Monday, November 29, 2010

Marko Mäkilaakso's "War of the Dead"

It has been a long and interesting journey for the makers of this film,  but after five long years, World War II action/zombie flick, War of the Dead (formerly known as Stone's War), has finally finished its final sound mix and print master.

Dead follows the exploits of a team of Finnish and American soldiers who are sent into Russia on a secret mission.  There, they uncover an abandoned Hitler-funded experiment to create an army of the undead, one which he had been testing on captured Russian soldiers.  For first time film director Marko Mäkilaakso, this huge undertaking has turned out successful, and I'm sure War of the Dead will go on to make some noise around the world.

Marko, Monkeyland Stage B, final day of mix
Per Marko, the behind-the-scenes antics involved in making this film would have made a great documentary (a la Terry Gilliam's "Man of La Mancha").  Everything from natural disasters to running out of funding plagued the production and post production process of this film.  Yet, despite all the hassle, War of the Dead has already secured distribution in over 20 territories throughout the world.  While the U.S. is still up for grabs, I am confident that someone will take note of this film's designy production values, stylistic picture cut (by Michael J. Duthie) and bombastic soundtrack.  War of the Dead will be screening at the Berlin Film Festival in February of 2011.

Dead first came to Monkeyland Audio back in 2007-08.  It didn't matter that the film's first incarnation lacked many of the final visual effects; the large amount of high-intensity gun battles, zombie attacks, wire work and insanely dark and scary locations had a Pavlovian effect on our sound effects crew.  Here was a golden opportunity to create something big, bold, heavy, gutsy and explosive and we couldn't wait to get started.

Sound Team of the Dead:  Greg, Steven, Rick, Alex and me

For the sound design team, War of the Dead has been a delight to work on.  On the Foley front, mixer Greg Mauer and artist Rick Owens undertook the awesome challenge of bringing the film's intricate details to life.  The work is rich and detailed, covering everything from the soldiers' heavy footfalls (on a myriad of surfaces) and the movement of military battle gear, to the tightly choreographed hand-to-hand combat sequences.  The foley work alone raised the adrenaline level of this movie 100 fold!  Well done guys (and congrats Rick on your new baby)!  

Greg and Rick, Monkeyland Foley Room
The foley was cut by two editors fresh out of recording school who were new to Monkeyland at the time: Caleb Easter and Zac Anderson.  I supervised their work (which was good!) and made sure it was prepped tightly enough for panning and perspective purposes.

The sound effects crew was made up of two young editors, Alexander Pugh and Jason Shaffer, and the task presented to them was to bring the noise!!  Guns, explosions, guts and gore.  You name it!  Both Alex and Jason were with us on the initial pass back in 2007, but when the film returned to Monkeyland this past summer, it was Alex who wrangled all the previously cut sessions and brought the work to a whole new level of intensity with another solid hard effects pass.  Nice work team!

I put together all the ambiences and backgrounds, blending the real with the surreal, and weaving in and out of both quite regularly throughout the film.  In my conversations with director Marko, I explained my approach to creating mood and preparing ambient tracks, and he was quite happy with the results.  Designy themes also came out of the sphere of ambiences, meant to play organically in the scenes and serve as a glue to bring together all the elements that make up the sound design.

Steven Avila was responsible for designing the zombie voices for this film, and though some of the voices had been covered by members of the loop group during ADR, Steve's vocal prowess brought a new layer of terror to the voices of the undead.  Director Marko agreed!  Needless to say, his design replaced all the group material.  Steven also created themes for the big moments of revelation, as well as provided original and terrifying stingers, whooshes, impacts and booms.

After comping all the above mentioned elements together, and giving the comped work an additional healthy pass of design, tweaking, leveling and processing, I had Marko come in for a review of all our work.  He was absolutely ecstatic and loved every bit of our work.  Of course, he had a few notes, but nonetheless he was excited to hit the mix and confident that it would go well.

I should make mention that the film's wonderful score was composed by Neal Acree and Joel Goldsmith (son of legendary film composer Jerry Goldsmith).  In the case of War of the Dead, the infamous battle between music and sound effects was fairly non-existent, as both sides of the sonic "war" played their parts well, leaving enough room for each other to spread our respective wings and be featured.  Thank you gentlemen for your outstanding and professional work!

The final sound mix indeed went really well, thanks in part to our re-recording mixing team of Kelly Vandever and Mark Rozett, but also thanks to Marko for maintaining his vision and making sure what he heard in his head came through loud and clear on the screen.

Serious enthusiasm for a project can result in great work.  Though we didn't get to interact much with Marko from the start, we were fortunate to have gelled with him on a subconscious level because everything came together better than expected and Marko left Monkeyland with a great sounding film.   

Trip, Brian, Alex, Owen, Marko, Kelly, Steven, Mark and me

I would LOVE to upload some of our sound work, but I'd probably get in trouble if I did, so you'll just have to wait till next year!

Many blessings.


  1. Great news, Peter. 'War of the Dead' has been a long time coming and I'm really looking forward to watching on the big screen.

  2. Thanks for the comments! The film really looks and sounds great, and it's just an overall fun ride. Big, over the top and fun. I'll be sure to post any updates regarding actual theatrical release dates and not just festival screenings.

  3. There doesn't seem to any record of 'War of the Dead' on the Berlinale listings. Do you know if they still plan to show it there?

  4. I've emailed Marko and will post any new updates on WOTD as soon as I can. Sorry, I've been out of that loop since the final mix last year. Thanks for staying on top of this film!

  5. Thanks Peter.
    There's a lot of people chomping at the bit to see the finished result and a showing at the BFF would be great.
    Let's hope the colour timing gets finished quickly and they can get a slot.


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