Wednesday, February 08, 2006

It's all in the mix

Dropped into the place where they're mixing Severance on Monday, to hear how the sound mix was coming along. They should be finishing this week, and were doing the sort of last minute "up a bit… down a bit… back up a bit but not quite as much…" that would drive me absolutely batshit insane if I was doing it full time. They've been at this now for 5 days a week, for a couple of months, in a darkened mixing room, tweaking, pulling, pushing, drinking lots of coffee, running the same scene over and over and over again, making tiny adjustments, and I think it's made them all go slightly feral. Chris had blood all over his face, Jason was lying dead in the corner with bite marks on his stomach, one of the sound guys kept smashing his head against the wall, howling "WHY? WHY?", while the other one just masturbated furiously while crying at the same time. I pitied them, but I tried not to get too close, making sure I was between them and the exit the whole time.

I'm exaggerating, but not much. Seriously, I was really fascinated with the process, and was only in there for a few hours, but felt it destroying my sanity even after that short time. I can't even imagine doing it Every. Single. Day. For months. MONTHS. Poor bastards. We'll have to shoot them all when it's finished, it'll be the kindest thing for them.

It was so interesting though - the sound mix is probably 60-70% of the impact of a movie, if not more. It made such a difference - scenes that were fine before were really fucking harsh and intense. The music gave it more of an epic feel, while the sounds layered into it accentuated the violence and atmosphere. There's a really nasty sound where - oh, but I'm giving away the plot, Michael! Anyway, it's all done in the best POSSIBLE taste.

The acting, the visuals, the dialogue, they're all vital, but the sound adds an extra dimension. A bass hum overlaid on a tense, silent scene resonated everywhere, making us all feel the tension. But how much bass? Enough to freak people out, but not so much that the subsonic part induces vomiting and bone damage. The music peaks here, but when do we fade it down? - there's no dialogue, so do we leave the music on full blast, or do we pull it down a bit when we cut to a wide shot? - yeah, let's try that - okay, doesn't feel right, let's try it the first way - okay, now let's bring up the rain sound - bit too much, pull it back a bit - now lets try it with the rain, but fading when we cut to wide - okay, let's try the other way… I was totally geeking out at how much difference these tiny tweaks made. But still. 5 days a week. For months. The horror. The horror. Sound dudes - I salute you. You insane geniuses.

8 comments:

Lucy said...

My son's father's brother (think that's right!) used to live in a shared house with a sound engineer. He was odd. I probably would've shot him too.

James Moran said...

No no, I wouldn't advocate shooting them just because they're odd. I'm odd too. It's just that it seemed like the kindest thing to do. Put them out of their misery, take their pain away. Like a racehorse with a broken leg, or a chicken with inoperable cancer, or a boyband member after the band has split up. It comes from a place of love.

Lucy said...

Chickens with inoperable cancer?Chickens never die, even when you cut their heads off. They're evil, evil I tell you...

james henry said...

It's a frightening responsibility seeing people having to spend months on something you wrote over an afternoon, while bored. And possibly drunk.

Seeing animators having to build tiny models of everything you've ever mentioned in a script is even funnier though, I highly recommend it.

James Moran said...

"Possibly" drunk? Mate, by draft 10 of Severance, Jim Beam was doing all the writing for me. I don't even remember what it's about.

Animation would be good, I'd have to have an army of 10,000 in every scene, just for background colour. Can you imagine writing for Aardman? Knowing the amount of blood that would be shed just to get the mouth movements right? That 10 minute thing on the Chicken Run DVD gives me the shakes, with the box of eyes, the box of mouths (one for each phonetic sound), the sheer amount of work they do and then click! there you go, that's one frame done. 23 more, and we have a second of film. Jesus.

Danny Stack said...

On my short (everything's about you isn't it), it was edited once for sound but then I did a new voice-over, and so the sound had to be completely re-done, and the sound mixer's attention to detail was A. Mazing.

Apparently, the background sound to the guy 'washing up' is a 'New York breakfast'... Not bad for a cloudy day in Bristol.

James Moran said...

It's just a whole other world, like making the film all over again, but with your eyes closed, or something.

How does a New York breakfast sound different to a Bristol breakfast? How many breakfast noises did he have? This is why they're all a bit mad, they have to think about these things every day.

james henry said...

I've written for Aardman, and seen a box full of different tails for pilchard the cat.

It freaked me out.

Danny, I thought I could hear a bagel. Now I know why.