. Because the job on set is to just get the cleanest dialogue possible to avoid doing any ADR as much as they can. The other thing is what my team and I do, we put together everything else that you're hearing.”
6.) Keeping Consistent With ‘John Wick’
With The Continental taking place in the world of John Wick, what methods or ideologies did the duo work to keep consistent across the two projects when bringing this series to life?
Gibelon shared that the way he was able to keep the projects tied together on his end was “to put in interesting tonal and sounds” into “something that looks and plays natural,” such as making a room “sound like it’s breathing:”
“Well, for the world of 'John Wick', the underworld, all of those elements, usually again, part of that is the atmosphere and not wanting to--what we always like to do in the world of 'John Wick' is not have something that looks and plays natural, sound natural, necessarily. So even if it's a room tone, we'd like to put in interesting tones and sounds to it. Maybe we'll make the room even sound like it's breathing. We'll put other elements in always to create this kind of just otherworldly atmosphere that we're going for. And that is key, as far as, you know, maintaining that synergy between the 'John Wick' movies and 'The Continental.'”
He also emphasized the importance of the “precision violent action” in the series, which helps them feel even more connected:
“And then, of course, the language of sound that is the action is making sure those things also tie. That the action sounds the same because 'John Wick' has its own sounding action. It's different than a 'Star Wars' action. It's different from 'Bourne Identity' action or superhero action. It's got its own sound that we've crafted over the course of the films. And that also ties into the other people who've been a part of the originals: Mark Stoeckinger, and Allen Rankin, to name a couple. And that's, as I mentioned before, this precision violent action that we've created, making sure that's also in the world of 'The Continental'. That is something that's also just expected from fans, as they, you know, tune in to watch the show.”
Barnett added that “the stylistic similarities” are certainly key to tying John Wick and The Continental together:
“Right, I would say to your point, the main commonality is the stylistic similarities there. Obviously, this is a period piece, and it's a prequel. So it happens, what 25 years previous to [the first] 'John Wick'. So yeah, but like Luke was saying, the music of the action, how those things are articulated. Those really do carry forward.”
7.) Making Hansel and Gretel Unique
In the series, two of the main antagonists are the assassin duo Hansel and Gretal. But on the sound side of everything, did they work in any unique quirks to make them even more off-putting?
Luke Gibelon revealed how they “actually went through and removed any efforts that were in production,” meaning that all of their grunts or localized exertions were completely cut:
“Yeah, the difference between them is actually a dialogue thing, and that was where all the other characters had efforts when they were fighting, Hansel and Gretel didn't. They were characters who didn't talk, but also to make them appear more menacing and threatening and overly killer assassins was by--we actually went through and removed any efforts that were in production. So, it gave them the appearance of not even being out of breath as they fought. It was a very cool effect.”
Joe Barnett added there was also some “very selective use of some particular leather creaking:”
“Yeah, and to that point, there was very selective use of some particular leather creaking just to emphasize their movements. And that goes back to that whole point of that selective focus with sound in the sense that, woah, there's all this chaos going around, but all I hear is the leather creak as she turns to see someone walk in the door. You know, that kind of thing. So, that made them creepier still.”
The Continental is now streaming on Peacock.