Thirteen Lives Editor and Composer speaks to Ron Howard Film

Editor James D. Wilcox, composer Benjamin Wallfisch, and senior sound editors Oliver Tarney and Rachel Tate discussed the Ron Howard film at IndieWire’s “Consider This FYC Brunch.”

Ron Howard’s “Thirteen Lives” tells the story of the 2018 Tham Luang Cave Rescue that left 12 children and their trainer trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non Cave in Thailand for 18 days. While working on the score for the film, Benjamin Wallfisch wanted to give the cave in which the boys were trapped its own unique sound and character in order to bring it to life for audiences.

“It was about embracing the place and attuning to the spirituality of the culture,” Wallfisch told IndieWire Crafts and Animation Editor Bill Desowitz at the Consider This FYC Brunch. “The way in was actually finding a voice for the cave itself. There was a song from the Chiang Rai region itself and our musicologist did a lot of research for us to find songs from the region. That was the starting point to find something that really told the story of the place.

Wallfisch was joined by editor James D. Wilcox and senior sound editors Oliver Tarney and Rachel Tate to discuss “Thirteen Lives” at the Consider This event. During their interviews, the four spoke about working with Howard and how they tried to recreate the 2018 rescue that garnered worldwide attention after they managed to save all 12 boys and their trainer from harm.

Wilcox said he was a little intimidated when he committed to editing the film as he had never worked on a foreign language film and much of the film features Thai speaking characters. However, once he got on board, he found that the hardest part of the process was editing the underwater scenes, as he had to juggle shots of stunt doubles with shots of the actors. It wasn’t until the divers who rescued the boys were introduced to the story that Wilcox found the diving scenes came together.

“That’s when everything changed, that’s when underwater storytelling really came together,” Wilcox said. “I sent cuts back and forth and said to Ron, ‘This can’t be diving for diving’s sake. There are real specifics to understanding what’s happening.’ You don’t have dialogue to hang your hat on, so you have to know what’s happening underwater.”

Regarding the film’s sound, Tarney and Tate said their goal was to create different types of soundscapes for the above-ground portions of the film and inside the cave, with a primary focus on realistically capturing underwater sounds.

“The sound design of the water, when you listen to it, is very wacky, it’s very divergent, so you’re tricking the audience into not knowing where the sounds are coming from,” Tarney said.

In the underwater scenes, the actors usually wear goggles that cover their faces. In light of this, Tarney said the sound design was important to her breathing to keep the audience connected to the characters and in the scene.

“You don’t get all that connection that you get from her face in a scene, so we have to tell you how they’re feeling, how tense she is, how calm they are,” Tarney said. “The professional divers, you hear it, it’s very muffled. You hear the Thai Navy SEALS diving, they use a lot more air. So that really colors the scene for you.”

“Thirteen Lives” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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Lindsay Lowe

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