Rubber Soles, Plastic Foley

Plastic Movie Poster

Today sees the UK theatrical release of heist thriller Plastic. Directed by Julian Gilbey and produced by Terry Stone, the film is based on a true story of a group of university students supplementing their loans with credit card fraud, suddenly finding themselves in need of £5m to get a gangster and the threat of violence off their backs.

Got to say, I’m pretty darn proud to have been in the sound team on this film, coming out of the re-recording theatre, we were all pretty chuffed with the final mix. It’s loud (where needs be) and proud. The Foley sat in nicely, some spot-on recordings by Universal Sound, and got featured nicely in the mix. Mmmm.

Last year I started to be more active in assisting Alex in the hard FX side of our films. Mostly helping out with doors and cars. The doors I love, the cars less so. There’s so much faffing around trying to get the right sound out of a multitude of different library tracks and complimentary elements (animals, tyre squeals, gravel crunch, machinery and miscellaneous sounds in the library named ‘track 01′). Nonetheless, Plastic proved a really thrill to assist on the FX because everything needed a bit of beef and creative attention. It felt good to step up and assist on the more literal parts leaving Alex to get on with his design and the scenes requiring a lot of attention. Of which there were many.

The other challenge on this film was my first venture in looking after the VFX, more to the point, looking after the master sound PT session and trying to maintain its structural integrity once the VFX updates have come in. Alex warned me I’d have a task on my hands, turns out he was right. There was lots of liaising with our picture department and the VFX supervisor, then there were spreadsheets. Oh joyous spreadsheets. There’s quite a lot of organisational considerations looking after these VFX. You’ve got to determine which VFX shots will have to be checked out for sync purposes or needing some more effects laying down. Muzzle flashes need double checking in the session in case the gunshot sync has changed, blood spurts need new sound effects adding to compliment the new visuals, iPhones and laptops need new fx laying down if the visuals have changed and the Foley often needs revisiting in case on-screen typing has changed the keyboard tapping sync.

So here’s the trailer for Plastic. It’s our first Paramount release. Not only was the Foley and effects a pleasure to work on, the mix was damn good fun. Julian has such enthusiasm and awareness of sound post and its impact upon the film’s excitement and emotion. This made me extraordinarily happy.

Plastic is released in UK cinemas today.

Sound of Cinema, Sound of Panic

Oh hello. It’s been a while since I wrote some words on here. I’ve been setting aside free time to learn Chinese and watch Breaking Bad (still haven’t seen season 5, please don’t spoil anything please, please, please). Anyway, by the time I’ve gotten through all of that, I’m a bit reluctant to look at the computer any longer.

Well, this is a shame as there’s been so many cool things happening over the past year. One of which, I thought I’d share tonight.

At the close of 2013′s beautiful summer (it was bucketing down outside), Alex and I appeared on BBC Radio 3′s In Tune live broadcast at Southbank’s BFI theatre 1, launching the broadcaster’s Sound of Cinema season. The producer asked Alex to discuss sound design and he invited me along to talk about Foley. It was around this time that the first nerves wafted over.

This was rehearsal, there were a few more people there when it came to broadcast.

This was rehearsal, there were a few more people there when it came to broadcast.

On the day of the broadcast, we were in Soho with the Mind Candy sound crew mixing the Moshi Monsters movie (ah man, that’s a whole different post, so much fun) and so had the capacity to accumulate some interesting items to audition on stage. We sourced some rhubarb, a melon, some knives and forks and Alex’s toy plastic tennis racquet. My good friend and fellow sound editor Patch also came up trumps and donated his (empty) wallet and a builder’s trowel.

So here’s the actual broadcast. Patch was good enough to record this for me and it’s not on the iPlayer anymore so I figured it’s cool to share.

So a few things happened…

1. I forgot how to form sentences

2. I forgot how to say words without sounding like a 1950s newsreader

3. I declared that we use leather for creaky floorboards (wat?)

4. I forgot that wet leather does not creak

5. Alex smashed it

Despite points 1-4, it was still a whole bunch of fun. Once I’d gotten over the intensity of my heart beating at around 80 decibels, the sight of a room full of people hearing about sound design and Foley, possibly for the first time, was brilliant. They were either really interested in our craft or had mastered the art of looking really interested in two people bash things around on a stage whilst waiting for the classical music to return.

The fruity aftermath

The fruity aftermath

So yeah. That happened. I think the best thing was my mum and dad were listening at home and I think they finally understood what us noisemakers do every day. Thanks to Alex (and the radio show producers) for inviting me along and Patch for the mute wallet.

Our Girl

Last night Our Girl was broadcast on BBC 1 here in the UK. I was pretty excited about this as it was my first Foley job for broadcast drama and I had friends and family members sat around the country in front of their televisions sending various messages of support and intrigue. The programme is set around a young woman, played by Lacey Turner, stuck in a rut and low on self esteem. At her lowest point, she comes across an advert for the army and decides to enlist. The subsequent training and new encounters forges her character and alters her outlook on life.

3545125-high_res-our-girl.jpg

I was approached by the programme’s sound editor and dubbing mixer, Steve Chase who, alongside post production supervisor Elaine Jaxon, were after a Foley artist to compliment the sound and fill in any production sound gaps.

Soon followed a trip to the BBC’s studios in Elstree for two days of boots, anoraks and sandbags. At one and a half hours, the programme is easily the length of a feature film, however with two days to record all the material, I was relieved to see Steve’s comprehensive sheet of cues. We sped through the programme applying footsteps to scenes where the feet weren’t prominent in the production sound or for those that were crying out for a little attention (soldier’s boots in the training camp’s corridors or stiletto heels walking down the high street at night). We took the same approach for the effects, paying attention to anything that was missing or needed an extra touch.

There were plenty of moments to be creative in terms of problem solving. When a background character is seen wheeling around a wheelbarrow, we needed to find an alternative due to a serious lack of wheelbarrows in the studio. Elaine located a postal trolley and was soon encouraged to join in as we pushed it, rattled it and moved the wheel against the concrete. It all sounded rather nice in the end.

There were also opportunities to be inventive. When the lead character stands up on a toilet seat to peer over the cubicle wall, we found that a canteen tray made a good substitute for a cheap club toilet seat. This also offered another opportunity to use sound to reinforce the crummy, cheap life and environment that she was living in. Steve encouraged me to pipe up with any of my own ideas which was great and very much appreciated.

The programme is currently on the iPlayer (UK viewers only) and will stay there until Sunday evening. It reached 5.3m viewers on Sunday evening which was pretty rad.

A Puzzled Foley Artist

At some point in the autumn of last year, I got a call off my friend and long time collaborator Dean Covill, giving me a heads up on a short film he was working on for Oliver Kember at some time in the then near future. I was reel deep in Foley editing to the point of alcoholism and delirium, so could only grunt a few words back such as “sure” and “of course I’ll have a good, long think about making the sound of a Rubik’s Cube.”

In all honesty, that was the last I thought of it until the morning came when I was supposed to actually get on with the recordings. That wretched, slow realisation of disorganisation dawned upon me and I was left with no option but to rummage around in the Foley boxes and hope for the best.

There’s something to be said for abandoning forward thinking and relying on instinct because I swear that all the times I’ve had oodles of time to prepare and consider forthcoming recordings, I tend to accumulate a whole lot of items that get pulled, bashed, shook and snapped, yet never really hit the mark. Over-thinking gets in the way of instinctive imagination, whereas just glancing round the room will transform an umbrella to a yacht’s sail or an old kettle into a steering wheel . In this instance, I was saved by a 50p toy car and the removable wheel from my plastic stacking drawers.

Rubik's Car

The wheel itself was quite thin so weight was gained from the car. I could place the car’s wheels in the grey wheel’s groove and mimic the rotation and slide of a Rubik’s cube. As long as I held the car’s wheels quite tight whist pushing and twisting it against the grey wheel, the rattle remained muted and clacky rather than thin and annoying.

The short film is entitled Puzzled and drifts back to the 1980s when Rubik’s Cubes were the best thing since Etch A Sketch and the ultimate goal was to be the first kid at school to solve it. As a result, there was quite a lot of fiddling with the car and wheel to do, every now and then the car would slip and it would come loose. I was worried this would all be too noisy and the whole recording would sound like a toy shop falling over, however upon playback with a little level reduction, it slotted into place and felt kinda reminiscent of gun handling Foley; utter ridiculous upon solo, however perfectly feel-good when played against the picture.

I think the whole exercise was a bit of a confidence boost. I’ve got a film coming up in a few weeks where I’ll be the only Foley artist in the recording theatre and the temptation to pre-plan and prepare each and every prop has become harder and harder to resist. In reality however, all Foley artists rely on their intuition to find the right materials to create the correct sound with the perfect performance. Easy!

Anyway, I must thank Oliver and Dean for having me in on this project. I rather enjoyed the story, will link it here if it finds its way online, it’s rather endearing. I also love how each project Dean sends my way there’s some lovely leather satchels to record. This is always appreciated mate, especially because I spent a lot of money buying them from vintage stores before discovering the magic of charity shops.

Both Oliver and Dean are on Twitter. Follow them if you fancy.

Seriously Rubbish Foley

A feature-length documentary I worked on, Trashed,  is going to be up for best documentary award at next week’s Raindance Film Festival in London. This film was refreshing to work on, I was brought in to help sound designer Jack Gillies and dialogue editor Richard Fordham on the project, tracklaying atmospheres and hard effects where necessary. Naturally I waved my hand high in the air and requested, nay demanded any Foley be sent my way.

The documentary produced by Blenheim Films is an investigation into man-made waste and its environmental effect upon the world’s inhabitants. There’s a nice review on Ecocentric for your intrigue. Anyway, the section of the film I was looking after involved a heck of a lot of boats, waves and beaches. Not to mention a good collection of plastic bottles.

I scrambled along with some nice Foley here and there, be it faffing around with items on a trawler deck, scraping a petri dish in a laboratory or the flap of a plastic bag causing a nuisance to an otherwise beautiful landscape. Some items were a little more difficult, I had a pile of langoustine to move around and interact with. With a total absence of anything shell-like to hand, I had to resort to using stones, odd pieces of glass, porcelain and a parsnip.

Other more creative endeavours involved the sound of a sea worm burrowing in sand on the seashore. Can’t quite remember what I used but my hands were definitely covered in a ton of moisturiser in that pass. My hands were pretty soft by the end of it all. I remember having a lot of wet vegetable items for the sound of sea weed. Possibly spring onions, it all smelt a bit unpleasant by the end of the day.

Amongst all this enjoyable mess, Richard contacted me in need of the sound of a man balling a melon in a restaurant scene he was working on. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not but having scrolled forward, there it was, a close up shot of a man balling a melon with no production sound present. How unusual, for those readers who aren’t sound orientated, watermelons are often or at least historically used to create ‘gore’ sounds by using both the flesh and the juice providing disgusting and effective results.

This surely had to be the first and only time I’d ever needed to do the opposite. Especially when my fridge was completely melon-less. Well it would be wouldn’t it? I sacrificed my pre-planned bolognese meal then grabbed a courgette and tomato with unhealthy intentions.

On his way to the kitchen wandered an intrigued Patch, my flatmate and old Radium colleague who is used to such activities and I kindly volunteered him to perform the deed. Armed with a serrated knife, he scratched at the hard flesh of the courgette for an audible, resistant scrape. We then recorded a few passes of tomato squishes which, without the context of the video, are utterly vile in a whole manner of ways.

Not a Watermelon

So have any other sound editors found themselves in a complete inverse situation from the norm? I remember going on a Foley workshop at London’s SoundFjord where we experimented using a starter pistol to simulate a sliding mechanism/lever. I guess thats a bit opposite of using mechanisms for gun handling (I don’t have any deactivated firearms to use due to the fact I would have absolutely no idea where to get them from).

For the environmentally enthused out there, Trashed has a Twitter and Facebook presence. It’s a documentary that’s had an effect on me since working on it, to the point where I’m freaking out about the sheer amount of unnecessary plastic littered about our daily lives. Our whole bathroom is absolutely full of it! Let me know if you get to see it at all in forthcoming screenings at festivals. It also has Vangelis as the composer. Vangelis! Absolutely brilliant.

The Right Type

I’ve been after a bloody typewriter for ages. Not exactly sure why, I’ve never needed to use one. They seem to be staple accessories in Foley stages and I figured it’s best to have one than get caught short. They are also rather delightful.

Here is the latest acquisition.

It’s a bit broken, that’s okay

It’s pretty, not as much as the attractive metal-framed beasts found hipster’s living rooms but at £5 and housed in a sweet leather case, it’s a steal and a welcome addition to the family. I also managed to find two pairs of mens shoes that fitted a treat and ticked two essential boxes.

The first pair have a slight heel (and at a size six, the ability to slightly crush my size seven feet) which offer a minor clop reminiscent of a subtle ladies heel or a prominent man’s shoe. The second pair are much flatter but with smooth leather soles offer a distinguished and commanding footstep, similar to the brown brogues featured at the top of this blog, without the distracting and unusable weight that those same beautiful shoes find themselves hampered with.

I’m sharing this boring update because it’s something that I’ve had to come to terms with in regards to my shoe collection. Many of the various shoes that I’ve collected are absolutely ideal when walked in a guerrilla fashion (the alleyway behind the block of flats, the stairwell in an office building), however in the controlled environment of a Foley stage, they sound ridiculously over the top. When we were recording Fast Girls, the majority of my shoes remained in my holdall, two pairs of subtle flats were called upon above all others.

This is a bit of a nuisance as I’m having to purchase shoes that I already assumed to be covered, replacing exaggerated ladies heels for shoes that have a heel without the capacity to distract and take prominence over everything else in the mix. Thankfully I found some amazing thrift stores in the midland’s Leamington Spa, this is always the case with more affluent places, the shoes tend to be of a higher quality and therefore offer a more appropriate sound. I’m hoping my guerrilla shoes and these new acquisitions will complete the collection and offer more options when in the pits. In the meantime, I’ve got to find somewhere to put the unnecessary, yet treasured typewriter.

Meeting Randy Thom

Wow. So yesterday I was planning on writing a post about watermelons, then I got a call from Alex to see if I would be free for lunch in the restaurant of The Hospital Club where Creativity Media’s grading suite is based (not in the restaurant itself, obviously).

Turns out lunch would happen to involve meeting Randy Thom and his wife whilst they are over in the UK on a European visit.

:)

I managed to pick myself up off the floor and spent two wonderful hours alongside my colleagues in their company. Such a humbling experience and entirely inspiring.

There’s not many sound editors and aspiring sound professionals that haven’t seen a behind-the-scenes video of Randy discussing his approach to sound design. The first time I came across his name was at university, pouring through the pages of Filmsound.org looking for a masterclass and when I was feeling a bit down on my luck, desperate to find a way into the joyous world of Foley, his advice to an aspiring music editor and Foley artist on the site was a reference point which I followed to the absolute t.

1) Move to LA. There are more jobs there which will “lead somewhere.” So even though there are also more people looking for jobs there, it’s still the place to be. 

2) Read everything you can find about film sound in books, magazines, and on the Internet. 

3) Find people who are doing the kind of work you want to do, and figure a way to make contact with them. You’ll have to be resourceful. It’s great training for the resourcefulness you’ll need AFTER you “break in.” Be persistent, but not SO persistent that you appear to be unstable, weird, or psychopathic. 

Edited excerpts from the message thread “soundtracks and foley”  at CAS webboard Nov 1999  

Well, I didn’t move to LA. It’s a bit far from London and they’d ask me to go home after three months. Nonetheless, it’s spot-on advice and just what I needed to hear at the time. The advice was taken and I managed to land myself at Alex’s door.

There’s something very heartening when you finally meet someone who you admire professionally, to discover that they’re just as admirable and personable when you meet them in real life, chatting about Chinese food and the delights of southern France.

Whenever Randy mentioned Skywalker, my heart would skip a beat, however the real joy was hearing about how enthused Randy and his colleagues are in developing young talent at the ranch. So much of his outlook and approach felt familiar in what I have experienced in being mentored by Alex, who himself received mentoring by Randy.

I didn’t get the chance to hear Randy’s recent talk at the BFI, however his discussion on the importance of sound post production in film and the necessity for sound supervisors/designers’ early involvement on a project is something that needs to echo around the industry as a whole.

So yes, watermelons are imminent. Today, I’m just basking in a rare opportunity and will be so for the forthcoming week, at least. There is a cool interview with him the other week when he was talking in Nottingham. It’s well worth a read.

Fast Girls, Slow Feet

Oh hello.

Over six weeks ago I had the joy of joining the good folk at Universal Sound for a day of shooting Foley for the forthcoming feature film Fast Girls. The film revolves around Shania, a track athlete who finds herself in an intense rivalry with a fellow British runner Lisa. It stars many actors of cult TV and film including Noel Clarke, Lenora Crichlow, Bradley James, Rupert Graves and Lily James.

Universal Sound originally based their Foley studios at Perivale, within London’s borough of Ealing. Had I known this back in my university days (which is based in Ealing itself), I’d have been bothering them years ago. The facility is currently located in the pretty village of Amersham, Buckinghamshire and houses three studios and a swimming pool. The river of chocolate in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was aurally created in said swimming pool. I found no traces of nutrient agar when I was there.

My day with Paul and Simon involved helping out with the feet and effects in reel one. The first footsteps sequence to come my way involved a character hoisting up onto his feet, jogging, then sauntering over to another character… down a few steps. Um.. I may have taken eight attempts to get both the sync and performance correct on this before Paul had to take over.

Naturally all confidence had evaporated at this point and I was scanning the room for a black hole to disappear in and that would have been the end of that. Thankfully the chaps didn’t lose faith completely and my second attempt involved walking some straight background feet and as the day wore on, my feet loosened up and I got on with more faith in myself and revelled in each chance I was given.

Once the feet were recorded we moved onto the effects. We covered a variety of different props from car tyres slowly grinding against gravel to bunting flapping against a background fence. One pass that I’d never encountered before involved performing the patter patter of a small dog’s footsteps, then taking on it’s metal chain lead. This was rather fun and Paul shared his techniques with me on many of these props. Another highlight was performing both spot and background effects in a canteen scene. We covered baking trays, utensils and fingernails imitating chicken pieces hitting plates together in the same take. I’ve seen this teamwork before when sitting in various other sessions but to be part of that was really something.

The photo is totally staged, the stupid grin I'm wearing isn't.

It’s great not only working with the artist themselves, but also seeing how essential the relationship between the artist and the mixer is. I noticed the number of times that Simon and Paul were in tune with one another. They barely have to finish a sentence as the other knows what they’re going to say, in fact I’m sure they have their own made-up language formed over time. It’s something I need to get used to having recorded my own Foley performances, I guess it takes time.

You’d have thought I’d have been on here bleating on about my day in the pits sooner, however there has been a few hours put into the Foley editing and myself and colleagues have only just emerged from the other side. I’m going to be spending a day there again next week with the film we’re currently working on, Get Lucky. If I remember anything interesting, I’ll post it here. I won’t subject Paul to another photo, maybe I can convince Simon to pose instead.

Fast Girls hits the cinemas on June 15th. The trailer is available to view here.

ADR Quickie Required in LA

This has definitely not been copied and pasted from an ad I just posted on Gearslutz… no sir.

I’m looking for someone in Los Angeles that’s available on the 23rd and 24th of March to shimmy on down to a hotel and record three lines of ADR.

These recordings are wildtrack lines, not to sync. Any type of recording medium is fine, however a boom mic is required to pick up the lines. These lines will be recorded from the perspective of the actor talking through the hotel room door.

This is a paid gig of $100.00
Confirmation of the date (it will be either the 23rd or the 24th) nearer the time.

Send me an email (please don’t phone as I’m elbow deep in footsteps regions at the moment, oh Lord how elbow deep I am) if you’re available.

Seeing as this isn’t really about anything other than needing to get a few lines of ADR recorded, here’s a photo which precedes the next post which I’ll write as soon as the film is complete.

Squeeeeeeeeee!

Tappity Tap, Don’t Talk Back

Late as ever to the party, but surely it’s never too late to wish one another a wonderful new year full of experiences and adventures; be they work related or in those fleeting hours we call our spare time.

This forthcoming year is filling me with trembly anticipation towards a plethora of new projects to be undertaken both in the (sound) edit and the pits. The thought of treading floorboards makes me so happy I could vomit, however this nausea may also be as a result of some trepidation in developing flat feet and the dreaded rumble tum/bum.

So I’ve decided to wind back the clock to childhood days and take up tap dancing classes.

On the left. I hated that dress.

It makes sense to devote time and energy to footsteps, the more difficult aspect of Foley to master. I remember drilling this into my head when reading Vanessa Theme Ament’s The Foley Grail back in my Radium days, she mentioned how many Foley artists entered the industry with a background in dancing and stage performing, however it was an aversion to hairspray-filled dressing rooms littered with ribbons and eye shadow that kept me away from the dance studio.

I’ve read almost every book by writer and martial arts expert Geoff Thompson. Near the end of last year I re-read an article entitled Armstrong’s Hills where he described pushing himself away from his comfort zone into writing screenplays for film and the stage. His observations into Tour De France champion Lance Armstrong’s training approach gave me an essential kick up the arse. To quote:

I got the idea after reading about Lance Armstrong, the serial Tour de France winner. What inspired me about this great man was not just that he managed to fight cancer against horrendous odds, but also that he went on to win The Tour De France an unprecedented six times. He won it so many times that the organisers of the race actually changed the route (I believe four times) to give the other riders a better chance of winning. What intrigued me was not so much that Lance Armstrong won the race so many times, rather it was the way in which he went about it. He looked at the Tour route and realised that the hardest part of the course, the part that every rider struggled with, was the hills. He realised that if he could master the hills, he could dominate the whole course. So that is what he did. Whilst the other riders concentrated on their flat riding Armstrong was on the hills, up and down again and again and again until he mastered them, until he was comfortable with them, in fact until he loved the hills.

I don’t particularly expect to win the Tour DeFrance, or become a master at footstepping, but the idea of concentrating efforts on the most difficult areas of one’s field, in this case Foley, by getting more acquianted with rhythm and utilising all areas of the feet whilst avoiding the temptation to perfect less challenging and, dare I say, more ‘exciting’ aspects of the art, may offer some relief to the butterflies forming in my stomach region at present.

Aside from finding an excuse to don a tutu and avoid jogging in the evening rain, it will feel good to try and tip my hat towards the legacy of Foley artists who began their careers as professional dancers. Near the close of last year, Alex linked to me a wonderful article by Lionel Selwyn about the UK’s Foley heritage. The photo of the late Beryl ‘The Boot’ Mortimer hard at work in the pits is mesmerising and it’s most humbling to read about how many artists worldwide came into the Foley theatres from… theatres.

And now onto something completely different.

It seems uncouth to maintain all attention on the forthcoming months without taking the time to appreciate the twelve just passed and those that have made 2011 so incredible.

May I offer my sincere gratitude and love towards Alex Joseph, Richard Kondal and Patrick Fischer at Creativity Media. Many thanks also to Beth Lovell, Charlotte Radford, Rachel Chapman, Syriah Bailey, Renee Vaughan Sutherland, Sophie Mallett, Carlos Wisteria, Patch Morrison, Anne Marie Kennedy, Spencer Lowe, Mark Watts, Emily Kidson, James Walters, Christopher Jones, Dean Covill, Nigel Heath, Ayush Ahuja, Matt and Aleah at Zelig, Kate and David at Hub TV, Nic, Tom and Shaun at Beautiful, Neil and Louisa at Silent Deer, Alex Amelines and the delightful Olivia Comberti. You’re amazing.