How ‘Euphoria’ Captured the Soundscape of Rue’s Breakdown

Courtesy of HBO and YouTube

Sound mixer Sean O’Malley has landed his first Emmy nomination for the particularly complex fifth episode of HBO’s “Euphoria.”

In the fifth episode, “Stand Still Like a Hummingbird,” Zendaya’s Rue hits rock bottom, going through a painful drug withdrawal and experiencing fear and anger as her emotional state spirals. Zendaya’s journey is hectic and paranoia-inducing, and in order to get it right, O’Malley spent a lot of time discussing how to capture the sound for creator Sam Levinson.

The key was capturing the sound in-camera rather than adding things in post, and by doing that, O’Malley delivered the best sonic environment to make audiences feel every moment of the episode.

For the opener, in which Rue wakes up in her apartment, kicks down a door and starts throwing things, O’Malley relied on placing microphones on everyone to make it work. “There are subtle breath sounds you’ll hear,” O’Malley he tells Variety. “We wanted to capture that because it can change the actor’s performance and add to it in a lot of ways.”

Initially, Zendaya didn’t wear a mic — nor did she want to. But shooting the scene with a boom mic was not an option, says O’Malley. “There was screaming down the hallway and it sounded like a tin can because chasing her with a boom was almost impossible.”

On review, O’Malley could see the powerful impact of the scene was lost. Luckily, he says, “Zendaya trusts me.”

Levinson, O’Malley and Zendaya all sat down to discuss the consequences of not wearing a wire. O’Malley had to find a balance where he could both capture what he needed to make the scene work well, and at the same time allow the actress to do whatever she wanted. He says, “Everyone immediately agreed [it was better to mic], and we put the wire on in a way that it wasn’t going to show on camera.” He adds, “I think her big concern was that she was kicking down a door and she was just afraid that it was going to hinder her ability to do her job.”

For the scene where Rue knocks over the shelf as she is looking for more drugs, O’Malley placed microphones off-camera, all around the room and on the floor, to capture every essence of the sound in that moment. Again, he didn’t want to have those added in sound: “Those sonic moments would help amplify Zendaya’s performance.”

When Zendaya is kicking the door down, to create a sonic style that helped add realism to the sequence, he placed a mic right by her foot. O’Malley says: “In this scene, the camera is the perspective. Wherever the camera goes, that’s where our sound is coming from. You’ll hear the off-camera as well. In that scene, it’s from the camera’s perspective, and Gia [Storm Reid] is sitting in her bedroom alone listening to her mom and sister arguing off camera, and then Zendaya comes bursting through the door. That sound in that moment is all very intentional.”

On reflection, O’Malley says that the opening sequence was the most challenging to pull off because it was a busy scene. “It’s pure chaos,” he says. “We needed to allow those actors to be chaotic. But, if I only capture the chaos, it would have sounded horrible. It was about approaching the scene with tiny steps and making sure that along the way, we were getting everything we needed.”

From Variety US