Sound Supervisor Bradley North is a Double Winner
By Debra Kaufman
Winning an HPA Award is an honor, but for Technicolor sound supervisor Bradley North, the shock was winning two at the 2017 Awards ceremony: this year’s Outstanding Sound was a rare tie, between Starz’ American Gods “The Bone Orchard” episode and Netflix’s Stranger Things “Chapter 8 – The Upside Down episode.” “When they said American Gods, I was shocked,” North recalls. “When I was on the podium, they pulled me off to the side and Stranger Things was the other winner. It was pretty surreal, and I’m proud and very flattered.” On “The Bone Orchard,” Technicolor Hollywood’s Joseph DeAngelis, Kenneth Korbett, David Werntz and Tiffany S. Griffith were also honored; for “The Upside Down,” Fox’s Craig Henighan and Technicolor Hollywood’s Joe Barnett, Adam Jenkins, Jordan Wilby and Tiffany S. Griffith were also honored.
The challenge with American Gods, says North, is that “nothing is based in reality.” “All the gods have different stories and different powers, so we created different sounds for all of them,” he says. The sound team created a stem they called the God Vox, to give each god his or her own dialogue treatment. The older gods are established in the initial scene when the Vikings arrive in America. “The older gods had a big, low analogue sound,” says North. “Sometimes I used a doubler. The producers wanted distinct dialogue, but they didn’t want to change pitch, which also made it challenging.”
The new gods had a little bit slicker, high-tech feel to them, he says. “Especially with Tech Boy, the god of technology, we did some doubling and shuffling,” he says. “Then there’s Mr. World, a main new god, who we don’t see until a few episodes in. When we do see him, his face and body peel off into different pieces, so I used a shuffler that changed feedback, loops and tried to perform it like a digital piece.”
The show also has a variety of settings from old America, to the desert of the dead and giant doors to other worlds. “We did all sorts of crazy things,” he says. “I took metal clinks and drops and bangs, and reverbed them, and then reversed them. I would put that in as a little background and Bryan Fuller liked it a lot, so something that was supposed to be a background element became a main element.” “We establish all these different gods and they have their own look, feel and vibe, so it affects the sound the same way it affects the VFX,” says North.
In Stranger Things, North was thrilled to work with noted sound designer Henighan. “It was a dream come true to work on such a cool project with Craig as my partner in crime,” says North. “I think he and I were a good match. He’s easy to work with and such a talented guy. It was a good partnership where I was able to call him and bounce ideas off him.” When he went to the meet-and-greet with the Duffer brothers, North says they played him a sizzle reel of old 1980s movies, so he knew the soundscape would be a meld of the 1980s feel with supernatural elements. “We also put in nighttime birds that have nothing to do with Indiana, but we wanted it to sound like Star Wars or E.T.,” he says. “We wanted creepy vibe along with the other elements, and we also play these big scares and big jumps.”
The two HPA Awards came to North after a career that started with a mix of independent movies and TV. He was inspired to go into sound when he saw a TV special on Gary Rystrom at Skywalker Ranch. “It was sound design and scoring, and I thought I would be interested in doing this,” he says. He went to Full Sail in Florida and got a recording arts degree, and was immediately recruited by Wilshire Stages (now Wildfire) mixer Ken Teaney, CAS. Once there, says North, he interned for sound designer Ann Scibelli, MPSE. “Interning was great,” says North. “I learned so much from her, and when she went home, I would stay and practice. I was so lucky to intern for someone like Ann.”
He and Scibelli worked on a couple of movies together, until North ended up at Universal where he mixed a few small movies and met then-supervising sound editor/director of sound editorial Scott Hecker. “I liked the facility a lot and when I was between movies, I asked him if he had anything going on, and he was crewing up for TV,” recalls North. He ended up cutting sound effects on what became 111 episodes of House. He worked closely with Barbara Isaacs who, when she learned she had cancer, trained him to be her replacement. “From then on, I supervised TV,” says North. “It’s not the way you want to be moved up, but it’s part of the story.”
North, who also worked on Quarry, Banshee and Manhunt: Unabomber, is currently at work on the fourth season of yet another hit TV series, Bosch.