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Listen: The Perfect Movie Punch Requires a Chicken Stuffed With Walnuts

At least, so says the Oscar-nominated sound designer of ‘Fight Club’

Every couple of weeks, our MEL Stories podcast highlights a single topic, but interprets it in three different ways. On this episode, we show that we can take a good punch, featuring segments on a dude who likes to get punched in the balls, a recipe for rum punch from the country’s top bartender and an explanation from sound editor Ren Klyce on how he made the punches in Fight Club sound so disturbingly real. Listen to the podcast via the SoundCloud embed above, or check out an edited excerpt from our discussion with Klyce below.

The first fight scene in Fight Club is meant to be innocent-sounding. Because they don’t know how to fight yet. Ed Norton’s character is a wimpy guy who has never punched anyone in his life. So when he hits Brad Pitt’s character in the ear for the first time, it’s no big deal and meant to sound as natural as possible. We mostly made it from punching stuff ourselves, layered in with what the production microphone captured while we were shooting — e.g., the little scuffling sound Brad’s collar made when he gets punched. Technically it’s wrong because you’re not supposed to hear the microphone moving, but we liked the way it sounded.

But as Ed and Brad become fitter and better fighters, the sound grows more and more polished. For instance, for the Angel Face fight when Jared Leto gets his face pulverized, we went to the grocery store and bought big roasts and chickens. I stuffed the chicken carcasses with walnuts and put them in an actual basement because it had a natural echo and would sound extra yucky. I’ll never forget the sound it made when we hit them. We even had to wait a beat between each punch so as not to step on the echo from the previous punch. By the time we were done, the basement was a huge bloody mess.

The sound for the famous scene where Ed punches himself in the face is purposefully very dry. It was in a carpeted room so we dulled out the sound and added low-end frequency bass to punch it up just a little bit. There was a lot of glass in that sequence as well, since after Ed punches himself he falls back on a glass coffee table. The sound of him rolling around on all those broken bits of glass came from little rocks.

Then [director] David Fincher did this really interesting thing: When Ed falls down and there’s an overhead shot of him on the coffee table, his shirt has these horrible yellow armpit stains. All of it added up to this incredible, hysterical visceral response from the audience.

Listen to the full Klyce interview below:

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