Steffan Falesitch is the audio mastermind behind the captivating sounds of What We Do in the Shadows. As the supervising sound editor of this beloved mockumentary series, Falesitch's expertise has earned him well-deserved recognition — including an Emmy nomination this year for the episode "The Night Market."

With a keen ear for crafting spooky atmospheres, Falesitch's contributions have breathed life into the quirky and comedic realm of vampires, werewolves, and the supernatural. And "The Night Market" is a complicated half-hour filled with crowds of monsters, an epic fight scene, and more.

In this interview, we uncover Falesitch's experiences on the team of What We Do in the Shadows and learn his best advice for crafting supernatural sounds.

The Guide's Guide to Shadows - S4 Recap | What We Do in the Shadows |

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

NFS: What are the unique challenges of working on something that's a mockumentary?

Steffan Falesitch: It has to sound like a documentary, so things can't always be too perfect. We're probably the only ones in the sound business that actually add noise and radio mic noise. I have the one that I'm wearing now. I'm wearing this little radio mic and I just scratched it and banged it up. I made a whole file of noises, of radio mic noises.

So on the show, when you see somebody running, even if it's recorded cleanly, we add this. In documentaries, the sound doesn't sound great. So we purposely add the little defects like that. Then there's a whole thing that was set up by Jemaine [Clement] at the beginning, which is, it's a little weird, but the vampires are allowed to wear radio mics. When you shoot a movie, some people wear radio mics, and there's the boom.

But the people they meet in the street theoretically, we just meet them. So the film crew of the show is not supposed to have put their radio mics on them. So they're usually a little off, and you don't hear them as well as everybody else because we just met them and then we're not recording them properly. So there's a little of that to create that atmosphere.

Then everything is a little more restrained. On a regular TV show, the backgrounds are usually louder, you hear more people. But when you're out there chasing vampires and you're recording things, it doesn't sound as full. A lot of times, we kind of back up a little bit on all the sound. So it's kind of an aesthetic really, that it's choices that we make. I mean, everything is available, but we try to make it sound as natural as possible.

NFS: So, am I right to assume that you do have all the actors mic'd that way?

Falesitch: Oh, yeah. I mean, the sound that we get is good. We're the ones who end up kind of messing it up.

Nadja in 'What We Do in the Shadows''What We Do in the Shadows'Credit: FX Press

NFS: What about the supernatural elements? Because there are lots of sounds that you're having to just invent. How do you do that?

Falesitch: It's kind of the same thing. Everything could be bigger because we have libraries, and our sound effects editors, they can always come up with things that are just in a gigantic movie. But we try to keep it a little back, so it almost could be real that people see this stuff happening. But we do have fun with them.

The was an episode where one character just was throwing up so much that he just started flying because it was just like a rocket. That was really fun. Then, you can put anything you want, all these gigantic water sounds and all that, and then it moved. So on the stage, I think that was not early, and it just flies off. We do a lot of fun things with it.

NFS: I'm sure it's a lot of experimentation and just like you said, having fun with it.

Falesitch: But now it's been five seasons, so I'd like to think we know what we're doing. So, we usually go directly to the best choices because everything can be interpreted in so many ways. But the show is on a good groove and we know what to expect.

NFS: I did want to talk about the episode that you're nominated for, "The Night Market." What can you tell us about your process on that particular episode?

Falesitch: There's a lot going on. Luckily there are different teams. There's a dialogue editor, there's a sound effects editor. I take care of all the ADR and the loop group. ... There's a spotting session with the editors, and then they tell us how they want things to feel. And then I translate that into notes that I give to the editors.

I know for "The Night Market," Yana [Gorskaya], who's the editor, she wanted ... It's kind of underground, very international, vampires, creatures. So a lot of activity. On the loop group, we had people speaking different languages. There's a Russian, French. There's a person who speaks German. ... So you have all these conversations that are happening out there to create this international vibe for the market. Also, there are a lot of creatures that maybe don't speak.

So [to] David [Barbee], our sound [effects] editor, I said, "It'd be nice to have, off stage, a little argument between two creatures." So he recorded himself like that. And then he had one tiny little voice like that he made. ... There's different software where you can—it takes the shape of what you're doing and you can add animal sounds to it. So it sounds like some creatures.

I don't know if you're going to so much hear it in the mix because it's subtle, but he created this whole offstage little argument. ... Part of the story is they're all haggling at the market, and that's why they're going because they love to haggle. So we created that. Then there are a lot of layers. It's what you want to hear at a certain point. So on the market, definitely all the background people are important. Also, when you record the group, there are sounds that are more like, "Blah, blah, blah."

Laszlo and Nadja in 'What We Do in the Shadows''What We Do in the Shadows'Credit: FX Press

People talk like that, and it's more like a continuous thing. But there's also what they call "call out," and say, "Hey, over here." Then I don't know if you listen, but on a lot of shows that you end up hearing these little things sprinkled. So we'll record those separately. So you can have, "Oh, I'm selling potions. Yeah, over here, I'm coming." I'm terrible. I never suggest anything because I can never come up with anything. But they come up with great stuff.

So you put that on one layer and you can have more continuous people. We also record people passing by that have ... You know when you're hanging out in a restaurant or something, you hear people going by and you just hear a little piece of conversation? So they actually walk by the microphone and just talk.

So for just the background people, that's three layers of things that we're dealing with. Then David Barbee, the sound effects editor, goes into his library and he finds a sound of a market from North Africa or something like that, that might be in there. Also, they're usually recorded wider, so you have more of a sound field. And that's just for the background voices.

There was a subway train with the subway announcement. There's the guy who sings with his farts. ... My job was, I had to do it, is pick the best farts that I could hear, and then I send them to Steve, the music editor, and he picked them. You can pitch them to make them sound more musical. So this was a whole endeavor just for that little sequence. There was a lot of stuff there. There's a whole fight sequence where there are crowds cheering, and there are weapons being thrown. I mean, yeah, we only have four days. David only has four days to prep this. So I always say the Emmy should go to the person who's able to finish it on time.

NFS: I was going to ask, with it being that complicated, how much time did it take to get the final edit?

Falesitch: Four days. That's the budget. Then four days to prep. And then there's one long day to mix. And then the second mix day is when we get all the notes from Yana and the producers. So for me, as a sound editor, it's a six-day process.

And there's the ADR also that we add some time. Once everything is ready, you might come up, "Oh, it'd be nice if there was a joke here" or something like that. So you could hear something. You don't necessarily see the person, but they can record. So we record a lot of stuff and then I end up picking what I think is the funniest, and then I put it in. That's part of the job, too.

Nandor in 'What We Do in the Shadows''What We Do in the Shadows'Credit: FX Press

NFS: I know in other interviews, at least once, you've said "dialogue is king."

Falesitch: Oh yeah.

NFS: What does that mean to you and what can we learn from that?

Falesitch: We have a spotting session and I hear what the tone of the episode is, but then that's kind of my job separately, I listen to all the production recordings. Now, everything is recorded on a multi-track. So you usually have a track, or one or two tracks, for the boom, if they have two boom people and each person that's in the scene wears a radio mic. So I go through and there are 10 tracks, but they go 10 tracks, and then another 10 tracks—I mean, you have a lot of stuff to choose from.

So I go through everything and listen to what's the best microphone for each line, each word really, and make sure that it's clean enough that the dialogue editor will be able to work with it. If not, I make notes and I prepare cue sheets for the actors to replace them because sometimes their microphone gets buried and you don't really hear them, you only hear the clothing or the boom is too far. Or sometimes a line is changed for the story.

So this one, this episode, I remember it took me—it's only 23 minutes or something like that. It took me two and a half days just to listen to every word and make sure it was clean.

There's a line that I feel like, okay, I love the performance, but he crushed his radio mic, and there's all this noise. Is it worth it to bring him in for ADR? Because not everybody's that great. And when you're in ADR, you're in a little room. You don't have the sense of the space and you haven't been doing this all day. So sometimes it's hard for them to just get into the physicality of it.

Laszlo and Colin Robinson in 'What We Do in the Shadows''What We Do in the Shadows'Credit: FX Press

I'm sure you've heard some ADR lines, it sounds like a person sitting on a chair reading a line, which is what they're doing. But we always ask them, "Can you just physically act it? And if you're standing up, stand up. And if you're moving move, and if you're out of breath, do a few jumping jacks or you're in the situation." So if I hear something and I think it should be preserved, I take the line and I go into RX ... It's a program where you can really get very detailed and clean as much as you can.

So I do a cleanup and see, "Okay, I can see that if I clean it up a little bit, the mixer is going to be able to work with it and we can save the line." So that takes time because sometimes there's a lot of things you have to listen to and you have to pick and decide, "Okay, I'm going to try to clean this up. Oh, I don't think this is going to work." So then you have the actor coming for ADR, but if sometimes it's just one word that's wrong, you can't have them say one word. They have to say a sentence that flows.

So then you prepare the cue sheets, and then you tell the dialogue editor—he gets the cue sheets—"Okay, this line that is going to be separated from everything you do, and put it on a separate track and mute it because we're going to do the ADR." But if the ADR doesn't work, we'll mute the ADR and then we'll just use that one and see if we can save it. And that goes literally line by line.

Everybody always tells me, "I'm at home, I'm watching TV and I don't understand what they're saying." ... My son watches TV with subtitles on all the time, even if he doesn't need it. I feel like we should be able to hear what they're saying.

So to me, that's always the first priority, is to present it to the mixer the best we can. And then the mixer obviously takes it from there. And they have also a lot of tools that they used for cleanup, for balance, for perspective. ... That's always my priority.

'What We Do in the Shadows''What We Do in the Shadows'Credit: FX Press

NFS: What about common mistakes that beginners should avoid?

Falesitch: If people think, "Oh, we'll fix it later." They're on the set: "Don't worry. They'll fix it." And then you bring people for ADR ... It's hard. A lot of actors don't like to look at themselves so much, but they have to and they have to do it. They have to feel the same emotion, and they have to do it in sync with what they did before with the same tone of voice.

You can't just suddenly wake up in the morning and have a voice like that and think, "Oh wow, okay." Then the end of the day where everybody speaks on the higher pitch, you have to be conscious of so many things to match what you were doing. So yeah, make sure that your dialogue is recorded as cleanly as possible. On the set, it's worth spending a little time to remove people's shoes that you don't see, prep the space a little bit, and make sure everybody's wearing a radio mic.

If the dialogue is clean, you have something to work with. If it's not, then you're fixing problems and all you're doing is fixing problems and hope at the end that it will sound good enough. But if the dialogue is good, then you go, "Oh, let's add this, let's play with that. Oh, how about this?" Then that's more creative. It's a different mindset. This show is pretty well recorded and it's pretty challenging because you got a lot of people, I mean the cast itself, and they're always together doing a lot of stuff. We do very little ADR for technical reasons. We do a lot of adding things, but not a lot for technical reasons.

NFS: What would be your advice for someone wanting to get into sound?

Falesitch: Well, I'm going to sound a little old, but back in the day, you went to a facility. That's how I learned. Then you just sit around and then people show you things, and then you hang around and you learn from the people who do it. But now everybody does it at home. I think people go to school. You have to know Pro Tools, of course. If you don't know Pro Tools, forget it. I think people take classes. I've seen that. I don't really know how they learn because I've trained people that took Pro Tools classes and all that. But it's really hard because when you're an editor, you have to be aware of the entire process. So if you're a dialogue editor for instance, you're going to want to do certain things, but you want to know how the mixer works because your job is to give the mixer things that he or she can work with.

A lot of times, things are recorded. You can have the radio mic and the boom at the same time. So that's two tracks of dialogue per person. And also you have software to line them up. I don't know how deep you want to go, but the phase is wrong. So there's software that lines up the phase. You auto-align, and so you make pairs. You have a boom mic and a radio mic for each character.

But how are you going to lay this out? Because you're going to work with 30 tracks of dialogue, and you don't want to throw it all in here. It's got to be laid out logically. And then sometimes people talk and then it cuts to something else, and they might be on the phone. And that's another track because the voice needs to be tweaked to make it sound like a phone.

Nadja in 'What We Do in the Shadows''What We Do in the Shadows'Credit: FX Press

There's a lot of organization. When you go to the stage when you're learning and you see how the mixers work and you find out how they work, then you go back to your editing room and you present something to them. You know what they expect. But if you're just working on your own and you learn Pro Tools and someone says, "Oh, cut dialogue," it's not going to turn out very well.

The same goes with the sound effects editor, they ... have to know the software inside out, of course, but it's well worth the time to find whatever connection you have, to see or learn how it goes down the line. The more broad knowledge you have, the more you know where you fit.

I mean, sound effects editors, they know frequency-wise. I mean, it's nice to have great rumbles and stuff like that. It's very dramatic. But if you only rely on that and it's mixed for TV and people listen to it on the computer, it's like having nothing. So you need to, in your mind, go, "Okay, this is a very cool sound. I love the rumble and all that, but I need something else to support it that is not going to conflict with the dialogue," but that's going to help with the moment of the scene that is going to translate in as many formats as you can.

I remember my son watched Avatar with six of his friends on the bed, on his iPhone. I'm sure James Cameron was not planning on that.

NFS: Probably not. But that's a really good point too, to even be thinking of that.

Falesitch: You've got to be aware. Yeah. Again, if your dialogue is clear, you're there, and people can follow the story and the teenagers who want to watch it on their iPhone will be happy.

'What We Do in the Shadows''What We Do in the Shadows'Credit: FX Press

NFS: Is there anything that you wanted to add I didn't ask?

Falesitch: I guess what I would say is the perception is we're all on the stage, we're all having a good time and debating big creative decisions, which happens. But the work has to be solid and every detail counts. There's a lot of work that goes into it. I mean, if you imagine, if you saw the show, I mean, can you imagine every sound that got put in?

We have 300 tracks. I put it all on my computer because when I'm on the stage if they ask me something, I like to have everything. I just counted before the interview, because I always go, "Oh, there's a lot of tracks." Well, how many are there? Well, there are like 335 tracks of things that everybody puts in a little sound everywhere to make it all work. So yeah, I guess I would stress that. It sounds sometimes like a lot of fun but it takes a lot of work to make a show like that sound the way it does. So that's my word of wisdom for the day, I think.

NFS: I think it's also a credit to all of that hard work, that you don't even have to think about it as you're watching.

Falesitch: I know. It's so transparent. I mean, the foley people, all the footsteps, they're not the footsteps on the set. Have you noticed in movies when ... people scratch their beards, you hear [it]? I defy you to hear that in real life anywhere. That someone who saw it and went in front of a microphone and went like that. Then once you dial into it, you see some actors, and every time they speak, they got to touch something. That's a sound.

NFS: It's definitely work that I appreciate.

Falesitch: But it's interesting. When it all comes together, that's my favorite part, because I get all the sounds from everybody, and I'm the first one to hear it all together at home before I send it to the stage. And it's really cool.

NFS: I'm probably going to go back and re-watch this episode now, because I want to hear that little argument.

Falesitch: You'll hear, it's on the mix. There's a shot of a shoe-shine little creature.

NFS: Okay!

Falesitch: And that's me. I made a little voice for it.