Tag Archives: Alex Joseph

Shorts in the Spotlight

Some work I did last year got some recent attention. Operator, directed by Caroline Bartleet, won best British short at the Baftas this February. This was quite a nice surprise as I’d completely forgotten I’d worked on it; Alex Joseph and I recorded all the Foley at the end of a session for another film. Hats off too to the film’s sound designer Lisa-Marie McStay who picked up the award for best sound design at London’s Underwire festival.

Another pleasant surprise was The Drum magazine’s pick for their ad of the week back in October. Film is Fragile was a collaboration between The Mill and BFI to promote the restoration and digitisation of the UK’s historic film collection.

Once again, Alex asked me to look after the footsteps in the film. We were both volunteering our time on this and I soon realised it consisted of clips of characters running in classic films. It didn’t take too long  to complete in the end; I’ve gotten pretty used to grabbing old recordings. In fact I’ve managed to create a library in my brain that can go straight to the appropriate reel in a film edited 5 years ago; picking the right shoes, surface and pace. Well, that’s the intention anyway, results can be mixed.

So is this still Foley? No, not really… not if considering the definition of recording bespoke sound effects for linear picture. However that in itself can be contested; the line between sound effects and classic Foley is frequently blurred, especially when taking game sound into consideration. Nonetheless, nicking old recordings and cutting them to picture is pretty common with low/no budget shorts and worked well in this case. Many Foley editors will also supplement recordings with old favourites. These supplements may be used to add weight to tracks or sell the texture of a surface.

In the case of this film, the copied footsteps were quite simple. The snow feet and the wet beach feet were both layered up, however the rest (all of which were concrete) sat there quite nicely on their own.

So two quickly made Foley soundtracks that caught a bit of attention; if only the long-slog projects did the same!

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Spotting a Honeytrap

Honeytrap Film Poster

Brixton-based drama Honeytrap came out in UK cinemas last Friday and received positive reviews. Based upon the 2009 case of a 15 year old girl who lured a boy to his death by a gang, director Rebecca Johnson drew on her experiences working with young people in the same area with her not-for-profit Fierce Productions filmmaking workshops.

Layla, played by Skins’ Jessica Sula, comes to stay with her mother in London having grown up in Trinidad with relatives. As the film progresses she falls deeper and deeper into trouble as she desperately wants to fit in with her new peers and gain affection and attention from the local top boy, Troy. 

I had the opportunity to sit in the spotting session for Honeytrap with Rebecca, sound designer Alex, dialogue/ADR editor Adele Fletcher and re-recording mixer Richard. Spotting sessions are great aren’t they? We combed through the final cut (shout out to picture editor John Dwelly and Rebecca for the great edit) scene by scene as Alex and Rebecca determined the feel of the sound design. Adele, Rebecca and Richard made their ADR notes, hard effects were noted for sound editor Stelios and we noted down the Foley necessities.

It’s so great to have a detailed plan and communicate requirements to the Foley stage (Universal Sound recorded and performed the Foley) and give attention to scenes that require ADR coverage or creative attention. Attending this spotting session also let me know which scenes or parts of scenes would be dropping production/sound effects in favour of music and design. It would appear that proper planning and preparation not only prevents piss poor performance but also nourishes creativity and allow it to flourish, especially with time constraints to adhere to.

Honeytrap is in UK cinemas right now. Updates on DVD and international releases are available via the film’s Twitter and Facebook feeds.

An Adventure in Animation Foley

I recently returned to the choppy waters of freelancing; this has proved to be both exciting and stressful. On the plus side, I’m writing this from a pretty bar in Yorkshire bang in the middle of the afternoon – the downside is that I’ve developed an unhealthy attraction and yet a simultaneous aversion to emails.

Another joyous positive for the life of a freelancer is the freedom to take on work away from the norm. I was recently invited to join Dave Darch and his team working with young people with the BFI and THAMES film music project for a Foley workshop, complimenting their 10-week music for film course. I turned up armed with a back-breaking array of props, shoes, cloths and vegetables with the full intention of wiggling them all in front of the students.

A high percentage of these items were indeed wiggled. The young people also got a chance to wiggle them to their own films that they’re working on. I think they enjoyed their day; it’s not often folks get a chance to step into someone else’s shoes or transform a hand drill into a pistol. At the request of Dave, I brought with me some examples of my Foley to picture, including a section of Moshi Monsters: The Movie. It hadn’t occurred to me that not many folk get to watch moves without the finished mix; they all seemed to be transfixed.

I didn’t write up anything about Moshi when we were busy working on it. This is due to the fact I was bloody knackered at the time.

Moshi Monsters

The film was the first by Shoreditch’s award winning digital company Mind Candy and was released straight after their win at the Children’s BAFTAs. Mind Candy’s Lead Audio Designer, Daan Hendricks, got in touch with us when I was at Creativity Media and we joined his team on the sound design, Foley and effects mixing. This would be my first theatrical animated film and I was bricking it.

I wasn’t overly familiar with Moshi Monsters and the idea of creating their movements for the first time in a film was a little daunting. Thankfully, I had Alex giving me a whole bunch of advice and we were soon strolling around Soho poking heads into various shops and market stalls looking for interesting food stuffs, toys and materials that would bring these characters to life.

The workflow of the film in terms of the Foley was a little different to that which I’m used to. Spider Eye, the animation studio, would send us sections of the film once they were fully rendered and green-lit. Therefore, we worked in a very non-linear fashion, recording and fitting Foley in a very stop-start manner until we received picture lock. We took a couple of days recording with Gwilym Perry (now of Doppler and Dubbs) in Twickenham’s theatre 3 then finished the rest of the film with Simon Trundle at Universal Sound. These two studios have their own unique characteristics and the two mixers their own separate approaches, both of whom contributed such wonderful creative ideas and experience, I really valued working with them both.

The five Moshi Monsters who lead us through the film are the same monsters that children ‘adopt’ in the online game. Katsuma (a cat with an inflated sense of self), Poppet (the level headed character), Zommer (think of Scooby Doo’s Shaggy but more of a zombie), Furri (lovable hairy oaf), Diavlo (fiery) and Luvli (sultry). They are also joined by Poppet’s favourite Moshling, Mr Snoodle (a little horse which looks like an elephant puppy).

These are characters that kids will know and love so it was pretty essential to make their movements reach expectations. In terms of cloth tracks, I pretty much followed their animal type or resorted to simple cotton cloth. The supporting characters, however, offered more creative opportunities. Shelby, a turtle character, needed an interesting material for his moves. Alex suggested using PVC which was duly adopted and had a nice sound to it. Buster Bumblechops (a Jurassic Park Richard Attenborough type in an adventurous mood) was performed with canvas and rougher cloth. The character Furry was… furry. I performed his moves with fur. Imagination was required elsewhere.

Footsteps provided the other major preparation challenge. I couldn’t decide whether to follow what was on screen or to go with the nature of the characters instead (soft, wet, rocky, bristly etc). We experimented with different materials but- for the most part- went with less abstract choices… if you can call udon noodles less abstract for a footstep. In fairness, the leads were walked lightly with fairly standard shoes. One character was barefoot but heavy set; I walked him with my hands but made them very ‘slappy’. Daan wanted a kinda plastic/rubberish footstep for Mr Snoodle. After much rummaging around, Universal’s Paul Hanks came up with using finger tips upon a wellington boot. This project induced a very collaborative environment and the Foley benefitted from this.

A section of the film that we spent quite a bit of time on was set on a snowy mountain; the footsteps involved the usual cornstarch and rock salt. The scene involved an avalanche that was a bit of fun to create. This is one of those moments where the Foley stage is used by the sound designers and fx editors to obtain something for themselves. Both Alex and Daan were keen to collate a bank of recordings that they could later affect for their own design and fx tracklays. Acquiring the help of another soundie, Ryan Lee Twyman, we flumped and bellowed pillowcases full of flour onto the floor all in full view of the Neumann and contact mic. The recordings accumulated but a distinct sound of falling snow was missing. As I brushed the ground ready for another load to drop, Alex was still monitoring the mics. Turns out a little hand brush on the concrete with cornstarch to scatter makes quite a lovely avalanche sound when you’ve got a contact mic there doing its thing.

As enjoyable as our more experimental recording sessions were, I maintain that some of the best work comes from having no time to think. The 5 days I had at Universal Sound with their handsome mixer Simon was hard work. Good grief, we had so much to get through whilst my dreamy old colleague Stelios and intern Daniel were editing the fruits of our work. As I wasn’t as familiar with the props at Universal, Simon came up trumps in suggesting props to use. We flew through scene by scene and in all honesty I can’t remember a lot of the things I used because we worked so quickly everything relied upon instinct rather than considered thought.

Something particularly enjoyable about working on this film was the expeditions to source prop material. I spent an absolute age looking in different toy shops across London; trying to find items that would pop, whistle, squish, squeak, rattle and hum. These toys proved very useful for both Foley and the sound design. Mr Snoodle’s flappy ears were made with a whoopie cushion, flies were made with buzz magnets and tuning forks, large drinking straw-like pipes were made with a whirly tube slid inside a washing machine tube and the Moshi’s arch enemy’s army of glumps were complimented in the Foley stage with a rubbery toy cheese filled with slime. It was beautifully disgusting and fun.

Here’s some pics of the recordings.

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Here’s the trailer for the film.

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.

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.

8-Bit Arcade ADR

Last week I took the two hour train ride back and forth to Twickenham Film Studios whilst the sound is currently being mixed for Outside Bet. I’ve generally spent these few days watching the process and making myself useful with occasional tasks here and there, one of which ended being rather fun.

The film is set in mid-1980s London and follows a group of friends caught up in the Thatcherite-era of privatisation and rising unemployment, who invest their savings in a racehorse with a few fingers and toes crossed on its sucess. One scene in the film involves a character playing an old fruit machine, similar to that seen below, his success with the machine mirroring his success in life. It’s not exactly a major plot piece in the film, however the fact he’s losing money in the game helps to further the idea of the friends being down on their luck.

1970s Fruit Machine

Alex had already fitted some arcade sounds to demonstrate the loss, however he asked me to record some vocal lines which really drove the point home and mocked the character at the same time. We recorded myself, Richard and Alex voicing ‘you lose, ‘loser’ etc., for further processing to place it in the machine, however many of the third party and native effects within Pro Tools weren’t treating the vocal snippets appropriately. We needed the lines to be audible, however they also needed to be degraded and stripped of life and humanisation.

Back in the days of university and employment just after graduating, I would use Logic Pro as my DAW and remembered the effective way its host plug-ins would dramatically alter sound. A pleasant pay off for being utterly irritating to use as an an audio editor. I brought it in the next day and opened up Bitcrusher, EVOC Filterbank, Ringshifter and the Fuzz-Wah plug-ins and had a bit of a play.

My own vocals were thrown into Vocal Transformer for pitching down to a deeper, male presence. It then fell pray to a little bitcrushing and filtering. Here’s a little before and after.

Richard bellowed “you fail” in my general direction, I bitcrushed it and filtered the remains, here are the dry and wet versions.

Alex gave me a mighty fine “loser” to deal with, this was bitcrushed, filtered and treated with the ringshifter. Here’s the before and after.

Here’s some exceptionally interesting screen grabs. The Fuzz-Wah I kept the preset, think I had a fiddle around with the EVOC Filterbank and Ringshifter. Definitely had a fiddle with the bitcrusher, kept the distortion low but downsampled the heck out of the sound. A little different to the Foley editing for sure.

I ended up submitting 21 versions, as we had all vocalised different ways of pronouncing and delivering the lines, however the effect upon Richard’s line above appeared most effective in maintaining some clarity whilst aggressively attacking the sound. It was a small part to play in the final mix stage but was a pleasure to work on.

Outside Bet is due for release within the UK at the later part of the year, director Sacha Bennett is a joy to be around, you can find him on Twitter here. The film has a Facebook page here.

Anuvahood – Foley and Fruittellas

This Friday sees the UK theatrical of Anuvahood, written and directed by Adam Deacon. The film is the spoof of UK street movies such as Kidulthood and Adulthood, it tells the story of Kay, a young MC failing at music, women and life, set in the council estates of Notting Hill. It’s also bloody funny.

I’m going to be drinking an inordinate amount of whisky this weekend in celebration of the film, it’s the first cinematic release that I’ve worked on as an assistant Foley editor and I loved every single cut, nudge and volume adjustment throughout each reel. Working under the instruction and guidance of Supervising Sound Editor, Re-recording Mixer and Associate Producer Alex Joseph, I noticed an unfolding improvement in my sync, noise reduction and levels awareness as the timecode ticked away.

Working on this project offered a rare opportunity to discover more effective means of fitting character movements, feet and props, blending naturally into the production sound and still cutting through when sitting amongst the soundtrack’s punchy hard effects, sound design elements and busy music tracks.

I soon found an affection towards experimenting with fades. Yes, this paragraph is indeed talking about the thrilling subject of fades… sorry about that. Previous to this project, I’d only used the standard slow fade in/out in order to prevent pop and clicks after leaving sizeable handles of room tone to prevent audible swells of noise floor. Having gained an insight into the relationship of cutting Foley amongst the dialogue and it’s own moves tracks, I began to use fades in a more aggressive and corrective manner; using the variety of different shapes to cut into regions or leaving long fade outs between footsteps, reducing noise without chopping in and out of the feet in a sudden and noticeable manner.

This is probably most obvious to other soundies, however it gave me real confidence in tacking the recordings without hesitance or meekness and consequently has affected my approach to sound editing in general, be it a feet track or a jet ski pass by in a corporate film. I normally have no reservations in tacking a physical object with gusto and intrigue, hitting it about, setting fire to it, biting it in half… so it’s thoroughly relaxing to now have a more daring approach to the sound once it’s lying ready and waiting to be fitted amongst its counterparts.

Is this interesting? Possibly not. I wanted to share.

So sod it, the film is out this weekend, I’ll be up in Scotland on a trip away from the city, enjoying fine whisky at an awesome club night dressed as a cowboy and come Saturday night will be at the cinema with a hangover, eager ears and a large bag of gratitude to Alex and a hell of a lot of people who have advised and encouraged me up until this point. If you happen to see it (UK only at this point), let me know your thoughts on the film and the sound.