Tag Archives: Sound Editor

Behind the Title: Freelance sound editor Cathleen Conte

NAME: Cathleen Conte

COMPANY: Freelancer

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Sound Editor/ Recording Engineer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I use the sound recorded from production shoots, Foley and I also pull from SFX libraries. I clean up the sounds and place them in sync with the visuals. As a sound editor for film shorts and TV spots, I create and modify sounds to match and support the visuals. To create those sounds, I like to first get a feel for and gain an understanding of the story the visuals want or need to tell. I love when the story allows me to record Foley. There is something magical about interpreting what a visual would sound like.

For instance, rain sounds like millions of drops of water falling from the sky at the same time. Instead, I can create a soundscape that makes you feel like you can walk in between the raindrops and not get wet (I love that).

I’m grateful when an editor makes all the production soundtracks available. It makes the workflow much stronger by having the original sounds, being able to clean them up and either use them solo or tuck them under to build a SFX bed. When I don’t do Foley, I pull pre-recorded mastered sounds from a large database — sound effects libraries.

As a recording engineer, working with many different voiceover talents is always a treat. You never know what creative character just walked into your day (laughs). With just a very brief introduction, I can get a sense or tone of the talent and gauge their mood. I try to make them feel very welcome and comfortable in the booth and while on mic.

You don’t always get a chance to get a good mic check for levels. Some voice actors like to just get started. I get asked “are we rolling” while I’m still in the booth adjusting the mic, or with my hands still on the music stand. When you’re lucky, the talent will read through half the script at full delivery, which helps me track their golden voice. I like to take (what I feel) is a non-intrusive approach to small talk. From there I can put myself in a good starting place for levels and how much compression I’ll need to start with, if at all.

It’s important to make a connection with your talent in the booth. Establishing that connection will help capture the best reads, which is what the director wants and needs from the talent. Besides the technical aspects of working the gear and getting a good sound, it’s important to do the groundwork and make that human connection solid. From there, I let the gear do what it was made to do and record beautiful voices and sound.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Copywriting. Many times there are script changes that happen during a session for whatever reason — maybe a script is too long, too short or the legal department has flagged a line. They are almost always deadline driven. I’m often asked what do you think? What can we replace this line with? What will rhyme with it?

My first rule at the start of a session, in addition to establishing the human connection, is to not only become their engineer for the day but to become part of their team.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I have to admit, it’s the people. The clients and voiceover talents bring so much great energy to a room, it’s amazing! Regardless of whether we spend one hour together or 10 hours, everyone in the world is a creative at some level. Humans!

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My least favorite is when the gear decides not to work. It is not often, but it does happen. I’m grateful for tech engineers!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I have to say my favorite time of day is 3pm. It marks the completion of a successful and productive morning, and it’s also the best time for an afternoon coffee.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
This profession chose me. I’ve been tapping on random surfaces and making “noise” since I was a baby. When I was around 10 years old, I was finding ways to play my older cousin Leo’s Casio k10 electronic mini-keyboard. It had dog barking and wind sounds and I could manipulate the pitch. Needless to say, I was a noisy, misunderstood child who appreciated the sounds around me.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
While working at AE Media, I mixed the Monster headphones behind-the-scenes video for Super Bowl LI. It was such a fun piece to work on. Having Monster Products creator Noel Lee talk about creating the headphones. It was also fun working on set with Iggy Azalea, Aerosmith axeman Joe Perry, Internet personality Ricegum, Big Kenny, Yo Gotti, Jonathan Cheban and Nsync’s Joey Fatone.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
All of them! When I’m asked to work on a project, I’m committed from start to finish.
Regardless of what day-to-day events unfold, seeing a project to its successful completion is very gratifying.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Zoom H4n Pro, Rode VideoMic Me, and my iPhone.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d be a veterinarian.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Breathing helps me to de-stress tremendously, and allows me to better focus on the task at hand. Breathing calms the body and helps maintain focus on accuracy and speed with a smile. I don’t allow deadlines to drive any project. Keeping a calm room and working together as a team will always help a session to stay on course and drive it to its destination on cruise control. My approach to stressful situations is nothing more than recognizing them as a challenge and finding a solution for them.

Richard King talks sound design for Dunkirk

Using historical sounds as a reference

By Mel Lambert

Writer/director Christopher Nolan’s latest film follows the fate of nearly 400,000 allied soldiers who were marooned on the beaches of Dunkirk, and the extraordinary plans to rescue them using small ships from nearby English seaports. Although, sadly, more than 68,000 soldiers were captured or killed during the Battle of Dunkirk and the subsequent retreat, more than 300,000 were rescued over a nine-day period in May 1940.

Uniquely, Dunkirk’s primary story arcs — the Mole, or harbor from which the larger ships can take off troops; the Sea, focusing on the English flotilla of small boats; and the Air, spotlighting the activities of Spitfire pilots who protect the beaches and ships from German air-force attacks — follow different timelines, with the Mole sequences being spread over a week, the Sea over a day and the Air over an hour. A Warner Bros. release, Dunkirk stars Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh. (An uncredited Michael Caine is the voice heard during various radio communications.)

Richard King

Marking his sixth collaboration with Nolan, supervising sound editor Richard King worked previously on Interstellar (2014), The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, The Dark Knight and The Prestige. He brings his unique sound perspective to these complex narratives, often with innovative sound design. Born in Tampa, King attended the University of South Florida, graduating with a BFA in painting and film, and entered the film industry in 1985. He is the recipient of three Academy Awards for Best Achievement in Sound Editing for Inception, The Dark Knight and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), plus two BAFTA Awards and four MPSE Golden Reel Awards for Best Sound Editing.

King, along with Alex Gibson, recently won the Academy Award for Achievement in Sound Editing for Dunkirk.

The Sound of History
“When we first met to discuss the film,” King recalls, “Chris [Nolan] told me that he wanted Dunkirk to be historically accurate but not slavishly so — he didn’t plan to make a documentary. For example, several [Junkers Ju 87] Stuka dive bombers appear in the film, but there are no high-quality recordings of these aircraft, which had sirens built into the wheel struts for intimidation purposes. There are no Stukas still flying, nor could I find any design drawings so we could build our own. Instead, we decided to re-imagine the sound with a variety of unrelated sound effects and ambiences, using the period recordings as inspiration. We went out into a nearby desert with some real air raid sirens, which we over-cranked to make them more and more piercing — and to add some analog distortion. To this more ‘pure’ version of the sound we added an interesting assortment of other disparate sounds. I find the result scary as hell and probably very close to what the real thing sounded like.”

For other period Axis and Allied aircraft, King was able to locate several British Supermarine Spitfire fighters and a Bristol Blenheim bomber, together with a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. “There are about 200 Spitfires in the world that still fly; three were used during filming of Dunkirk,” King continues. “We received those recordings, and in post recorded three additional Spitfires.”

King was able to place up to 24 microphones in various locations around the airframe near the engine — a supercharged V-12 Rolls-Royce Merlin liquid-cooled model of 27-liter capacity, and later 37-liter Gremlin motors — as well as close to the exhaust and within the cockpit, as the pilots performed a number of aerial movements. “We used both mono and stereo mics to provide a wide selection for sound design,” he says.

King was looking for the sound of an “air ballet” with the aircraft moving quickly across the sky. “There are moments when the plane sounds are minimized to place the audience more in the pilot’s head, and there are sequences where the plane engines are more prominent,” he says. “We also wanted to recreate the vibrations of this vintage aircraft, which became an important sound design element and was inspired by the shuddering images. I remember that Chris went up in a trainer aircraft to experience the sensation for himself. He reported that it was extremely loud with lots of vibration.

To match up with the edited visuals secured from 65/70mm IMAX and Super Panavision 65mm film cameras, King needed to produce a variety of aircraft sounds. “We had an ex-RAF pilot that had flown in modern dogfights to recreate some of those wartime flying gymnastics. The planes don’t actually produce dramatic changes in the sound when throttling and maneuvering, so I came up with a simple and effective way to accentuate this somewhat. I wanted the planes to respond to the pilots stick and throttle movements immediately.”

For armaments, King’s sound effects recordists John Fasal and Eric Potter oversaw the recording of a vintage Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft cannon seen aboard the allied destroyers and support ships. “We found one in Napa Valley,” north of San Francisco, says King. “The owner had to make up live rounds, which we fired into a nearby hill. We also recorded a number of WWII British Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles and German machine guns on a nearby range. We had to recreate the sound of the Spitfire’s guns, because the actual guns fitted to the Spitfires overheat when fired at sea level and cannot maintain the 1,000 rounds/minute rate we were looking for, except at altitude.”

King readily acknowledges the work at Warner Bros Sound Services of sound-effects editor Michael Mitchell, who worked on several scenes, including the ship sinkings, and sound effects editor Randy Torres, who worked with King on the plane sequences.

Group ADR was done primarily in the UK, “where we recorded at De lane Lea and onboard a decommissioned WWII warship owned by the Imperial War Museum,” King recalls. “The HMS Belfast, which is moored on the River Thames in central London, was perfect for the reverberant interiors we needed for the various ships that sink in the film. We also secured some realistic Foley of people walking up and down ladders and on the superstructure.” Hugo Weng served as dialog editor and David Bach as supervising ADR editor.

Sounds for Moonstone, the key small boat whose fortunes the film follows across the English Channel, were recorded out of Marina del Rey in Southern California, “including its motor and water slaps against the hull. “We also secured some nice Foley on deck, as well as opening and closing of doors,” King says.

Conventional Foley was recorded at Skywalker Sound in Northern California by Shelley Roden, Scott Curtis and John Roesch. “Good Foley was very important for Dunkirk,” explains King. “It all needed to sound absolutely realistic and not like a Hollywood war movie, with a collection of WWII clichés. We wanted it to sound as it would for the film’s characters. John and his team had access to some great surfaces and textures, and a wonderful selection of props.” Michael Dressel served as supervising Foley editor.

In terms of sound design, King offers that he used historical sounds as a reference, to conjure up the terror of the Battle for Dunkirk. “I wanted it to feel like a well-recorded version of the original event. The book ‘Voices of Dunkirk,’ written by Joshua Levine and based on a compilation of first-hand accounts of the evacuation, inspired me and helped me shape the explosions on the beach, with the muffled ‘boom’ as the shells and bombs bury themselves in the sand and then explode. The under-water explosions needed to sound more like a body slam than an audible noise. I added other sounds that amped it a couple more degrees.”

The soundtrack was re-recorded in 5.1-channel format at Warner Bros. Sound Services Stage 9 in Burbank during a six-week mix by mixers Gary Rizzo handling dialog, with sound effects and music overseen by Gregg Landaker — this was his last film before his retiring. “There was almost no looping on the film aside from maybe a couple of lines,” King recalls. “Hugo Weng mined the recordings for every gem, and Gary [Rizzo] was brilliant at cleaning up the voices and pushing them through the barrage of sound provided by sound effects and music somehow without making them sound pushed. Production recordist Mark Weingarten faced enormous challenges, contending with strong wind and salt spray, but he managed to record tracks Gary could work with.”

The sound designer reports that he provided some 20 to 30 tracks of dialog and ADR “with options for noisy environments,” plus 40 to 50 tracks of Foley, dependent on the action. This included shoes and hob-nailed army boots, and groups of 20, especially in the ship scenes. “The score by composer Hans Zimmer kept evolving as we moved through the mixing process,” says King. “Music editor Ryan Rubin and supervising music editor Alex Gibson were active participants in this evolution.”

“We did not want to repeat ourselves or repeat others work,” King concludes. “All sounds in this movie mean something. Every scene had to be designed with a hard-hitting sound. You need to constantly question yourself: ‘Is there a better sound we could use?’ Maybe something different that is appropriate to the sequence that recreates the event in a new and fresh light? I am super-proud of this film and the track.”

Nolan — who was born in London to an American mother and an English father and whose family subsequently split their time between London and Illinois — has this quote on his IMDB page: “This is an essential moment in the history of the Second World War. If this evacuation had not been a success, Great Britain would have been obliged to capitulate. And the whole world would have been lost, or would have known a different fate: the Germans would undoubtedly have conquered Europe, the US would not have returned to war. Militarily it is a defeat; on the human plane it is a colossal victory.”

Certainly, the loss of life and supplies was profound — wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill described Operation Dynamo as “the greatest military disaster in our long history.”


Mel Lambert has been involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He is principal of Content Creators, a LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. He is also a long-time member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists.

‘Fury’ Part I: The Sounds of War

By Jennifer Walden

Having three job titles on a film may seem like a huge undertaking, but it’s actually quite a natural flow — taking the reins at the starting gate and steering a film’s sound from the pre-production phase through the final mix of the sound effects. That’s just what Paul N.J. Ottosson (sound designer, sound re-recording mixer and sound supervisor) has done for every film he’s worked on since 2008’s The Hurt Locker, for which he won two Oscars (Best Sound Editing, Sound Mixing), including 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, for which he won a Best Sound Editing Oscar.

As the supervising sound editor, sound designer and re-recording mixer for the sound effects on director David Ayer’s Fury, Ottosson was able to take concepts from early conversations with Ayer and maintain those through the final mix. “It’s a good linear process. I Continue reading