Without foley artist Gary Hecker,"Savages"would be a much quieter film.
In the new thriller from director Oliver Stone based on the 2010 novel by Don Winslow, the decibels get pretty high when a Mexican drug cartel kidnaps the woman loved by two Laguna Beach pot growers.
Whether the actors were loading rifles, typing on computer keyboards or simply walking across a floor, Hecker carefully re-created each sound using a room full of props on the foley stage at Todd-AO in Santa Monica. His foley partner Gary Marullo assisted him with certain sound cues, and mixer Nerses Gezalyan recorded and enhanced the results.
"I am like a sound actor," said Hecker, who has lent his talents to more than 270 films. "The day that they're shooting on the production, natural sounds are lost. We go back and try to re-create these sounds to make them more intense and to bring the picture and the film to life. It's all organically done with props and certain tricks."
VIDEO: Oliver Stone's 'Savages' looks for a perfect setting
At age 16, Hecker first witnessed a session of foley — named after legendary Hollywood sound effects pioneer Jack Foley. After graduating from high school, Hecker dedicated himself to learning the craft during a six-month apprenticeship with his stepfather Bob Rutledge, who owned a sound editorial company.
More than 30 years later, Hecker, 51, has collaborated with top supervising sound editors such as Wylie Stateman and Lon Bender and won four Golden Reel Awards for his craft. He's working on projects including director Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" with his brother, supervising sound editor Scott Hecker.
"I feel I was destined to do what I'm doing, to be honest with you," he said. "It's just some weird feeling that I have, because it comes naturally for me. I like performing, acting through sound and expressing myself through [matching] sound to the picture."
Walking in someone else's shoes: Hecker has more than two dozen pairs of shoes, and with good reason. "We had to start with all the characters' footsteps on 'Savages,'" he said. "And in the [foley] room, there are all the different surfaces that you can think of. There's concrete, dirt, wood, metal. I have a water pit. Depending on what surface the actor's walking on or performing on, then I have to pick that correct surface and match it — if he's in the grass, if he's in mud, if he's on gravel, if he's walking across glass. So it's very intensive."
Sounds of violence: When the characters in "Savages" got out the big guns, Hecker did the same. "I don't do the gun shots, but all the gun movements in that show I had to do," he said. "I'll grab the gun, pick it up, load the bullets. And when the bullets are ejected and fall on the ground, I have to do the shells tinkling and flying around. I had to watch all their movements: the actors reloading their guns, slamming into the cars, dirt spraying up on the cars from these grenade mechanisms. So what that does is it helps bring out the intensity and the drama in that scene, and it pumps it up and just really brings it to life."
Voices in his head: Unlike most foley artists, Hecker is a member of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. "I do special voices in Hollywood as well for certain creatures," he said. "I modify and alter my voice through these machines, and it doesn't sound like a human when I'm done. I did the dragon in 'Shrek' and the aliens in 'Independence Day.'" Hecker also uses his voice to create other sound cues such as the snorts of the galloping horses in"Robin Hood" and the swoosh of flying fireballs in"The Hunger Games."
The right stuff: Being noisy isn't the only job requirement for a foley artist. "One thing about this craft is it takes a lot of very precise timing," said Hecker. "I have to use hand-eye coordination and match whatever action is on the screen, and it's got to be exact. And then I have to also have a very creative mind. I'm out here in this studio, and I only have so many props to deal with. And sometimes on the screen, I don't have that exact prop that the actor is using. So I have to come up with other things that suffice to make that sound."
Hecker's tool kit includes a splash pool, Tibetan bells, a basketball hoop, a wrought-iron grate, potted plants, a car door, a pile of boulders, flaming torches, rusty hinges, fiberglass cups that approximate horse hooves, and panes of glass. He added, "If it's an action movie, and it'sSpider-Manjumping around and fighting or Schwarzenegger kicking down doors, they're going through candy glass. I'm the guy that's breaking real glass, so it's dangerous. Don't try it at home!"