How “Gaslit” turned fingernails into victim sounds

Emmy-nominated re-recording mixers John W. Cook II and Ben Wilkins added 16 different tracks of recording for a pivotal courtroom moment on Starz’s “Gaslit.”

The political thriller takes a different look at the Watergate scandal. Instead of delving into the infamous hotel burglary, the show examines political relationships and women – particularly Martha Mitchell, played by Julia Roberts.

It also deals with President Nixon’s White House Advisor John Dean (played by Dan Stevens) and his wife Maureen “Mo” Dean (Betty Gilpin).

At a crucial moment, John Dean will testify before the Senate committee.

The scene before that shows John almost flinching from his testimony. It’s a moment with Mo and the two are sitting in front of an office. “He wants to give up and Mo says, ‘There’s no way you’re going to give up. You think that’s hard? That’s not hard.’ Cook explains that the audio fades and all viewers hear the sound of Mo’s fingernails clicking together as she cleans them and sees blood underneath. “That was the sound of sacrifice for us.”

Recreating John’s testimony, the duo worked to overlay individual tracks from whispers and murmurs to courtroom audio to make the scene work. That meant incorporating ambient sounds and adding sounds to support the storytelling.

Wilkins reveals that at one point they noted that John’s sound was “incredibly small.” So “we gave him a giant creaky chair to make him feel bigger.”

Wilkins and Cook also received a nomination for their work on the HBO series Hacks mixing The Captain’s Wife.

The episode features legendary comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) on a cruise. She thinks she’s putting on a show for a boat full of gay men – until Margaret Cho breaks the news to her that it’s actually a lesbian cruise.

Cook says, “I loved mixing the crowds and giving Deborah Vance that attention, from the good performance on the cruise to the bombing at the end. This trajectory is played out with this beautiful collage of cut crowds, loop groups and production crowds woven together in just the right way to tell the story of their success or failure.”

Wilkins is particularly proud of the foghorn sound, not only because it was “the loudest boat horn I’ve ever played,” but also because it’s a nod to the 1970s.

Inspired by the British “Carry On” comedy franchise and films from the 1960s, Wilkins drew on comedic motifs. “When someone wanted to swear, we just cut to this giant horn, and it was a nod to old-style writing, which I loved.” How “Gaslit” turned fingernails into victim sounds

Charles Jones

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