The SoundStorm team was up to their calves in bat guano inside a Puerto Rican jungle sinkhole called the Cave of Snakes, named for the boa constrictors that coil in trees at the cave's mouth to snatch bats as they swarm out. A moving carpet of enormous cockroaches moved across the guano, one of the crawly main courses of the cave's teeming ecosystem that has a perpetual tendency to ascend the nearest pant-leg. Indiana Jones or Batman would have thought twice about entering the Cave of Snakes.
Lugging 35 pounds of recording equipment a piece and armed with flashlights, John Leveque and Bruce Stambler avoided the hand-sized tarantulas standing sentry every six feet or so on the moist rock walls in this restaurant for tropical lower life forms, and finally made it to a prime spot to record the sounds and squeaks of the hoards of fruit bats and God knows what else croaking in the recesses. Did "Batman Forever" require this sort of effort at authenticity? The SoundStorm boys think so. "Sometimes, you've got to go to a foreign place and sink up to your rear end in goo to get the proper sound" says Leveque.
That kind of willingness and dedication is one of the reasons why Stambler and Leveque's work has been nominated for Academy Awards for sound effects editing in each of the last four years, for "Under Siege" (1992), "The Fugitive" (1993), "Clear and Present Danger" (1994) and "Batman Forever" (1995).
"These two guys are geniuses," says Peter MacGregor-Scott, producer on the three above Warner Bros. Films ("Clear and Present Danger" was a Paramount production). They came down to Mobile, Ala., where we were making 'Under Siege'and they didn't have one action picture on their credits at the time." But these guys were so fabulous, they did it all on their own. They didn't even know the rules. They made up their own as they went along. They don't use any stock sounds. They took the Batmobile out to a little airport in the Mojave Desert and recorded three days of Batmobile sounds to get them right. I will use these guys on every film we do," adds MacGregor-Scott, whose next film will be director JoelSchumacher's "Batman and Robin." SoundStorm will be on the job for that after wrapping on Schumacher's current picture the Southern-set adaptation of yet another John Grisham thriller, "A Time to Kill," starring Sandra Bullock and Samuel L. Jackson.
"We went to the edges of swamps in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi for 'A Time to Kill,' says Leveque. "But then we figured we had to get right into the middle of a swamp to get it right. So we hired a Cajun guy with a canoe in Louisiana and he took us as far out into the bayous as you could go."
"There is more life within five feet of you than you might realize. We got mosquitoes buzzing, cottonmouth moccasins dropping off branches into the water. You could hear alligators. We recorded it in total blackness, but it was a place that I wouldn't have missed for the world." While such wilderness excursions have provided films with nature's more unique sounds, the din and clank of things urban are also occasionally tough to find and/or create. The centerpiece sound moment in the history of the Burbank, Calif. based SoundStorm is the enormous train wreck that springs Harrison Ford from custody in director Andy Davis' "The Fugitive." More than 200 different sound tracks are incorporated into that sequence. "Even if you got a real train and wrecked it and recorded that, you probably wouldn't have gotten as good a sound representation as we got," says Stambler. "That job put us over the top."
"When Harrison Ford is running and the train comes off the tracks and is headed at him, we had to figure out a sound like the weight of a train pushing through tons of dirt. We got a dumpster with a long rope and dragged it through dirt and recorded that. We put somebody inside and recorded that. We dragged it over concrete and recorded that. You have to try out different things."