With the making of Tucker: The Man
and His Dream Francis Coppola realized a long-cherished dream
to make a film about another dreamer innovator and maverick Preston
1946 Tucker's dream was to design and market America's first completely
new car in 50 years. Some of the car's innovations included aerodynamic
styling, padded dash, pop-out windows, seat belts, fuel injection,
and disc brakes, all radical ideas at the time. In the end financial
and legal difficulties, some self-imposed, others the result of
the Detroit auto establishment's conspiracy against him, prevented
him from producing more than 50 cars. Ironically most remain road-worthy
to this day. Tucker is the story of how that dream came to be
Coppola choose his long-time
sound designer, Academy Award winner Richard
Beggs, to head the post production sound crew of the $30-million
picture. And he hired British pop composer Joe Jackson to create
a lively, brassy "scoring" music track, which owes much to the
period depicted in the film.
Beggs and his sound crew divided
their six month post production schedule between his San Francisco
basement studio (for multi-track) and George Lucas' plush, exceedingly
comfortable Skywalker Ranch. Tucker holds the distinction of having
been the first feature film to be mixed at the then newly opened
facility. In general Beggs was pleased at the shakedown at Skywalker,
and was especially glad to find technicians at his beck and call
anytime tweaking was called for.
|SUMMARY OF THIS INTERVIEW
Sound design of Tucker reflected
idealized pre-WWII genre of American filmmaking, Beggs'
method of developing sound design acoustical signatures,
air compressor example, effectiveness of this signature,
functionality of sound between the conscious and the unconscious,
compared to Gardens of Stone acoustical signatures, use
of cartoon effect in Tucker garage sequence as character
motif, origins of these effects.
How did you create the sound design
The stylistic antecedents
for the picture were discussed [during production]. The camera
angles, the idealized family life, these elements all point in
a certain direction. This was a genre of period films, that was
looked at and talked about: the '30s and '40s American genre picture
that dealt with American ideals and values la Mr. Smith Goes to
The car thing/element is
really, if you'll excuse the pun, a vehicle to carry these other
considerations. How does this relate to sound? Rather than jump
to conclusions or develop ideas completely early on, my tendency
is to hold them back, not let them develop conceptuallY, and just
keep the germ of the idea around. As I look at cuts of the picture,
talk with Francis, or go on location, a lot of ideas occur to
me, some small, some large. By that time I've seen the picture
enough that certain thematic ideas may have presented themselves:
acoustical signatures, something that might typify a certain scene
or location, elements that will tie the picture together much
like music would. And I think about how those sounds can be used
for dramatic effect in those sequences rather than for just what
For instance in the shop adjacent
to Tucker's home in Ypsalanti [Michigan], which is a fairly well
equipped automotive shop with a lot of hydraulic equipment jacks
and hoists. A common sound you hear in those places, though we
never see one in the movie, is an air compressor. It makes a rhythmic
pumping sound: it starts up, goes for a while, and then when the
tank reaches capacity it shuts down with a very characteristic
sound. Then it's quiet for a while, either until the pressure
drops naturally or it's used with some tool and it turns on with
a characteristic sound, revs up, runs at speed, et cetera.
So I seized on that as a possibility.
In this movie I was hard pressed to find elements that I could
use like that, rhythmic, acoustic elements that tied to manufacturing
and cars that could be used dramatically. I used it in that sense
in several scenes to create a kind of tension. Like in the scene
where Tucker explodes after Alex Tremulus [the car's designer]
is almost crushed by the car. This device [or effect] is used
at the beginning of the scene then stops at a very critical point.
The fact that it stops helps to create a kind of ambience and
mood that is dramatic in nature.
Specifically what function
did you see the effects playing in this sequence?
We come from a very relaxed,
martini sequence with (Joe Jackson's) adult martini music. Abe,
[Preston Tucker's partner], who is visiting Tucker and his family,
brings his daughter a dress. They have a little toast, everything
seems to be going fine. Then Tucker's son comes in and there's
this emergency. We cut to the garage. It's like a pressure cooker,
there's lots of hammering and banging. They're way behind deadline;
there's all this mechanical cacophony. One of the effects is that
of the air compressor: de-de-de-de-de-de-de. As the scene progresses,
the tension mounts between the characters. And then the car falls.
Alex is almost killed. Almost all the sound in the garage stops
because all the workers have gathered around. But the air compressor
keeps going, it isn't something that somebody turns off. The music
So the only thing that's going
is the de-de-de-de-de-de-de, this insistent air compressor with
the dialogue. As the dialogue continues there are altercations
and animosity between characters and the sound actually builds
in intensity and finally Tucker explodes in this semi-psychotic
episode; emotionally he's pretty out there. He explodes and hits
this bulletin board with his fist. When he does that, I took processed
sounds of metal being hit and some gongs and underscored his fists
hitting the board, which gave a more dramatic impact. And then
as soon as that begins dying away the compressor goes into its
off cycle: do-do-do-do-do-do...and the room collapses into absolute
dead silence and all you hear are his feet scraping and then the
dialogue resumes with just one person.
At that point Vittorio [Storaro,
Director of Photography], interestingly enough, changes the color
in the room as if a cloud had come over the sun outside and changed
what was a warmer golden hue into a depressed gray. That was an
observation that I made later, that these things were all working
Why do you think that
particular effect works?
In no particular order of
importance: the sound is rationalized because of the context of
the scene, that is something you would have in that place; it's
organic to the scene. Then the sound has a relentless percussive
nature: it functions as music, this constant odd staccato pattern
creates a kind of nervous tension. When it stops and the way it
stops, it's an obvious relaxing effect, it has an exhaling sound.
It's like ahhhhhhhhhhhh. It has a kind of anthropomorphic aspect
to it. It's very subtle. A lot of people probably won't even notice
it. If you take it out, the scene isn't nearly as effective.
That's the way sound should
work. It functions not in the unconscious but somewhere between
the unconscious and the conscious.
By contrast the way we created
the track for Gardens Of Stone [a Vietnam-era story set at the
military base where soldiers' corpses are processed for internment]
was much more obvious because there were a lot of sound signatures
or motifs there; it was such an eccentric and unusual acoustical
environment. Tucker wasn't nearly so special. It just had these
cars and people working on them so there wasn't any acoustical
pattern that would hold it all together.
What was eccentric about
Here was a place where you
hear horses, hooves, and wagon wheels in a modern setting all
the time. You hear a lot of marching and heel clicking, the constant
bark and shout of commands, drums and bands outside rehearsing.
So right away you had this fabric, this tapestry, which you can
dip into and use and grab little pieces and threads to weave through
the whole plot because that's the environment of the military
But in Tucker, they live in
the country, they have a house, there are some birds. The garage
next to the house, where they're making the car, is where there's
any kind of consistent thematic sound pattern. These guys are
working with tools, hammers, hoists. So the sound of making the
car; whenever we're out in that room I tended to stylize and push
that. There are a lot of off-camera effects that create that drive
forward. For example, the first time we go into the garage Joe
[Jackson] has this piece of music playing that's a montage sequence
and I used valve grinders, a hydraulic punch press, the compressor.
This sequence is toward the
beginning of the picture, when the assembly crew really gets going
and they start building the car, the first shot in the garage.
It cuts away to Abe selling the car and ends with Jimmy driving
the test chassis around the back yard. All those sounds were used
against the music to supply the textures: industry-on-parade-in-your-backyard.
At one point Eddie [one of Tucker's mechanics] strikes a hammer
in response to something Tucker has told him. And I inserted a
comic element, there's a boooing boooing with a ridiculous slide
whistle sequence. It's a cartoon effect. It's not unlike during
the premiere sequence [when the Tucker car is first shown to the
public] where I used a comic squirt for the oil coming out of
the car before it catches on fire. There's a boink, boink, boink.
It's a ridiculous sound, nothing really sounds like that. We got
it from a cartoon library.
I used a lot of those effects
in One from the Heart. A lot of the stylistic preoccupations of
Tucker go back to One from the Heart. For me Tucker is a more
refined version of what I did on One from the Heart. The music
wasn't as important [on One from the Heart], but in general the
texture and the way the sound was treated was similar.
One from the Heart used a lot
of exaggerated, on-the-edge-of-comedy, if not broad comedy, effects.
A guy would sit down on an old couch and the spring would go boinnnnnnnnng.
Preston Sturges did that in his comedy films in the '40s.
Eddie [in Tucker] is a comic
character, if there's any in the movie, and to use these comic
sounds in conjunction with him underscores his character and his
point of view. He's the comic relief in the picture. So, in conjunction
with him I've taken the liberty of using these broader goofball
sounds, which are unnatural sounds.
Did you play off that
comic relief from what you found in the script?
I couldn't get any of that
from reading the script. These things occurred to me while I was
watching the picture. When I saw the first cuts I understood the
style of the picture, what its antecedents were, and I realized
that was a direction I could go in.
There's a slightly offbeat,
quirky, American, if you will, aspect to this picture. There's
a slight eccentricity to it. There's an innocence and naivete
about this picture. And I approached the track from that point
Did you and Francis discuss
these comic elements in any detail?
No. The one clue he gave
me and I think the only clue to what direction the track would
take occurred when he said: "It can be zany."
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Port Bridge Books
The Man and His Dream
Sound design for
a dreamer" is an excerpt from "Sound of Movies -
Interviews with the Creators of Feature Sound Tracks"
Buy "Sound of
Movies" from Internet book stores as Amazon
or order by e-mail
The Man and His Dream (1988)
"Under The Hood" Making Of Featurette
"Tucker: The Man and The Car" 1948 Promotional
Francis Ford Coppola commentary
The Man and His Dream (1988)