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The Sound of Helicopters in Apocalypse Now

by Scott Macaulay.


A film’s first shot, its first image, is one that’s obsessed over by many directors. But how many put as much care into its first sound? Francis Ford Coppola did, along with sound designer Walter Murch, when constructing the opening of Apocalypse Now. The famous helicopter sounds actually enter over black — they are the first input of any kind an audience member receives. And, of course, those weren’t just any helicopter sounds. I

n the video above — a section of a documentary commissioned for the Paramount 2006 home video release and made by Zoetrope’s former head of post, Kim Aubry, and editor Serena Warner — sound rerecordist Richard Beggs and post-production sound recordist Randy Thom illustrate the ambitious use of the helicopter effects within the film’s 5.1 mix. Check out Murch’s hand-drawn diagrams about just now those effects are sequenced and mixed.

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