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The Oscar-Nominated Sound Mixers: Tom Fleischman of ‘Hugo’

The five-time nominee re-teamed with Martin Scorsese for this project, which brought to life the sounds of a Parisian train station.

Tom Fleischman has mixed sound for many of the Martin Scorsese movies that are full of gunshots, punches and profanities – but like his director, Fleischman tried a change of pace last year with "Hugo." The Best Picture nominee's sound palette leans toward the ticking of clocks, the bustle of a Parisian train station and the occasional roar of a locomotive, much of it set to the strains of small-combo jazz from the early decades of the 20th Century.

Hugo sound mixer Tom Fleischman re-teams with director Martin Scorsese for Hugo

Fleischman is a five-time Oscar nominee; his earlier nods came for "Reds," "The Silence of the Lambs," "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator." A veteran who's mixed more than 200 films and television shows in a career of more than 30 years, he kicks off TheWrap's series of conversations with this year's Oscar-nominated sound mixers.

What were the specific challenges in "Hugo" for you?

I guess the nightmare train scene, where the train crashes into the station, was the biggest challenge. Mainly because there were lots of sound effects and lots of music, and whatever dialogue there was had to come through that. And when I first heard Howard Shore's score, I thought, "How are we going to get all of this in there and have it make any sense?" You start piling a lot of stuff in, and eventually it just turns to mush and you don't really hear anything.

Also read: The complete list of Oscar nominees

But when we added the music, it really played, and you could hear it all. Howard really did a great job on that cue. It's tough to have a driving cue like that, which is big and loud and orchestrated, and have it not blot out everything else.

Most of the action takes place inside the huge train station, where you've got sound coming from all directions: train noise, music from the cafe and the stores, people everywhere…

Balancing that stuff out is difficult, and it takes a lot of care. And the set was very noisy. Besides all the extras, with lots of movement and footsteps, there was steam all over the train station. And steam generators make noise, which we had to justify with the steam we see in the picture.

But the biggest challenge in the train station, I think, was to get the right quality in some of the music. When the station inspector meets the flower lady, there's music playing that is supposed to be coming from somewhere in the station, perhaps the cafe. That was a challenge to get the right sound for that source cue, to make it seem believable and still have the emotional quality that Marty was looking for.

The film makes wonderful use of 3D to create the space in which the action takes place, and obviously sound is a large part of creating that immersive environment.

Oh, absolutely. I've always said that we've been mixing in 3D for years. We've always had surround speakers. But this was the first 3D film that I've worked on.

Did your process change because of the 3D?

We didn’t actually mix with 3D glasses or anything like that. I screened the film before we started in 3D, so I knew what to expect. And later on in the process, when we had something together, we went back and screened it again in 3D and made some adjustments. It was a lot of fun.

I'd imagine that the Dolby 7.1 surround format helped with creating the 3D environment.

Yes, it did. Particularly in that nightmare train sequence. The close-up of the locomotive, the wheels, the pistons – we were able to pan those things very effectively to the side speakers without having it overwhelm anything from the back. That also helped in being able to work with music. It was the first time I used the 7.1, but I really liked it.

You've done quite a few things with Martin Scorsese over the years.

Yeah, I've worked on just about every one of his films since "The King of Comedy." I did a little bit of temp work on "Raging Bull," but they mixed that out here on the west coast. And then I started with "King of Comedy," and I think I've worked on every one of his films since then.

Ben Kingsley told me that between "action" and "cut," Marty sees everything an actor does. When he's working with you, does he hear everything?

Yes, he does. And he always knows what he wants. He never comes in experimenting and trying to find a theme or a motif in sound. He always knows what he wants going in, and that usually involves hearing the dialogue, hearing the music and hearing the sound effects.

[laughs] That's what he says to me when he walks in first thing. "Tom, I want to hear the dialogue, I want to hear the music and I want to hear the sound effects." At any given moment, there's always one of those three things that's the most important, and so it's a matter of making that work, and making it work in a way that the audience isn't aware that you're manipulating things.

I feel like I'm successful when the audience does not notice what I'm doing. I'm not a gear head – it's not about putting in the coolest sounds, it's about telling the story. And anything in the track that doesn’t serve to tell the story shouldn’t be there.