How the ‘Greyhound’ Team Layered the Sounds of Propellers, Guns and Spraying Surf for a Key Battle Scene

Jazz Tangcay
·3-min read

World War II adventure “Greyhound,” now streaming on Apple TV Plus, takes place on a battleship in the chill of a North Atlantic winter. Tom Hanks wrote the screenplay and stars in the film about a captain whose ship comes under attack by German U-boats as it crosses what is known as the black pit of the ocean — an area not covered by anti-submarine aircraft.

For rerecording mixer Michael Minkler, supervising sound editor Warren Shaw and sound mixer David Wyman, who have been Oscar-nominated for their work on the film, the job was to put the audience in the middle of the action and give the actors a work-friendly environment in which to perform.

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In a third-act climactic sequence, the destroyer, code-named Greyhound, comes close to a U-boat and has to make a sharp turn to avoid being hit by torpedoes while defending another ship. The sequence runs five minutes long, with wall-to-wall sound effects, dialogue and music.

Minkler explains the layers of sound that went into the sequence, in which Hank’s Captain Ernest Krause is shouting out commands to his crew. “Music has to be playing to place the action and the suspense,” he says. “There are the sound effects with the engines, the high seas, the explosions coming from both sides — and it’s a short sequence.”

Minkler says the sound of the ship was key. “Audiences have to hear where it ramps up the speed and pulls down in speed. The bow completely crashes into the water, and [Krause] is making this maneuver at 35 knots,” he says. The sound of the incoming torpedoes was played hyper-dramatically. Minkler says he wanted their movement to be heard in the water at a high speed as viewers see their propellers heading toward the boat.

Minkler and supervising sound editor Warren Shaw spent time in Louisiana aboard the USS Kidd, where the film was shot, to fully understand what life on a destroyer sounded like. Shaw also talked with veterans to ensure accuracy. “I asked, ‘How does the process work? When a captain gives an order, what happens? Where does it get repeated, and who has to hear it?’”

He also watched WWII clips of the weapons in action and the workings of the ship itself. Though what he saw gave him a sense of the battle, what he heard wasn’t cinema-ready. “They sounded old and not as dramatic,” he says. Still, he and Shaw wanted the result to register as authentic. To create their aural tapestry they used existing libraries of the sounds of ships at war. Adds Shaw: “We weren’t trying to make a Hollywood gun sound; we were trying to create the accurate sound of those guns.”

Also a major concern for the sound crew during the scene: enabling the actors to have an immersive experience. That began with Shaw reinventing an entire 1940s ship communications system. He also spread microphones around the ship to capture the sound and dialogue as director Aaron Schneider and cinematographer Shelly Johnson were filming, since a boom operator wouldn’t be able to follow the handheld camera fast enough. “We had a lot of microphones in plain sight, and they were painted the same color as the inside of the ship,” Shaw explains.

Wyman added playback speakers around the vessel, which he says helped the actors “feel the urgency and danger.”

With the U-boat attack richly layered for the ear, it was important to avoid the mix becoming messy and to keep sounds specific. “We focus on the tiniest things, such as what [the ship’s] metal is made of, and then we step back and look at the big picture,” Shaw says. The sound had to sync with the emotional beats of the scene.

“The reason that sequence works is because it tells the story of fear and triumph,” Shaw notes. “Everything we did had to have that at its center.”

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