Damian Del Borrello is the supervising sound editor of Season 2 of Taika Waititi's hit HBO series, Our Flag Means Death. Del Borrello has worked extensively with Waititi, including on his upcoming Apple TV+ series, Time Bandits.

Oh, and he was Emmy-nominated this year for editing the sound of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. No big deal!

Sound on a period pirate comedy is incredibly important for setting the oceanic scenes and creating emotional connections with the audience, although viewers might not always be aware of the nuance Del Borrello's team is bringing to the series. We spoke with this sound maestro and learned about what creator David Jenkins wants from the sound of every scene, how this team handled a remote workflow, and what mistakes new creators should avoid.

Avast, me hearties, etc. Enjoy the following conversation with Del Borrello.

Our Flag Means Death Season 2 | Official Trailer | Maxwww.youtube.com

Editor's note: this conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: You're coming right off of Rings of Power. What's it like coming from an epic fantasy into a pirate comedy?

Damian Del Borrello: Obviously, the scale is quite different. Rings was a fantasy epic, whereas Flags is more of a period piece and more of an intimate show. At the core, it's all about relationships. So, very different expectations in terms of the soundtrack, but also just a very different approach, both from a logistics point of view but also creatively.

I think in Our Flag Means Death, it was all about the authenticity of the sounds, which speaks towards the period component stuff like the ships, stuff like the locations, stuff like all those amazing design decisions that were made, supporting and elevating all of that to make it feel authentic and real.

NFS: I know that you contributed sound directly to Rings of Power. Is there anything that you did in Our Flag Means Death where you contributed sound?

Del Borrello: I work really closely with all of our crews. So, specifically, one thing to highlight on Flags was to do with the foley. David Jenkins, during all of our spotting sessions, was very specific with how he wanted things to sound, and he went right down to the sound of the footsteps. It's like, he had this notion of "the heavy." Who's the heavy in the scene, who's the most important, where is the most important emotional beat in the scene?

He spoke directly about the sound of the footsteps in this moment, in that moment. So, I worked quite closely with our foley team, the Bespoke Post, the fantastic foley team here in New Zealand. They would deliver their tracks to me and I would actually do quite a bit of pitch shifting. So, I would actually pitch things down to create more of a sense of weight.

Blackbeard, for example, in one of the spotting sessions we came up with this notion that he would have spurs, or the sound of metal going along with his footsteps that was almost like a pastiche towards the Western bad guys, in those old Western films, just to add a sense of danger. ... So, there was a whole lot of those subtle additions and variations.

Aside from that, the mixing of that, of all those sound effects was quite a big contribution on my part, because we'd mixed in Dolby Atmos. We had the height channels available to us. So, in terms of positioning the audience in the different parts of the ship, so that you could feel when you are underneath, under the deck, right in the bowels of the ship, versus when you are just below the deck or up on the deck, and having all of those sounds be consistent wherever we are throughout the whole season was quite a big job. But also so satisfying when it was working.

Stede and his crew in Spanish Jackie's 'Our Flag Means Death''Our Flag Means Death' Credit: Nicola Dove/Max

NFS: What was your typical timeline on each episode?

Del Borrello: All of our editorial crew was remote. Our dialogue editor had about a week to prep the tracks per episode. Sound effects editors had about two weeks to prep the tracks, then we had about a week to pull it all together in the mix.

My mixing partner is Gareth Van Niekerk, so it was two of us. Gareth was on the dialog and music and also mainly the lead mixer. I was doing all the sound effects and also supervising, so handling all the music as it was coming in from our music editor, Steve Griffin, who was LA-based, and our ADR supervisor, Angelina Faulkner, was also LA-based as well. Which worked really well on the ADR front, because all of our actors were back in LA by the time we started, and so it worked with the time zone as well. She was able to go into the sessions, into the studios for the records.

NFS: What are you most proud of in terms of sound this season?

Del Borrello: It was certainly episode seven ['Man on Fire'], the sequence from Spanish Jackie's all the way to the end. There's so much going on in there. There's so much detail that we built into it ... Once we got the mix right, there's so much clarity as well, moment to moment ... That one shot in Spanish Jackie's was shot so well.

It's quite daunting sometimes when you're presented with something like that to work on because it's all about the transitions. What's important, what do we have to hear before we see it, how quickly can we lose the stuff that we just pulled away from? But the way that that all plays, we always know what's important, what's coming, what's gone, and what's happened in each little beat within that shot.

Then also of course, the chaos of the big twist, which honestly when I first saw the season was a real surprise to me. I didn't see it coming. That was really good, to build all of that in and to have those giant set pieces with the explosions and the cannon fire.

That was also a bit of a challenge with the visual effects, because that was coming in late. We had a whole lot of things that we'd built knowing what was coming, and it wasn't until we actually got the final shots that we could actually go, "Oh, right. Actually, we need to swap this out. We need to add that. We need to change the sound of this." That did happen at the very last minute, and so that was probably a big challenge as well.

Two pirates looking at a map in 'Our Flag Means Death''Our Flag Means Death' Credit: Nicola Dove/Max

NFS: You may have already answered my next question, which was going to be about the most challenging sequence. Sounds like that is potentially it.

Del Borrello: Yeah, I guess they go hand in hand often, right? So, it's like the most challenging one that works is the most satisfying.

NFS: What mistakes do you see beginning sound editors making early in their careers, and how do they avoid them?

Del Borrello: I guess one thing is, and it's something that I learned in film school from my mentors way back, and it's more sound is not necessarily good sound. When it comes to sound editing, the best thing you can do is choose the right sound, a single sound for a moment. It might be a very detailed sound, but it's really about what's important for the emotional honesty of the beat or the scene or whatever it is. Whether it's a nuts and bolts storytelling element, so that we know what's happening off-screen.

Or if it's something that's connected to a character's emotional moment, something that supports that or subverts that, depending on what's required for the scene. It's about understanding what the scene needs, not necessarily just filling it all and then deciding after. That's something that I see a lot, certainly with our young freelancers coming through. They build in all of this technical, beautiful detail, just becomes a bit of a mess, and it's a little bit hard to understand what we're meant to be seeing, what we're meant to be hearing. It's really all about story and emotion.

Stede and crew celebrate on ship in 'Our Flag Means Death''Our Flag Means Death' Credit: Nicola Dove/Max

NFS: What advice would you give someone who wanted to get into sound? Where should they start as a learning process?

Del Borrello: Well, I guess outside of film schools, just getting connected to professionals in your area. Whether it's just expressing a desire to be part of the industry, and wanting to meet. It really is about the network.

I really hate that word, "networking," because is a bit derivative. I think it's important to connect with people who are passionate about the same things as you. I think if you can find those people in your area and you are passionate yourself and you have the drive to do sound work, it's something that will just happen.

I know it sounds a little bit simplistic, as well, but it's about authenticity. It's about meaningful relationships, and not just transactional. Because any creative field, it's always about the people. The more of those real relationships you can get and cultivate, the more likely it is you'll probably end up working with some of these people. So, I think, try not to be transactional is the key.