This post was written by Nathan Ruyle.

Having grown up in a small town in the rural Midwest, I’m always interested in working on projects that are set in that part of the U.S. So much of building a sound design for a film is tapping into your sense of memory and this is especially true with a documentary film, where the goal is to use sound to pull the audience into an authentic experience of a place.

I spent my early years exploring the fields and forests of the Midwest, eating lunch in the one diner in our little town, and shooting pool in the American Legion, so I knew the settings of this film intimately and loved bringing the audience into that ambient world. 

Citizen Sleuth is the story of a true crime podcaster from Appalachia who blurs the line between fact and entertainment as she investigates a mysterious local death.

I was also excited to fully embrace the vérité moments of the film as we follow Emily Nestor, the amateur sleuth, in her investigation. The incident that she is investigating happened over a decade ago on a harrowing stretch of highway which we return to several times during the film.

Through the sound design and mix, I wanted the audience to feel the danger of that roadside in the present but also to activate the viewer's imagination along with Emily as she tries to piece together what happened on that horrible night in 2011 at mile marker 181. 

Sound Designer Nathan Ruyle on 'Citizen Sleuth'Sound Designer Nathan RuyleCredit: Nathan Ruyle

Sound Designing for Citizen Sleuth

For most of my projects, I am both the supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer where sound design is a holistic process that is equally realized through the sound edit and mix.

With my team at This is Sound Design, we designed these moments on the roadside to be very immersive, fully engaging the theatrical 5.1 environments: semi-trucks rushing by from behind, echos of tires squealing and a car slamming into the guardrail, as we imagine what til now has only been in the pages of a police report. 

 At TiSD, we draw on our narrative film experience and workflows for our documentary sound process, incorporating a great deal of foley by our in-house foley artist Mike Miller into the design to bring detail and texture that’s impossible to capture in production.

This sound design is intended to find a delicate balance between the real and the imagined that allows the audience to viscerally feel the mystery at the center of the film. 

The director Chris Kasick and editor Jeff Gilbert were true collaborators in the design and mix process, fully embracing our approach and helping greatly in shaping the key moments. I also loved mixing with P. Andrew Willis’ score, which brought some wonderful theatricality, playfulness, and energy to the soundtrack. 

Let me know what you think and if you have any questions in the comments. 

This post was written by Nathan Ruyle.

Nathan Ruyle is a Sound Designer, Supervising Sound Editor, Re-recording mixer, and the founder of the independent post-production sound company, This is Sound Design.