Monkeys Fighting Robots

Award-winning sound designer Jacob Ribicoff loves to knead sound like bread, and he’s baked delicious sonic-loafs for films that include The Vietnam War, Fahrenheit 451 (2018), and The First Purge.

We started with The First Purge. “It was an awesome experience. One of the things I loved about working on that, aside from the action and jump scares, because, what sound designer doesn’t want to sink his teeth into that? But one of the things I loved about this film was that director Gerard McMurray, he really wanted the sound to sing. He wanted the film to sound vibrant and visceral.”

How does the process of making sound vibrant or muted begin for Jacob? “Every movie has a personality. So, like an actor, I think to myself ‘what’s my motivation?’”

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“You could not have two diametrically
opposed kind of philosophies …”

A big part of any motivation in a film comes from its director and as we all know “Directors have wildly different approaches.”

Jacob’s worked with a lot of great ones over the years “Two films I worked on around the same time were The Darjeeling Limited from Wes Anderson and The Wrestler with Daren Aronofsky. You could not have two diametrically opposed kind of philosophies … You see a Wes Anderson movie, and it’s visually lush and amazingly composed, and the colors are vibrant. I had the intuitive impulse to create a reflection of that, equally vibrant. But Wes didn’t want that at all. He wanted a lo-fi approach. He wanted the sound to be a foil and not compete with the film. With Darren, it was the opposite. ‘I want this to be realism.’ Hyper-realism.”

“But when it came time to actually watch
the movie with those sounds in it things changed.”

Jacob discusses another nuanced type of director “… on Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, that was a movie where we sat down to spot the movie. The director [Alfonso Gomez-Rejon] had all these ideas about the sound. I executed the ideas. But when it came time to actually watch the movie with those sounds in it things changed. They wanted more sparse-ness, but they needed to hear it first with sort of ‘extra sounds’ to really understand what they wanted. That happens a lot too.”

Jacob worked on the remarkable documentary series from 2017 The Vietnam War. So, what’s the connective tissue between all these different projects? “It’s about storytelling and appreciating … the aesthetic of how the story is being told.” He continues the actor analogy “… like an actor, I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one kind of thing. I love doing movies like The First Purge but also quieter films.

“It’s tactile.”

Passion rises “I love working with sound. It’s almost like sinking your hand into dough while making bread. It’s tactile. And it’s stimulating and challenging to work with directors who want to sink deep into that.”

As an example of how deep the filmmaking process can go “In Manchester by the Sea, there was a moment where a ping-pong ball is being hit. I listened to five different recordings of a ping-pong ball, and there was one that I said ‘that’s the essence of a ping-pong ball. That’s the one.’ I showed it to [director] Kenneth Lonergan, and he said ‘no, that’s not a ping-pong ball.’ So, I let him listen to the other recordings, and there was one that made him say ‘that’s it.’ So, I say it’s so important to find out what kind of story the director is telling.”

Readers, if you’re wondering “There is no right or wrong.” Or there is right and wrong at the same time.

“… and it gave me nightmares.”

Jacob talks about an early influence “Kubrick was a huge influence for me as a kid. My father was a distant relative of Kubrick and actually babysat him as a kid.”

Side Note: A cartoon about babysitters being forced to perform for a baby Stanley Kubrick sounds AMAZING.

Jacob continues “Every time a new Kubrick movie would come out we’d rush out to see it. Except for Clockwork Orange, I was a little too young for that. They took me to see 2001 when I was maybe five, and it gave me nightmares.”

“He has a way to make a sound soft
and powerful at the same time.”

The sound design industry is rich with talented people like Jacob. Who’s work does he admire? “I really like Craig Henighan, he works with Darren Aronofsky. I saw Mother! for example, a difficult movie to watch, but sonically it’s amazing. He does the sound for Stranger Things. He has a way to make a sound soft and powerful at the same time.”

So, what’s coming next from Jacob? “Wildlife, Paul Dano the director, Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ed Oxenbould. And then, Private Life with Tamara Jenkins.”

Check out The First Purge and The Vietnam War now.

Thanks to Jacob Ribicoff and Impact24 PR for making this interview possible.

Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.