All Quiet on the Western Front sound mixer calls experience “best shoot of my life”

Landing on Netflix in October 2022, Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front went on to become one of the most talked about (and most-awarded) films of the year…

Set during World War I, it follows the life of young German soldier Paul Bäumer, who, after enlisting in the German Army with his friends, finds himself exposed to the realities of war. Amongst the film’s numerous accolades, it received a leading 14 nominations at the 76th BAFTA Awards (winning seven, including Best Sound), and nine at the 95th Academy Awards (including a nomination for Best Sound) – taking home four golden statues on the night.

Production sound mixer Viktor Prášil collected his BAFTA for his efforts alongside Frank Kruse, Markus Stemler, Lars Ginzel and Stefan Korte for All Quiet on the Western Front and for him, the film’s success is still sinking in.

“No one expected such success,” he admits, smiling. “It's a joy! It is unusual for a German film on Netflix to be so internationally acclaimed. I have a theory that you can tell during filming whether a film will be good or bad, but you never know how much,” he discloses. 

“With All Quiet on the Western Front, I knew from the beginning that it would be a good film, but we never thought about such success while we were slogging through the mud!”

I knew from the beginning that it would be a good film, but we never thought about such success while we were slogging through the mud!

Prášil is quick to highlight the work completed by the post production team, who he says “did a tremendous amount of great work in a relatively short time. We provided them with a relatively large amount of material from the set, which made the process easier for them. At the same time, I must also highlight the music and editing, which helped our soundtrack,” he adds. 

“And none of this would have been possible without the help of director Edward Berger. He is one of those directors who places the utmost emphasis on sound during filming itself.”

Prášil has his own take on why this film’s sound has received so many awards and nominations: “The film impresses me in particular with its rawness in the battle scenes in contrast to the negotiations and scenes outside the front lines, where the war's explosions do not reach,” he considers.

“The principle of contrast is also used on the battlefield, as well as the subjective perception of sound from the perspective of the main character. Also, the sound in the film does not try to overwhelm the viewer with explosions and loudness, but draws them into the horrors that take place on the battlefield.”

The sound does not try to overwhelm the viewer with explosions, but draws them into the horrors that take place.

Before filming commenced, Prášil listened to numerous podcasts and read interviews with Stuart Wilson – the Oscar-winning sound mixer on the 2019 war film 1917 – which he learned a lot from in terms of how to capture the chaos of war via sound. Prášil’s role on All Quiet on the Western Front saw him recording all the actors’ dialogue and vocal performances on set.

He tells Headliner that due to the amount of extras and battle scenes, the team needed to capture as much of the audio as possible there and then. 

“Since we were shooting a film about World War I, we had old cars on set, and we also wanted to record these unique vehicles,” he explains. “At the same time, it was important to bring as much footage as possible using soldiers on the battlefield to the post-production process. We had almost 100 extras and stunt performers – you only have the chance to record this during filming.”

We relied on Lectrosonics throughout the entire filming.

On set he was armed with his trusty Lectrosonics wireless systems, safe in the knowledge that his Octopack portable multicoupler, SRc receivers and SSM, HMa and SMDWB transmitters would capture any audio with pristine sound. When the shoot started, Prášil was initially concerned about the strength of the signal from the soldiers' helmets, being that they were constructed of relatively thick metal:

“However, during rehearsals, it became clear that there would be no problem with that, and the radio transmitters in the helmets were our main sources of sound that we relied on,” Prášil explains, noting that they only had to be careful that the mic within the helmet was not seen on camera.

“We relied on Lectrosonics throughout the entire filming,” he clarifies. “The actors using helmets had an SMQV or SSM, and a second one in their coat. There were two reasons for this: the main reason was the dynamic range. In one scene, the actors went from whispering to shouting. 

"The second reason was that the radio microphone in the costumes were not always 100% usable because the actors had various buckles over them, or they were crawling on the ground, etc. However, this had no effect on the radio in the helmet, and the actors could turn their heads in all directions and their voices remained the same.

Edward Berger is one of those directors who places the utmost emphasis on sound during filming.

“I have never encountered any problems with temperature or humidity when using Lectro either,” he points out when asked about how his kit fared against the harsh filming conditions. 

“For example, our HMa accidentally fell into a puddle full of dirty water, and in another film, an actress got into the water with the transmitter on her body. However, it was enough to let the radio transmitter dry, and the next day it worked! I really appreciate the robust construction, waterproof capability and durability of Lectrosonics.”

Despite being a BAFTA-winner, Prášil shares that there is still an element of mystery surrounding his role as production sound mixer: “Many people have asked me what my role is during film production,” he smiles. 

“We are sound guys, but during filming we also have to be skilled diplomats to some extent. The sound we record during filming is only heard by a limited circle of people – the rest of the crew doesn't see or hear our work. It's therefore important to have a good relationship with all the other departments, because we need to have everyone on our side. From lock-ups, locations, costumes, props, special effects, electricians, grips…well, basically everyone!

“I have to honestly say that it was the most challenging shoot I've ever experienced,” he concludes, “but because everything was very well prepared and the synergy between the director and the cinematographer was contagious, it was also the best shoot of my life.”

RELATED: Volker Bertelmann, who won an Oscar for his All Quiet On The Western Front score, explains how he gave the director something he'd never done before: "I sent the first idea to [the director] and he called me and said: it sounds like Led Zeppelin!" Read his Headliner interview here.

All Quiet On The Western Front images 1, 2 and 3 image credits: Reiner Bajo / Netflix.