Anatomy of a Scene: Directing Duo Dave Merlino and Dustin Sweet on 'Apache Blues: Welcome Home'

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

In our latest Anatomy of a Scene interview, we chatted with Directing Duo Dave Merlino and Dustin Sweet on 'Apache Blues: Welcome Home.' 

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Which scene was your favorite to work on in Apache Blues: Welcome Home?

Both: This was a harder question to answer than we thought because there were many impactful moments during filming that we loved being a part of. But when being asked to pick just one, we would have to say it’s the moment with the helicopter cockpit recording made by one of the pilots. 

Describe this scene and the significance it has to the rest of the film.

Dave: The scene evolves from one of our subjects, Lt Jack Hugele, telling us how many of his roommates were lost during the war. Including one that was in a helicopter that was shot down as it was working above him. We then move into a cockpit recording from that day and listen as the action plays out before us. It’s one of the breakout moments in the movie that we built around… and it was totally unplanned.

Dustin: The moment with Jack Hugele was just a small part of a very long interview we did that day. It did not stand out at the time. A year later, Sgt Ed Beal handed us a cassette tape. He said a pilot had flown with a tape recorder while he was flying on missions and had given that tape to Ed for safekeeping. Ed told us he thought we were the perfect people to pass it along to because maybe we could do something with it. We were happy to take it, even if we didn’t know if we were going to be able to use it at the time.

Dave: It wasn’t until another year later, when I sat down to edit the movie, did I start to put it together that the recording on the tape may have been from the day that Jack Hugele had described to us all of those years ago. I had to do a lot of listening and cross checking until I was able to confirm it. That moment was electric though as I fully realized what we potentially had on our hands… completely by coincidence.

What tools, plugins, or instruments did you use in your production of this scene?

Dustin: I believe we took that interview using a Ninja Blade pulling HDMI from a Canon 5d Mk III, and another 5d on a rail shooting the side angle.  For audio I think we had a wireless LAV going to a Zoom H4 Handy recorder. 

What technical challenges did you encounter while working on this scene?

Dave: The biggest challenge was the tape itself. We didn’t think too much of it at the time Ed gave us the tape because we both grew up with cassette tapes. Then we remembered that we live in a world where our daughters didn’t even know what the tape was when we showed it to them. So we had to figure out how to play it. Luckily, we were able to get our hands on a cassette player, and Dustin and our Director of Photography, Charles Schaefer, set to figuring out how to get that audio off of the cassette tape and onto our computer.

Dustin: Well the first thing we needed to put our hands on was a tape player with a line out.  It ended up being one of those long black ones like they used to have at  the library.  I spliced together a male to male minijack and got the recording into the computer using Adobe’s Audition tool. This whole project has used Adobe’s pipeline, which was a decision we made in the beginning and served us well.

Dave: The other technical challenge was that the recording itself is almost two hours long. So we had to be very careful to boil it down to its essential elements while still maintaining the overall essence of the original recording. There is also a lot of variable background noise from the helicopter’s engine as  well as large amounts of crosstalk from other pilots over the radio that we had to work around. It definitely helped improve our audio cross fade and layering skills.   

What was the dialogue like between you two as the film’s directors regarding this scene?

Dustin: We were on a video call and  I think the dialogue between us was something like: “I’ve got this idea for that helicopter audio.” “Okay, what are you thinking?” “Check it out.”  and Dave played back the scene almost exactly as it appears in the film.  It was such a tight weave of the narrative thread it really impressed me.  It was one of those moments where you get to see the technical growth of your creative partner, through the lens of the thing they have made, I mean it really impressed me.

Dave: As a director, you always have this feeling when you know you are working on an amazing scene. Everything is just coming together perfectly, and it’s going to be one of the moments in the movie that the audience walks away talking about. We had that feeling when putting this all together, but we were also really reluctant because as opposed to any other scene we had made where we had this feeling, this was all 100% real. The helicopter crashing on tape is real. The crew of that helicopter actually died. The guns and canons you hear being fired are aimed at real people, and that is a heavy feeling. We had to work really hard to determine the line between honoring these memories versus exploiting them, and then making sure we stayed on the right side of that line. 

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