In this guest blog Bennet Maples of Light Haven Productions, Fallen Soldiers’ Supervising Sound Editor, explains some of the process of creating the sound scape for our film.
At Light Haven we’ve been privileged to work on a vast range of projects over the years, from period drama to sci-fi with a staple diet of TV documentary and commercials in-between, but “Sharpe, with zombies” pretty much had us at hello!
When I started chatting to Bill about taking on the post-production sound for Fallen Soldiers the film was already shot and most of the way through the editing process, but even without seeing any of the footage the evident creativity and passion that oozed from his descriptions were impossible to ignore.
For those not familiar with the film making process, post-production sound is the art of convincing the audience that the world they are viewing is in fact real, by making it sound so. When done well it allows the viewer to enjoy a film without asking questions like “how many microphones did it take to allow us to hear explosions in the foreground and the feet of the guy in the background?”, “where did the music come from?” or “how was that woman’s exposition so clear when there’s a raging inferno beside her?”. The vast majority of it is detail that is then mixed down into the subliminal corners of our hearing and, as such, it is a huge amount of work – enter the sound team…
Chris Ashton has been with Light Haven for a couple of years and had never tackled the dialogue edit for a large project so volunteered willingly for this one. The name “dialogue edit” is a misnomer really as it would be more aptly described as the production-sound edit (which may or may not therefore contain dialogue), and involves smoothing and balancing the different takes and edits that come attached to the picture edit. Fallen Soldiers is set in the Napoleonic French countryside so I think Chris was reasoning that it would therefore be a nice clean environment with which to be introduced to this aspect of the soundscape. The reality was somewhat different.
“Ideal Conditions?”. The on set sound was recorded by freelance sound recordist Freddie Roche, assisted by Nathan Shephard.
Due to the budget and schedule constraints of the project the shoots had been carried out with little allowance for the usual squeals from the sound recordist – such objections as “there’s a plane going overhead”, “I can hear traffic in the background”, or, in this case, a new one for me, “there’s a primary school enjoying playtime next door” are normally weathered by the rest of the crew with drained resignation – in this case there simply wasn’t the time to worry about such things. As a result much of the dialogue would need to be rerecorded as the scenes were sonically reconstructed.
That construction is an intricate process. Any one scene will have up to two dozen tracks of backgrounds, thirty tracks of sound-effects and twenty of foley (specific sound effects such as footsteps that are recorded to picture), and done correctly the work should be unnoticed, so it can be a thankless task. The majority of this process fell to one of Light Haven’s sound gurus, Jake Kenny; a daunting undertaking, which he attacked with gusto.
A further challenge that we faced throughout this particular film was that we were moving office. In fact, to be more specific, we were building a new office. After years of making do with basic facilities or renting studio space we were finally in a position to create our own facility. The ticket office of the rural train station in which I live was the perfect venue to create an office and be able to record, mix and generally work with complete freedom. But it was far from ready.
So, while Chris continued to wade his way through the hundreds of edits and tiny snippets of sound that make up an offline production edit, tackling such balancing acts as “if there’s music playing here might we be able to hide the car in the background with a distant cannon?”, and Jake shook every piece of furniture he could find to build up a believable soundscape for the interior of a horse-drawn carriage, I was generally to be found with brick dust in my ears researching how to build a soundproof booth.
One of the key aspects of Fallen Soldiers is that it contains zombies, so that was always going to be one of the big challenges for the sound department. And specifically, in this case, we had the additional demand that some of the characters turned on screen so we would hear them both as themselves and their undead counterpart. This also became more tricky since many of the scenes with zombies weren’t going to have dialogue replacement, which meant that other lines of dialogue could be heard over the groaning of the actor playing the zombie, so this groaning would also need to be a part of whatever noise was created. As a result it was decided that, though the traditional path of playing with animal sounds would be explored for enhancements, the base sound of each zombie would be a human growl of some kind. And into the booth we went…
There are many abstract moments in the life of any sound designer when they find themselves recording strange objects in strange ways, or dancing like a loon in an attempt to resync the footfall of a fight sequence – Jake is particularly proud of a photo we have of him embracing his feminine side wearing high heels on the foley floor – but never have we been more relieved by the absence of cameras in the Light Haven office than when the three of us were taking it in turns to growl like the angry undead.
So, thousands of sounds are created and edited, and cross-faded and processed, and just when it feels like the operation must be over, they must all be mixed with each other. And thus begins further weeks of late nights, of questioning reality, and of wondering whether the audience are meant to be in the carriage imagining the scene while listening to the man telling us how it was but while still hearing the world in which the man is sitting… or the other way around…
We hope you enjoy the film as much as we have enjoyed working on it, and if you know what the Wilhelm Scream is then keep your ears alert as there are two in there somewhere!
You can check out Light Haven’s website here…