Rick Castaneda (Writer/Director):
The creative minds behind the web's existential comedy series "Coma, Period." talk about their craft and the challenges of designing the sounds heard inside a character's subconscious.
When I first came up with the idea to create a web series that took place entirely inside someone's head, the value was immediate -- I could do anything I wanted. Here was my main character, Dan Humford, who had a car crash and ended up in a coma. We've given him the white space of his subconscious, and are letting him interact with all of his deepest desires, the nightmares, and random thoughts that he's had. If we wanted to, we could bring in a T-Rex, and have them talk about their feelings. That's how wide open the show is. I brought in Lawrence to sound design really early -- actually at the script level -- because I knew that with such a blank white space, with nothing to look at, sound would be more important than ever.
Infinite possibility was the first problem we had in sound designing the series -- we could really make the inside of Dan's head sound like anything we wanted to. This wasn't a park -- which you've been to, and you know how it sounds. This is the inside of a person's head. What does that sound like? A desert? A conch shell?
Lawrence Everson (Sound Designer):
It was really wonderful to be part of "Coma, Period" so early in the process. I started experimenting with world sounds before I got any video cuts, just playing around with all sorts of different ideas, listening to a wide variety of ambience sounds in my SFX libraries like caves, submarines, winds, and processing them numerous ways. At one point, I tried making it sound like the blood rushing through your ears. It was a very free-form process. Rick really had a crystal clear idea of this series in his mind, so his notes were always direct and clear, and he has a great grasp on audio. A lot of the process was weeding out extraneous sounds or toning down some of the over-hectic sound effects. The fact is that first pass mixes are usually far busier than they need to be, as they are often the 'kitchen sink' pass. The focusing that comes from eliminating a lot of unneeded sounds can be one of the best ways to enhance a soundscape. In the end, we came up with an approach that fit better when music was playing, and made Dan's world feel a bit more vast and lonely when there was no score present.
We really dialed in on what kind of sounds things made in Dan's world, too. Walking couldn't sound like footsteps on concrete, rather, on whatever kind of material it is that makes up the floor of Dan's subconscious. We kept trying different things, like footsteps with echoes, footsteps on wood, footsteps on linoleum. I basically wanted to give them the auditory equivalent of Dan's shadow -- something that is there, but more ethereal than the real thing.
Rick wanted something more simple and light, almost as if somebody was stepping gently right by your ear. So, instead of hard footsteps, I held a pair of dress shoes in my hands, and gently tapped them together in my sound booth. That, plus a little bit of EQ, was the foley process for every footstep in the series.
In fact, a lot of the sounds we used for this show were these kind of homemade sounds, which makes sense, because it's in his head. For the pitter-pat of naked girls running offstage in episode 2, Lawrence recorded the sound of his fingertips tapping on his palm. It sounded exactly perfect. He won't like me telling you this, but he also did the voice of the naked girl saying "hi." Which I think is also perfect, because this isn't actually a girl saying "hi", it's Dan's imagination of a girl saying "hi".
It was processed of course! I don't sound like that in real life. I hope.