How these filmmakers mix dialogue, motion in ‘White Noise’

Surprisingly sufficient, given the status Don DeLillo’s novel “White Noise” has as being unfilmable, writer-director Noah Baumbach’s adaptation is marked by its constancy to the supply textual content. Although you received’t see “the world’s most photographed barn,” maybe probably the most well-known fictional artifact of DeLillo’s 1985 postmodern masterwork, you’ll hear a lot of DeLillo’s clipped, coolly subtle dialogue spoken aloud.

The place Baumbach’s movie takes best liberties is on the extent of tone. When the director and editor Matthew Hannam gathered in New York, London and Los Angeles to edit the movie, they introduced their very own spin to the novel’s existential toggle between sign and noise.

Talking by way of Zoom, Baumbach says that in a number of scenes, together with these set contained in the busy dwelling of protagonists Jack and Babette Gladney, they created a cacophony of sound by way of overlapping dialogue.

“We miked everybody, and everybody was on separate tracks,” Baumbach says. “It did create editorial challenges, because the cacophony from take to take is never exactly the same.”

Hannam provides that “those scenes were reverse-engineered, because we wanted to make the sound drive the energy of the scene. You couldn’t necessarily figure that out with the picture, because everyone’s moving all over the place. It was really an exercise in us finding the rhythms in the actors’ performances and figuring out to what degree we can overlap and complicate the sound and then make the picture match it.”

Baumbach’s movies, which embrace “The Squid and the Whale” and “Frances Ha,” are typically talky and intimate, whereas the bigger-budget “White Noise” consists of automobile chases and an “airborne toxic event.” For the filmmaker, nevertheless, the varied tasks share a conceptual unity.

“In my previous movies,” Baumbach says, “which are original scripts, I’ve always been drawn to characters who don’t always mean exactly what they’re saying, and dialogue that’s a form of communication but also obfuscation. That’s all obviously a part of DeLillo’s story as well.”

The filmmakers framed “White Noise” inside a transparent three-act construction, plus an epilogue dance sequence. To underscore this, they present DeLillo’s three chapter headings as on-screen titles.

Hannam says, “There’s a certain friction that you can create with a chapter heading. There’s really three parts to it: There’s the outgoing image, there’s the title, and there’s the incoming image. For us in the editing room, it was a real pleasure to come up with the energy going in [to the title image] and then stop it entirely. And then what comes next is a product of those two things. My favorite example is when we show “The Airborne Toxic Event” over the picture of a pristine neighborhood. Like, ‘These idiots don’t know what’s coming.’”

Baumbach says he needed to make the three-act construction specific as a result of “I’m always interested in movies where, because of either narrative or emotional or structural developments, other things suddenly become available to you. In Part 1, the camera really only moves with the characters. It’s this illusion we create that we are in control of our lives, and the camera goes with us. In Part 2, the camera starts to move without them, and in Part 3, the camera really starts to move beyond the characters. Sound starts to break down and become even more ambient, more musical, less literal. Matt and I always saw the dance sequence as just a further development of that.”

“White Noise” ends with a dance sequence.

(Wilson Webb / Netflix)

Certainly, the film is choreographed all through — from the managed chaos of the Gladney household within the kitchen, to a sequence the place two professors supply dueling lectures on Elvis and Hitler, to the musical grace of the station wagons making their method as much as the Faculty-on-the-Hill.

For the filmmakers, probably the most sophisticated sequences have been the large motion scenes. Baumbach says the most important problem “is that we did everything practically. We really put the car in the creek, and they’re really running from the Boy Scout camp, and things are falling around them. The challenge is to do things safely, but with real dynamism.”

Like Baumbach, Hannam was additionally new to motion sequences, and he noticed his freshness as a profit. “The thing I learned on this project,” he says, “is that with a lot of that stuff, you’re better off not knowing how to do it by heart. Like, ‘let’s do a No. 6 on this one, Charlie.’ Instead, it’s fun to just say, ‘imagine if the camera could go here.’”

“It was a joy,” Hannam provides. “In the script, it says, ‘Jack starts to drive the car like a boat.’ It’s pretty fun editorially to figure out how to make it feel that way.”

For the movie’s climactic grocery store dance sequence, set to a brand new LCD Soundsystem track, Baumbach needed to create the sense that “the movie kind of breaks open in the end.”

Hannam says that the sequence is essential to the filmmakers’ general imaginative and prescient. “Noah and I always, always talked about how the other version of this movie is a dour criticism, and we always wanted to be celebratory. As soon as you accept death and stop trying to take a pill to make the fear go away, you can dance a little bit.”