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Tucker: The Man and His Dream 
Sound design for a dreamer 
Interview with Richard Beggs (part 2) 
by Nick Pasquariello

 
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 Tucker. 

In 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 realized. 

 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 for Tucker? 

  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 Washington. 

  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 they are.  

 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 is stopped. 

 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 together. 

  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 Gardens?  

  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 base. 
 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 of view. 

  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."  



 
 
This excerpt is protected by international copyright law including the Berne Convention. 

 It is reprinted and reproduced on this web site with permission of the copyright holder Nicholas Pasquariello.  This excerpt MAY NOT be 
reproduced or copied in any form includingelectronic without explicit written permission of the copyright holder. 
 

Nick Pasquariello 
Publisher 
Port Bridge Books 
 
 
"Tucker: 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" 
  
Highly recommended. 

Buy "Sound of Movies" from Internet book stores as Amazon books 
or order by e-mail  
portbridge@pobox.com  

 
 

 

 
Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) 
 
 "Under The Hood" Making Of Featurette
"Tucker: The Man and The Car" 1948 Promotional Film
Francis Ford Coppola commentary 
 
Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) 

 
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