Tag Archives: Foley Artist

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!

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.

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.

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.

Continuity in Sound Post Production

To sync or not to sync? That was the question.

When a cut dramatically changes the pace of a character’s movement or creates and stutter/delay in their forthcoming footstep, what does one do? Continue with the previously established rhythm and hope the viewer doesn’t notice or follow the sync to each hit point regardless of the continuity issue?

I posed this question to supervising sound editor and sound consultant Eddy Joseph, a guest and panel speaker at BAFTA’s Continuity in Film evening back in November.

This was an issue that I had encountered whilst working on a project at the time, it seemed an ideal opportunity to receive an experienced opinion on the matter. The subject was tacked in the brief Q&A at the event in terms of picture editing by Terry Rawlings, however I was curious as to the implications of continuity issues within Foley.

Eddy suggested I blend the old pace into the new, I guess as a house DJ would mix a faster BPM record into a slower one, then subtly increasing the speed back again. The first few steps are best served maintaining rhythm than achieving perfect sync… gradually adjusting to the new walking pace and not distracting from what is actually going on in the story.

It felt a huge relief to be unburdened of an almost obsessive desire to ensure every step and movement is perfectly in time. I recently worked as an assistant Foley editor on Anuvahood and put this blending of rhythm > sync into practice when editing the feet, I noticed a significant difference upon playback in terms of presenting the performance, even when listening/looking out for sync issues.

Has anyone/everyone else had this issue and come to the same conclusion?. Let me know your thoughts.