Conguring Worlds Through Sound

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It comes as no surprise that without good quality sound and music, even the most visually beautiful of productions would fall flat. Kim Crowie explores the subject in depth with some of SA’s most intrepid sound studios.

Revered director David Lynch once said, “Films are 50 percent visual and 50 percent sound. Sometimes sound even overplays the visual.” This still rings true, and even more today as next generation audio takes over and immerses viewers completely in a story. In South Africa, we are arguably still discovering how to do incredible, quality sound – in broadcasting formats particularly – although there is the cream of the crop who are performing at a competitive, international level already; spurring the rest of the industry on to new heights in filmmaking.

The (rather successful) year that was

2016 may have seen political unrest, socio-economic issues, protests, and refugee crises across the world, but in the land of sound, it was a rather successful twelve months. Refinery was involved in some impressive projects including Shepherds and Butchers, The Journey is the Destination, Noem My Skollie, The Whale Caller, and the Madiba television series starring Lawrence Fishburne – all running back to back after relocating their Area 5.1 studio site, and building two new, state-of-the-art studios. The Madiba project in particular was a milestone for Refinery, says Managing Director, Tracey Williams. “This was probably one of the largest sound projects to happen in SA in recent years,” she explains, “We delivered three 90-minute versions, and six 1-hour versions of the series over four months.” Humdrum Studios’ Peter Cornell, currently based at Refinery, completed Jou Romeo, Vir die Voels, Chemo Club and Vir Altyd.

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The Workroom also saw some great projects through their doors last year, culminating in an Emmy for Outstanding Sound in a Series (Black Sails). They also took home a coveted Loerie Grand Prix for Ster Kinekor’s Open Eyes and a Cannes Lion for NUCOT Organ Donor. Their repertoire for 2016 is, of course, incredible. They’ve been attached to international productions like Star Wars: Rogue One, Star Trek Beyond, Tarzan, and Game of Thrones, and have worked with renowned commercial directors like Keith Rose, Sam Coleman and Dave Meinert. According to Director Stephen Webster, 2016 also saw the commissioning of their Dolby Atmos cinema room at their main facility. “[This is] one of only two rooms in the country capable of mixing immersive as well as standard 5.1 and 7.1 mixing formats,” He says. They also celebrated the first anniversary of satellite studio Ludus Post, and recently purchased an additional 500 square metre premises in Woodstock, Cape Town for expansion in 2018.

Sound Surfers, too, have been doing well for themselves, forging their way into the international market and providing quality audio to local filmmakers. They were nominated for a sixth SAFTA award for Best Achievement in Sound on Thina Sobabili, and also completed the Cannes Quinzaine short films screened at Cannes and Durban International Film Festival last year. “We completed the long-awaited Mandela’s Gun, which was the opening film at the Joburg Film Festival, directed by the legendary John Irvin,” adds Jim Petrak, Head Audio Engineer at Sound Surfers. “This film took a long time to make and we faced many challenges which included a variation of cars from the late 50s to the early 60s. We had to seek worldwide to find the cars and get good quality recordings. We also had to go out and record the DC3 airplane and source recordings of the T6 fighter jet from the 80s. It was huge. The director, having done over 50 films globally, was an absolute pleasure to work with as he had a great ear for sound and was highly experienced with the post sound process – which gave us tonnes of creative freedom.” Other productions at Sound Surfers included Modder en Bloed, Vlees van my Vlees, which won Best Film at Silwerskerm Fees, and Dora’s Peace, which won the Jozi Film Festival.

On the commercial front, Milestone Studios saw one of the toughest jobs to date – a music recording for an international Lexus campaign. “In three days we recorded more than 250 musicians, including two choirs, a drumline, bagpipes, ukulele, recorder, grand piano, four drummers, a marimba group, a reggae group, a Zimbabwean mbira group, a solo jazz trumpeter, two indie bands, two rock bands, a folk band, a jazz band, a heavy metal band, a beatboxer, a rapper, a DJ scratching, some opera singers, a brass marching band, some solo vocalists, a solo violinist, and a full orchestra,” says Murray Anderson. “To coordinate all these people was a challenge to say the least.”

Also in the commercial realm, Produce Sound, Louis Enslin’s award-winning recording and audio post company, has picked up a number of awards including Loeries, prestigious Cannes Lions, and most recently was named Radio and Audio Company of the Year at the 2016 London International Awards and scooped the TMT Entertainment Awards’ Best Audio Production Company accolade. “I think everything is becoming more and more competitive and it becomes a ‘price war’,” Enslin says of the industry. “Although I understand that, I do feel that we need to retain a certain level of quality. We believe that quality trumps budgets and try and focus on that.” He adds that they are investing heavily in remote facilities and approval systems, allowing the company to stream realtime audio and video to clients anywhere with live feedback from them.

Sound and Motion Studios has done well for themselves, having moved to a new Cape Town office in a converted church building. Projects in 2016 include From a House on Willow St, a horror that’s done well abroad, Accident, Serpent and Uga Carlini’s heart-wrenching Alison biopic. “Alison was one hell of a project to work on and a textbook case of what can happen if there is trust and open communication,” says Simon Ratcliffe, Supervising Sound Engineer and Score Mixer at Sound and Motion. “Director Uga Carlini was excellent in balancing the really dark stuff with the fairytale and transformational aspects of the story…On the Foley and sound design side, we wanted to make sure that we were authentic, and I’m sure anyone who’s seen the film will agree that the first act is not easy to watch, and it shouldn’t be. I still struggle – and Richard West and I mixed the thing! Alison herself is one of the warmest and open people I’ve ever met and she sat down with our team to describe certain sound elements. Not easy, but the results speak for themselves.”

Continue reading about the trends on the horizon in Issue 2:

 

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