First of all, Eddy, can you explain what a supervising sound editor does?
The supervising sound editor is in charge of all audio postproduction on the film. When the editor has partially completed the edit, he will discuss with the supervising sound editor the sounds for the film. This covers all aspects of audio: the dialogue, the sound effects, the backgrounds, the foley, etc.
What current projects are you working on?
Soundelux currently has four films on the go: Breaking and Entering directed by Anthony Minghella; Black Book directed by Paul Verhoeven, which is a Dutch-language film; Young Hannibal directed by Peter Webber; and Casino Royale directed by Martin Campbell. I'm overseeing all four films, but am directly supervising Casino Royale.
All four films are completely different. [Casino Royale] is a loud, gritty, powerful action film. Breaking and Entering is a psychological, low-key picture with a great deal of emphasis on dialogue. Black Book is a war film about the Dutch resistance. And Young Hannibal is about the early life of Hannibal Lecter and is a dark psychological thriller. All four films need completely different sound designs. You need to create belief in the minds of the audience that it sounds right. So in Black Book we are recreating the sounds of the Hague in 1944, and in Young Hannibal it ranges from the sounds of wartime Lithuania to France in the 1950s. Breaking and Entering is set in London at the present time and is very topical, while Casino Royale has locations in Prague, Madagascar, Uganda, the Bahamas, London, and Montenegro.
Do you write a sound storyboard before beginning to shoot?
I generally work from the script. I've been doing it for such a long time now that I can hear the soundtrack as I read the script through. I suppose that's why I'm still in business, because I'm good at working out what it should sound like. I think it would be difficult if the director had completely different ideas to me, but fortunately this hasn't happened often.
Do you ever need to change the action to help the sound?
We generally change all the sounds anyway. With an action sequence, for example, we might replace everything. There's a complete difference between the sound of a mock gun firing and a real gun, and in real life, cars don't squeal all the time! You need to add all these sounds after the action has been filmed to get the best effect. Sometimes you would record them, use other people's effects from a sound library, or manufacture a mixture of both.
Has anything changed in your approach to sound in moviemaking?
Yes. It's now possible to do all the things that in the past we only dreamed about. But generally my approach hasn't changed. In the early '80s, I worked on Pink Floyd: The Wall, and we used split surrounds just as we do now. But after that we stopped using it because it was just too expensive and too difficult to do. We had to wait nearly 20 years before Dolby brought us Dolby Digital.
In general now, we can create soundtracks more accurately than ever before. We have more control than we've ever had before and can do more in the cutting room. The demands of the media mean that we're producing more previews of each film in various formats prior to the final mix. We can't put everything in the first mix.
How has the Dolby technology changed your approach?
We use Pro Tools for our track laying and sound design and now always lay up in 5.1 . We have the benefit of knowing in the cutting rooms what our Dolby Digital final mix will sound like. It is a huge advantage as we do more and more premix work in the cutting room.
How much consideration do you give to the home audience when creating the sound for a film?
We do take it into account, but it's not something that really affects what we do. Before the DVD is released, the distributor or production company will adjust the mix to make the soundtrack more suitable to a home cinema audience. Some sounds are so loud that they don't fit within the living room, but generally it's not a massive change and doesn't make a great deal of difference. To be honest, I don't mind whether the audience sees the movie in the cinema or at home; I just want to encourage people to see films.
Do you think that filmmakers are still making films too loud?
Yes, some films really are too loud. You need light and shade in a film's sound to really create the best effect. I believe that you should be utilizing quiet and the absence of sound to increase the effect rather than just turning up the volume. So if you want to make a gunshot loud and clear and shocking, you need to take away any sound beforehand. It's about being clever with sound. It's lovely when you hear something with very subtle sound effects that is really drawing in the audience. You can still create shock and surprise without deafening the entire audience.
Which was the first movie that you worked on that used Dolby? How did the Dolby technology add to the sound?
I can't remember! I'm fairly certain that I was an assistant in the '70s and that Dolby A was used for noise reduction. Dolby seems to have been part of our scene for almost all my sound editing career. I do remember that the Dolby optical soundtrack on Pink Floyd: The Wall was absolutely amazing. Elstree [Studios] shot the optical and really managed to get it on film. It made the rafters of the Empire 2 [theatre] shake!
Which soundtracks do you really rate and why?
Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall is good fun, and I really enjoyed it. The sound creates a completely different world, and it's a great example of using sound for pure enjoyment. There are loads of other great soundtracks, but I think I would also have to mention Star Wars: Episode IV, just because at the time it was truly groundbreaking. The first episode of The Matrix is another good one to mention, because it too used sound in a totally different way.
What advice would you give on the use of surround channels?
You need to use surround channels with care. They are great for enveloping the audience and getting them into the atmosphere, but you don't want to take people's attention away from the screen. We're using the surround channels more and more, but we try to be clever and not make it too obvious.
Is sound really 50 percent of the experience?
Yes, but 1 percent of the budget! With sound, you can tell a story that the picture can't always do on its own. When you shoot a film, no one will believe it unless they hear it too. Audio is a key part of the cinema experience.
What has revolutionised filmmaking in the past 50 years?
It will be HD, but we're not quite there yet. The picture quality hasn't really changed. In fact, in some respects the quality of the projection has got worse. Digital cinema will correct this once we get widespread adoption. Overall, I'd say that the biggest revolution has come in the quality of the audio. It's a much clearer, sharper, and more exciting listening experience than ever before.
So, what should we listen out for in Casino Royale?
We've got three big production numbers which are going to sound great. The first is a free-running sequence early on in the film, so we've been experimenting a lot with bouncing things off steel girders to create good effects. The second is an airport truck chase, and the third is the ending, the like of which has never been seen or heard before!