Tag Archives: Sundance

Providing audio post for Three Identical Strangers documentary

By Randi Altman

It is a story that those of us who grew up in the New York area know well. Back in the ‘80s, triplet brothers separated at birth were reunited, after two of them attended the same college within a year of each other — with one being confused for the other. A classmate figured it out and their story was made public. Enter brother number three.

It’s an unbelievable story that at the time was considered to be a heart-warming tale of lost brothers — David Kellman, Bobby Shafran and Eddy Galland — who found each other again at the age of 19. But heart-warming turned heart-breaking when it was discovered that the triplets were part of a calculated, psychological research project. Each brother was intentionally placed in different levels of economic households, where they were “checked in on” over the years.

L-R: Chad Orororo, Nas Parkash and Kim Tae Hak

Last year, British director Tim Wardle told the story in his BAFTA-nominated documentary, Three Identical Strangers, produced by Raw TV. For audio post production, Wardle called on dialogue editor and re-recording mixer Nas Parkash, sound effects editor Kim Tae Hak and Foley and archive FX editor editor Chad Orororo, all from London-based post house Molinare. The trio was nominated for an MPSE Award earlier this year for their work on the film.

We recently reached out to the team to ask about workflow on this compelling work.

When you first started on Three Identical Strangers, did you realize then how powerful a film it was going to be?
Nas Parkash: It was after watching the film for the first time that we realized it was going to be seminal film. It’s an outrageous story — the likes of which we hadn’t come across before. We as a team have been fortunate to work on a broad range of documentary features, but this one has stuck out, probably because of its unpredictability and sheer number of plot twists.

Chad Orororo: I agree. It was quite an exciting moment to watch an offline cut and instantly know that it was going to be phenomenal project. The great thing about having this reaction was that the pressure was fused with excitement, which is always a win-win. Especially as the storytelling had so much charisma.

Kim Tae Hak: When the doc was first mentioned, I had no idea about their story, but soon after viewing the first cut I realized that this would be a great film. The documentary is based on an unbelievable true story — it evokes a lot of mixed feelings, and I wanted to ensure that every single sound effect element reflected those emotions and actions.

How early did you get involved in the project?
Tae Hak: I got to start working on the SFX as soon as the picture was locked and available.

Parkash: We had a spotting session a week before we started, with director Tim Wardle and editor Michael Harte, where we watched the film in sections and made notes. This helped us determine what the emotion in each scene should be, which is important when you’ve come to a film cold. They had been living with the edit, evolving it over months, so it was important to get up to speed with their vision as quickly as possible.

Courtesy of Newsday

Documentary audio often comes from many different sources and in varying types of quality. Can you talk about that and the challenges related to that?
Parkash: The audio quality was pretty good. The interview recordings were clean and on mic. We had two mics for every interview, but I went with the boom every time, as it sounded nicer, albeit more ambient, but with atmospheres that bedded in nicely.

Even the archive clips, such as from the Phil Donahue Show, were good. Funnily enough, you tend to get worse-sounding archives the more recent it is in history. 1970s stuff on the whole seems to have been preserved quite well, whereas stuff from the 1990s can be terrible.

Any technical challenges on the project?
Parkash: The biggest challenge for me was mixing in commercial music with vocals underneath interview dialogue. It had to be kept at a loud enough level to retain impact in the cinema, but low enough that it didn’t fight with the interview dialogue. The biggest deliberation was to what degree should we use sound effects in the drama recon — do we fully fill or just go with dialogue and music? In the end it was judged on a case-by-case basis.

How was Foley used within the doc?
Orororo: The Foley covered everything that you see on screen — all of the footsteps, clothing movement, shaving and breathing. You name it. It’s in there somewhere. My job was to add a level of subtle actuality, especially during the drama reconfiguration scenes.

These scenes took quite a bit of work to get right because they had to match the mood of the narration. For example, the coin spillage during the telephone box scene required a specific amount of coins on the right surface. It took a numerous amount of takes to get right because you can’t exactly control how objects fall and the texture also changes depending on the height from which you drop an object. So generally, there’s a lot more to consider when recording Foley than people may assume.

Unfortunately there we’re a few scenes where Foley was completely dropped (mainly on the archive material), but this is something that usually happens. The shape of the overall mix always takes favor over the individual elements that contribute to the mix. Teamwork makes the dream work, as they say, and I really think that showed with the final result.

Parkash: We did have sync sound recorded on location, but we decided it would be better to re-record at a higher fidelity. Some of it was noisy or didn’t sound cinematic enough. When it’s cleaner sound, you can make more of it.

What about the sound effects? Did you use a library or your own?
Parkash: Kim has his own extensive sound effects library. We also have our own personal ones, plus of Molinare’s. Anything we can’t find, we’ll go out and record. Kim has a Zoom recorder and his breathing has been featured on many films now (laughs).

Tae Hak: I mainly used my own SFX library. I always build up my own FX library, which I can apply instantly for any type of motioned pictures. I then tweak by applying various software plugins, such as Pitch & Time Pro, Altiverb and many more.

As a brief example of how I completed sound design for the opening title, the first thing I did was specifically look for realistic heartbeats of six-month infants. After successfully collecting some natural heartbeats. I then blended them with other synthetic elements as I started to vary the pitch slightly between them (for the three babies), applying various effects, such as chorus and reverb, so each heartbeat has a slightly different texture. It was a bit tricky to make them distinct, but still the same (like identical triplets).

The three heartbeats were panned across the front three speakers in order to create as much separation and clarity as possible. Once I was happy with the heartbeats as a foundation. I then added other sound elements, such as underwater, ambiguous liquids and other sound design elements. It was important for this sequence to build in a dramatic way, starting as mono and gradually filling the 5.1 space before a hard cut into the interview room.

Can you talk about working with director Tim Wardle?
Tae Hak: Tim was fantastic and very supportive throughout the project. As an FX editor, I had less face to face with him than Nas, but we had a spot session together before the first day of working, and we also talked about our sound designing approach over the phone, especially for the opening title, and the aforementioned sound of triplets’ heartbeats.

Orororo: Tim was great to work with! He’s a very open-minded director who also trusts in the talent that he’s working with, which can be hard to come by especially on a project as important as Three Identical Strangers.

Parkash: Tim and editor Michael Harte were wonderful to work with. The best aspect of working in this industry are the people you meet and the friendships you make. They are both cinephiles, who cited numerous other films and directors in order to guide us through the process — “this scene should feel like this scene from such and such movie.” But they were also open to our suggestions and willing to experiment with different approaches. It felt like a collaboration, and I remember having fun in those intense few weeks.

How much stock footage versus new footage was shot?
Parkash: It was all pretty much new — the sit-down interviews, drama recon and the GVs (b-roll). The archive material was obviously cleared from various sources. The home movie footage came mute, so we rebuilt the sound but upon review decided that it was better left mute. It tends to change the audience’s perspective of the material depending on whether you hear the sound or not. Without, it feels more like you’re looking upon the subjects, as opposed to being with them.

What kind of work went into the new interviews?
Parkash: EQ, volume automation, de-essing, noise reduction, de-reverb, reverb, mouth de-click — Izotope RX6 software basically. We’ve become quite reliant upon this software for unifying our source material into something consistent and to achieve a quality good enough to stand up in the cinema, at theatrical level.

What are you all working on now at Molinare?
Tae Hak: I am working on a project about football (soccer for Americans) as the FX editor. I can’t name it yet, but it’s a six-episode series for Amazon Prime. I’m thoroughly enjoying the project, as I am a football fan myself. It’s filmed across the world, including Russia where the World Cup was held last year. The story really captures the beautiful game, how it’s more than just a game, and its impact on so much of the global culture.

Parkash: We’ve just finished a series for Discovery ID, about spouses who kill each other. I’m also working on the football series that Kim mentioned for Amazon Prime. So, murder and footy! We are lucky to work on such varied, high-quality films, one after another.

Orororo: Surprisingly, I’m also working on this football series (smiles). I work with Nas fairly often and we’ve just finished up on an evocative, feature-length TV documentary that follows personal accounts of people who have survived massacre attacks in the US.

Molinare has revered creatives everywhere you look, and I’m lucky enough to be working with one of the sound greats — Greg Gettens — on a new HBO Channel 4 documentary. However, it’s quite secret so I can’t say much more, but keep your eyes peeled.

Main Image: Courtesy of Neon


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Hobo, Gigantic talk about their audio post work for ‘Weiner’

The country watched in amazement as popular New York congressman Anthony Weiner sexted and lied his way out of office. When he came back, this time making a run for mayor of New York City, we were mesmerized once more at the true drama — and proverbial train wreck — that was enfolding in front of us. This story is the focus of the new documentary, Weiner.

As is the case with most documentaries, audio post can be a huge challenge. Directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, the Sundance-winning Weiner, currently in theaters, VOD and airing on Showtime in October, was definitely no exception.

As they have several times in the past, New York-based audio post studios Gigantic Post (audio mix) and Hobo (sound and dialogue editing) teamed to handle the complex audio project.

postPerspective caught up with mixer Tom Paul of Gigantic Post and the Hobo team, which included Chris Stangroom, Stephen Davies and Julian Angel, to talk about their work on the film.

Creatively, what were some of the key challenges you faced with the Weiner project?
Chris Stangroom: As with most documentaries, the vérité style of the film and the varied audio sources used proved especially challenging. A lot of the audio sources we were dealing with came from old news footage, cell phone cameras and the filmmakers themselves shooting in a guerilla-style.

We needed to clean all that up — the harsh drones, crackles and blaring sounds of city life. More so than other film genres, nobody pays attention to the audio in docs unless something sounds wrong. Making sure all of the source audio was as clean as possible was paramount.

Tom Paul: I approach docs and narrative films in basically the same way. They are both stories being told with sound and picture. The biggest difference is that in some docs, the production sound is quite noisy and usually can’t be replaced, so the sonic space available for subtlety in the sound design is sometimes more limited.

What was your and the filmmakers’ “big picture” thinking about the film’s audio mix?
Paul: We tried to infuse the film with the sound of a high-energy campaign in the middle of New York City, and to contrast that with the intimacy of the Weiner’s personal and home life that the film was privileged to have access to.

Anthony Weiner was on a whirlwind ride through the campaign and media onslaught, and we wanted to bring the audience on that ride with him. We also played with subjectivity, reflecting the dramatic events that took place, sometimes from Anthony Weiner’s perspective.

Any particular scene or sequence that proved the most interesting creatively or difficult for you?
Paul: The Caribbean parade sequence was a big challenge, and a big, fun party, but we had the most fun doing the scene near the end, when “Pineapple” (Weiner’s campaign staffs’ code name for the for the woman Weiner was caught “sexting” with) was trying to crash their campaign-closing party.

Creating the feeling of tension as the Weiner crew approached the scene in their SUV, contrasting that with the stakeout awaiting them, and the ensuing pursuit through a McDonald’s and into the bowels of the back hallways and staircases on their way to their own party, was a blast. It feels like an action movie for a minute.

Julian Angel: For me, the Caribbean parade scene was particularly complex because of the extreme noise level. Weiner is yelling into the megaphone, the crowds are almost louder than he is and booming music from the floats is everywhere, yet somehow we had to clear out all of that noise and focus viewers on what Weiner was actually saying and, more importantly, what the scene represents in the context of the film.

Stephen, you and Julian are credited as sound editors. What did that entail?
Stephen Davies: Julian and I concentrated primarily on finding the right city ambiences to use, and layering them so they sounded natural and believable. The challenge sonically was to make it all feel like one cohesive world.

What tools did you guys use on this film?
On Hobo’s side, we were using Avid Pro Tools|12 HD across the board. We use Soundminer for all of our sound effects organization and design work. I also used Izotope’s RX 5 Pro a lot for the dialogue (Spectral Repair and De-reverb mostly.Occasionally, EQ Match and Ambience Match come in handy as well). And of course that Hobo love… couldn’t do it without the camaraderie.

Tom also uses Pro Tools HD and works on an Avid ICON D-Control console for the final mix.  We are all huge fans of Altiverb for reverbs, as well as Speakerphone and Revibe on occasion.

Tom, you’ve worked with Hobo several times prior to Weiner. What did they bring to the project and how would you describe the working relationship between the two companies?
Paul: I love Hobo. Howard Bowler, Hobo’s founder/president, and his team have been strong allies over the years on many projects. I know for certain that when I bring them onto a film I am doing, they will deliver not only impeccably crafted work, but also work done with their passion for storytelling.

Catching up with ‘Long Nights Short Mornings’ editor Bryan Gaynor

His thoughts on the film, working with director Chadd Harbold and his process.

By Cory Choy

The narrative lineup at March’s SXSW was strong. So strong, in fact, that in addition to the 10 movies in competition for the Jury Award, there was also a Narrative Spotlight category. One of the films in that category was director Chadd Harbold’s Long Nights Short Mornings, featuring the main character James, who is sowing his wild oats but also finding out what it’s like to be an adult.

This film movie sports an unusual structure. It’s almost a series of shorts, that all have a character in common, but if the order they were told in changed, both the overall story and our perception of the main character would also change quite drastically. I found this method of telling a story fascinating, so I sought out the film’s editor, Bryan Gaynor, for an interview.

Bryan and Chad

L-R: Bryan Gaynor and Chadd Harbold

How did you meet the director Chadd Harbold?
Chadd and I met in freshman year at NYU. He was friends with a few of my friends, but he was always angry about something and very opinionated. He was also kinda loud! I was like, “Who the f— is this dude?’ My friends swore he was cool, and over time I found myself agreeing with them. We quickly became best friends. We have very similar tastes — and views on the world — and that’s probably why we clashed at first, because we were so alike.

What was your first collaboration with Chadd?
The first time he had me edit, we were trying to produce stuff outside of college because we felt like there wasn’t enough production happening at NYU. So we made a short. I wrote it, he shot it. Then he wrote a short that I edited. Then we made Asshole.

Um, Asshole?
I wrote a script in college called Asshole, but it wasn’t well received. I wrote it for a class and everybody hated it. I threw it in the trash, but Chadd picked it out and said if I wasn’t going to do anything with it, he would.

We found (executive producer) Gavin McInnes and we made that movie for like a buck. It was just a little short, but it got into Sundance. I didn’t even know we had submitted it to Sundance. I didn’t understand how film festivals worked back then. I think I was 19. So yeah, we got in, and the rest is history. I’ve pretty much edited everything he’s made since we met in college.

How many features did you collaborate on before Long Nights Short Mornings?
We did How to Be a Man, which we co-wrote with Gavin McInnes. Chadd directed and I cut. That one moved very quickly. We shot that in like 12 or 13 days. I had a cut done two days after it wrapped because we were on a really tight deadline to get it over to Sundance. It was shot in September or October, so it had to be a lightning fast edit. We had been working together so much, him directing and me editing — short films, commercials and music videos — it came together very quickly. We have different skill sets, but we tend to agree stylistically, so it’s really a very seamless collaboration.

Next was Long Nights Short Mornings?
Yes, that was his next feature. We had a tight deadline, and the budget was very not big, so we only had a certain amount of time. I was there (on set) to pick up drives and start cutting what had been shot, but I would stick around and see what was going on and talk to Chadd about what I had done so far. I started editing on the second day of shooting. I got the drive, popped it in and started editing.

No transcoding, just straight from the drive?
Yeah, they gave me these little shuttle drives and then I would put them on a hard drive. It was Thunderbolt, a G-RAID from G-Tech. They were shooting on an Arri Alexa in ProRes 4:4:4. (David Feeney-Mosier was the DP.)

Wait, you took that raw footage, straight into your computer — running off a thunderbolt drive — and edited the movie?
Yeah. Which was, I now know, a fucking terrible idea.

Why?
Because it just slows down the system. With shorts or commercials, I got it done, but when I started editing this feature it slowed me down. I thought it was because my computer was getting old, but even after I got a new one I had a lot of technical issues with Adobe Premiere and cutting raw footage on a Mac. So now I refuse to not transcode. It was kind of a nightmare really…

Have you always edited on Premiere? Do you care which NLE you’re editing on?
I taught myself Final Cut very early on. When I was a kid, I was shooting little videos — editing them on VHS decks, back and forth from a 8mm. It was really annoying. I then figured out that if I bought a Sony digital camera I could edit my footage in software. I tried Sony’s editing software but needed something different. I did some research and found a program called Pinnacle, and that worked for a while — it was almost like Final Cut, but probably more like what iMovie was. I really enjoyed the editing, and after more research I found Final Cut Pro and convinced the art teacher at my school to start a film club, which meant buying an Apple computer with Final Cut Pro. I loved it.

Why Adobe Premiere for this project?
I had been cutting on Premiere prior to this project. I switched over because, as you know, Final Cut 7 is becoming antiquated.

Was the move from Final Cut 7 to Premiere difficult?
I was against it for a while. I hadn’t taken Premiere seriously. I think I played with it once or twice when I was in high school and it didn’t seem like it had the same type of power that Final Cut did. That all changed with the Creative Cloud version of Premiere Pro.

After college I was doing a lot of freelance work, and I was told I needed to know Premiere. I watched a tutorial on Lynda.com and realized it was basically Final Cut with a few nice additions — it essentially worked the same way. It even had a keyboard shortcut setting that matched Final Cut.

I see the movie almost like a series of short films. When editing, were you thinking of it as a whole or were you thinking of it as separate pieces?
I read the script early on, and it always played like that. That’s something Chadd always had in mind. There was a focus on the women. I liked how he didn’t give you much about the main character, and if you saw every chapter on its own you would think that the protagonist was the girl. I really liked that, and I think it adds a bit of mysteriousness to him. So it’s both.

I basically cut things as I got them, in the order that they shot them, which I wouldn’t have done if I didn’t have to. I would have done things in script order. They would shoot out an actor, so for the most part it was vignette by vignette. I cut each scene and pieced it together from there. I trimmed the fat, swapped some scenes, lost some scenes and added some moments.

Music was a big thing. Luckily, the guy who did the score had a catalog of music that he gave me, so I was trying to work that into the edit.

Can you talk about the importance of music to you, the relationship that you have with music when editing narrative?
Music is really important, and it’s something that — I don’t know how other editors do this — I have to handpick as I’m cutting for a scene to really work for me. I hate to throw together a scene and just have it be dry when it’s not supposed to be. If it’s supposed to have music, I want it to have music and I want to try it with music, and make sure that the thing works.

Did Chadd dictate which scenes were going to have music, or did you decide where the music was?
There were certain scenes where the music’s diegetic, so obviously that’s written in. I have to give credit to Dan Berk (one of the film’s producers) for DJ-ing on set and picking really good stuff that worked in the scenes. That was really hard to replace, but luckily I had rights to most of it. I think my very early cut was dry, because I remember asking for music, and I didn’t get any until I sat down with Chadd.

One of the first things we did was sit down and score the whole thing together. Red (Redding Hunter), the composer, gave us an incredible song library of his music to work with. He is the glue to the whole film. He would record and replace score, bit by bit. We were like, “We are throwing in this song of yours because it kind of has the right tone, but it doesn’t work exactly,” so he would have to score something completely new for us. There was a lot of that. I think music really informs the edit, so I like to get it in there, as early as possible.

What was your biggest role on this film as a collaborator? What would not have happened without you?
That’s tough. Well, somebody once said that in each stage of filmmaking you make a different film. You write a script, and that’s one. Then when you’re shooting and you’re also re-writing. And then when you edit, and yet again, you re-write.

When you see the film put together it’s not what the script was or what the shoot was. It’s something else. As an editor, you want to make that thing work the best it can. I think Chadd’s really good about that — about throwing out the script during each stage of the process and focusing on the movie in front of him. Maybe that’s what I bring to the table: a fresh perspective. I try to see footage for what it is, which isn’t always necessarily what’s written in the script. I ask, “Do we need to sell the audience these things? Do they need to see this? Is it more interesting if we just cut in on this and the audience will understand?”

Cory Choy is a post professional and co-owner of Silver Sound Studios in New York City.

Quick Chat: Ian Stynes on mixing two Sundance films

By Kristine Pregot

A few years back, I had the pleasure of working with talented sound mixer Ian Stynes on a TV sketch comedy. It’s always nice working with someone you have collaborated with before. There is a comfort level and unspoken language that is hard to achieve any other way. This year we collaborated once again for So Yong Kim’s 2016 film Lovesong, which made its premiere at this year’s Sundance and had its grade at New York’s Nice Shoes via colorist Sal Malfitano.

Ian has been busy. In fact, another film he mixed recently had its premiere at Sundance as well — Other People, from director Chris Kelly.

Ian Stynes

Ian Stynes

Since we were both at the festival, I thought what better time to ask him how he approached mixing these two very different films.

Congrats on your two films at Sundance, Lovesong (which is our main image) and Other People. How did the screenings go?
Both screenings were great; it’s a different experience to see the movie in front of an excited audience. After working on a film for a few months it’s easy to slip into only watching it from a technical standpoint — wondering, if a certain section is loud enough, or if a particular sound effect works — but seeing it with an engaged crowd (especially as a world premiere at a place like Sundance) is like seeing it with fresh eyes again. You can’t help but get caught up.

What was the process like to work with each director for the film?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some wonderful directors, and these movies were no exception. Chris Kelly, the director for Other People, who is a writer on a bunch of TV shows including SNL and Broad City is so down to earth and funny. The movie was based on the true story of his mother, who died from cancer. So he was emotionally attached to the film in a unique way. He was very focused about what he wanted but also knew when to sit back and let me do my thing. This was Chris’s first movie, but you wouldn’t know it.

For Lovesong, I worked with director So Yong Kim once again. She makes all her films with her husband Bradley Rust Gray. They switch off with directorial duties but are both extremely involved in each other’s movies. This is my third time working on a film with the two of them — the other two were For Ellen with Paul Dano and Jon Heder, and Exploding Girl with Zoe Kazan. So is an amazing director to work with; it feels like a real collaboration mixing with her. She is creative and extremely focused with her vision, but always inclusive and kind to everyone involved in the crew.

With both films a lot of work was done ahead of time. I try and get it to a very presentable place before the directors come in. This way we can focus on the creative tasks together. One of the fun parts of my job is that I get to sit in a room for a good while and work closely with creative and fun people on something that is very meaningful to them. It’s usually a bit of a bonding experience by the end of it.

How long did each film take you to mix?
I am also extremely lucky to work with some great people at Great City Post. I was the mixer, supervising sound editor and sound designer on both films, but I have an amazing team of people working with me.

Matt Schoenfeld did a huge amount of sound designing on both movies, as well as some of the mixing on Lovesong. Jay Culliton was the dialogue editor on Other People. Renne Bautista recorded Foley and dealt with various sound editing tasks. Shaun Brennan was the Foley artist, and additional editing was done by Daniel Heffernan and Houston Snyder. We are a small team but very efficient. We spent about eight to 10 weeks on each film.

Lovesong

How is it different to mix comedy than it is to mix a drama?
When you add sound to a film it’s important to think about how it is helping the story — how it augments or moves the story along. The first level of post sound work involves cleaning and removing anything that might take the viewer out of the world of the story (hearing mics, audio distortion, change in tone etc.).

Beyond that, different films need different things. Narrative features usually call for the sound to give energy to a film but not get in the way. Of course, there are always specific moments where the sound needs to stand out and take center stage. Most people usually aren’t aware of it or know what post sound specifically entails, but they certainly notice when it is missing or a bad sound job was done. Dramas usually have more intensity to the story and comedy’s can be a bit lighter. This often informs the sound design, edit and mix. That said, every movie is still different.

What is your favorite sound design on a film of all time?
I love Ben Burtt, who did all the Star Wars movies. He also did Wall-E, which is such a great sound design movie. The first 40 or so minutes have no direct dialogue — all the audio is sound design. You might not realize it, but it is very effective. On the DVD extra Ben Burtt did a doc about the sound for that movie. The documentary ends up being about the history of sound design itself. It’s so inspiring, even for non-sound people. Here is the link.

I urge anyone reading this to watch it. I guarantee it will get you thinking about sound for film in a way you never have before.

Kristine Pregot is a senior producer at New York City-based Nice Shoes.


Quick Chat from Sundance: ‘Mobilize’ director Caroline Monnet

By Kristine Pregot

Caroline Monnet’s Mobilize takes viewers on a journey from Canada’s far north to its urban south, telling the story of those who live on the land and “are driven by the pulse of the natural world.” Mobilize is part of Souvenir, a four-film series addressing the Aboriginal identity and representation by reworking material in the National Film Board of Canada’s archives.

The above description of Mobilize doesn’t do the film justice. It was amazing, and I was so impressed with this while attending Sundance’s Short Program 1 — the way the footage was brought together through the music and editing — that I had to interview Monnet about her process.

Can you explain how you conceived of the idea for the short?
I was one of four filmmakers approached by the National Film Board of Canada to create a four-minute film addressing Aboriginal identity. The idea was to revamp their archives in a contemporary way, with new meaning and context. I decided to focus on a positive representation of natives and explored the idea of moving forward. I used images with movement, people building stuff and showing off their skills. Really just natives kicking ass on screen!

I also thought it was interesting to use archival footage to speak about the future, to express an idea of contemporaneity while still honoring the past. I knew I wanted the film to feel like a journey, be fast paced and exhilarating. I wanted our hearts to start pounding as if it is time to stand up and mobilize.

How did you choose your music?
I decided to go with Tanya Tagaq’s song Uja to complement the visuals and inform the editing process. Tagaq is a Canadian Inuit throat singer. Her metal/punk/tribal sound helped in adding a level of urgency and intensity and in making the footage contemporary. Her music makes up 50 percent of the experience.

What was your editing process like?
The turn-around in making the films was extremely short — I had approximately one month. Along with editor Jesse Rivière, who cut on Adobe Premiere, we edited over an intense week. It was good to have a specific concept; this allowed me to go through the archives and search key words.

That must be a huge archive?
The National Film Board of Canada has over 700 hundred films in their catalog, so you can imagine the amount of archival footage they have available. I did not purposely choose footage from a specific film. I wanted images that could work well together and would fit my concept. I went with my instincts and began to naturally pick clips from specific films.

In Mobilize, I used a lot of footage from films such as Cree Hunters of Mistassini, César et son canot d’écorce and High Steel, among others. These films are recognizable because they were quite successful NFB films.

For my part, I deconstructed the films and placed them in a different context. I really focused on labor and the expression of specific skills. I think cultural expression remains cultural expression, but with Mobilize we don’t necessarily focus on a specific character or narrative, we focus on the work and celebrating the amazing skills of these individuals. I juxtaposed a lot of footage of people building stuff and moving in a specific direction. The way I’ve reworked the footage make it seem as if people are preparing for something… getting ready for something important coming.

I wanted Mobilize to be an experience where viewers would be in for an upbeat adventure where their heart would start pounding, they would be out of breath and bombarded by a positive rendition of indigenous expression — a fast-paced ride where they would feel indigenous people are very well alive, moving forward, anchored in today’s reality, vibrant and contemporary.

What was the original footage shot on?
The original footage was shot on 16mm film, and I purposely decided to only use that kind of footage. It had to be color, and it had to be film. This was important because I wanted the film to have a certain consistency. I wanted audiences to wonder if I shot the footage myself or if it was really found footage. The 16mm footage adds a level of nostalgia and warmth to the piece without being outdated.

Where was the footage converted?
The National Film Board of Canada must have spent months digitizing all the films they produced over the years. I felt very lucky to have access to that material. There is some very valuable footage of indigenous expression that is still relevant today and could be used as a tool for education.

​There are two parts of the piece — can you talk about that?
Mobilize is a call for action. It is also a call to change perceptions on native people.  It’s about being capable of movement, mobilizing us to keep moving forward and encouraging people to act for political and social change. I also think the title has a double meaning, because there are different ways of mobilizing ourselves. Building a canoe or snowshoes takes massive skills, and I wanted to showcase that.

I also wanted the outcomes to be positive. Today, being “urban indigenous” doesn’t make you any less native, or any more assimilated. It is just a reality that exists. For me, the ending of the film is not about assimilation or that there there is more opportunities in the cities. I wanted to celebrate the value of hard labor, whether it’s done in an urban or a natural setting.

The sequencing of the images speak a bit about my own family history, where my grandparents where living in the bush, and with the passing generations we became more and more urban. However, this does not mean that I cannot go back to the bush and learn all these things.

I refer to “people always moving forward” as a statement to say that we are everywhere, well present, active and ready to kick some serious ass.

Where can viewers watch this? Is this available online?
For now Mobilize is doing the festival circuit. It played at the Holiday Village Cinema in Park City on January 30. Next is Berlinale (Berlin), Uppsala (Sweden) and Tampere (Finland). Also, the National Film Board of Canada is planning on putting the film online this spring.

In the meantime, you can check out a clip at www.nfb.ca/film/mobilize/clip/mobilize_clip.

Kristine Pregot is a senior producer at New York City-based Nice Shoes.


The sound of VR at Sundance and Slamdance

By Luke Allen

If last year’s annual Park City film and cultural meet-up was where VR filmmaking first dipped its toes in the proverbial water, count 2016’s edition as its full on coming out party. With over 30 VR pieces as official selections at Sundance’s New Frontier sub-festival, and even more content debuting at Slamdance and elsewhere, festival goers this year can barely take two steps down Main Street without being reminded of the format’s ubiquitous presence.

When I first stepped onto the main demonstration floor of New Frontier (which could be described this year as a de-facto VR mini-festival), the first thing that struck me was, why was it so loud in there? I admit I’m biased since I’m a sound designer with a couple of VR films being exhibited around town, but I am definitely backed up by a consensus among content creators regarding sound’s importance to creating the immersive environment central to VR’s promise as a format (I know, please forgive the buzzwords). In seemingly direct defiance of this principle, Sundance’s two main public exhibition areas for all the latest and greatest content were inundated with the rhythmic bass lines of booming electronic music and noisy crowds.

I suppose you can’t blame the programmers for some of this — the crowds were unavoidable — but I can’t help contrasting the New Frontier experience with the way Slamdance handled its more limited VR offering. Both festivals required visitors to sign up for a viewing time, but while the majority of Sundance’s screenings involved strapping on a headset while seated on a crowded bench in the middle of the demonstration floor, Slamdance reserved a quiet room for the screening experience. Visitors were advised to keep their voices to a murmur while in the viewing chamber, and the screenings took place in an isolated corner seated on — crucially — a chair with full range of motion.

Why is this important? Consider the nature of VR: the viewer has the freedom to look around the environment at their own discretion, and the best content creators make full use the 360-degrees at their disposal to craft the experience. A well-designed VR piece will use directional sound mixing to cue the viewer to look in different directions in order to further the story. It will also incorporate deep soundscapes that shift as one looks around the environment in order to immerse the viewer. Full range of motion, including horizontal rotation, is critical to allowing this exploration to take place.

The Visitor, which I had the pleasure of experiencing in Slamdance’s VR sanctuary, put this concept to use nicely by placing the two lead characters 90 degrees apart from one another, forcing the viewer to look around the beautifully-staged set in order to follow the story. Director James Kaelan and the post sound team at WEVR used subtly shifting backgrounds and eerie footsteps to put the viewer right in the middle of their abstract world.

VR New Frontier

Sundance’s New Frontier VR Bar.

Resonance, an experience directed by Jessica Brillhart that I sound designed and engineered, features violinist Tim Fain performing in a variety of different locations, mostly abandoned, selected both for their visual beauty and their unique sonic character. We used an Ambisonic microphone on set in order to capture the full range of acoustic reflections and, with a lot of love in the mix room at Silver Sound, were able to recreate these incredible sonic landscapes while enhancing the directionality of Fain’s playing in order to help the viewer follow him through the piece (Unfortunately, when Resonance was screening at Sundance’s New Frontier VR Bar, there was a loudspeaker playing Top 40 hits located about three feet above the viewer’s head).

In both of these live-action VR films, sound and picture serve to enhance and guide the experience of the other, much like in traditional cinema, but in a new and more enchanting way. I have had many conversations with other festival attendees here in Park City in which we recall shared VR experiences much like shared dreams, so personal and haunting is this format. We can only hope that in future exhibitions more attention is paid to ensure that viewers have the quiet they need to fully experience the artists’ work.

Luke Allen is a sound designer at Silver Sound Studios in New York City. You can reach him at luke@silversound.us

Slamdance, Sundance: Why it’s 
important to audio post pros

By Cory Choy

Why are we, audio post professionals, in Park City right now? The most immediate reason is Silver Sound has some skin in the game this year: we are both executive producers and the post sound team for Driftwood, a feature narrative in competition at Slamdance that was shot completely MOS. We also provided production and audio post on content Resonance and World Tour for Google’s featured VR Google Cardboard demos at Sundance’s New Frontier.

Sundance’s footprint is everywhere here. During the festival, the entirety of Park City is transformed — schools, libraries, cafes, restaurants, hotels and office buildings are now venues for screenings, panel discussions and workshops. A complex and comprehensive network of shuttle busses allows festival goers to get around without having to rely on their own vehicles.

Tech companies, such as Samsung and Canon, set up public areas for people to rest, talk, demo their wares and mingle. You can’t take three steps in any direction without bumping into a director, producer or someone who provides services to filmmakers. In addition to being chock full of industry folk — and this is a very important ingredient —Park City is charming, beautiful and very different than the American film hubs, New York and Los Angeles. So people are in a relaxed and friendly mood.

Films in competition at Sundance often feature big-name actors, receive critical acclaim and more and more often are receiving distribution. In short, this is the place to make personal connections with “indie” filmmaking professionals who are either directly, or through friends, connected to the studio system.

As a partner and engineer at a boutique sound studio in Manhattan, I see this as a fantastic opportunity to cut through the noise and hopefully put myself, and my company, on the radar of folks with whom I might not otherwise get a chance to meet or collaborate. It’s a chance for me, a post professional in the indie world, to elevate my game.

Slamdance
Slamdance sets up shop in one very specific location, the Treasure Mountain Inn on Main Street in Park City. It happens at the same time as Sundance — and is located right in eye of the storm — but has built a reputation for celebrating the most indie of the indies. Films in competition at Slamdance must have budgets under one million dollars (and many often have budgets far below that.) Where Sundance is a sprawling behemoth — long lines, hard-to-get tickets, dozens of venues, the inability to see all that is offered — Slamdance sort of feels like a friend’s very nice living room.

Slamdance logo

Many folks see most of or even the entire line-up of films. There’s no rushing about to different locations. Slamdance embraces the DIY, and is about empowering people outside of the industry establishment. Tech companies such as Blackmagic and Digital Bolex hold workshops geared towards enabling filmmakers with smaller budgets to be able to make films unencumbered by technical limits. This is a place where daring and often new or first-time filmmakers showcase their work. Often this is one of the first times or perhaps even the first time they’ve gone through the post and finishing process. It is the perfect place for an audio professional to shine.

In my experience, the films that screen best at Slamdance — the ones that are the most immersive and get the most attention — are the ones with a solid sound mix and a creative sound design. This is because some of the films in competition have had minimal or no post sound. They are enjoyable, but the audience finds itself sporadically taken out of the story for technical reasons. The directors and producers of these films are going to keep creating, and after being exposed to and competing against films with very good sound, are probably going to be looking to forge a creative partnership — one that could quite possibly grow and last the entirety or majority of their future careers — with a post sound person or team. Like Silver Sound!

Cory Choy is an audio engineer and co-founder of Silver Sound Studios in New York City.

Capturing, creating sounds for ‘Last Days in the Desert’

These audio post pros got involved early on in the process and it paid off.

By Jennifer Walden

Man, woman, Son of God… the desert doesn’t care who you are. It has a way of leveling the playing field to find out what you’re really made of. Spend 40 days wandering around out there alone and you’re bound to have a hallucination or two. And that’s where writer/director Rodrigo García picks up the story, fabricating a chapter of Jesus’ expedition into the desert. But Last Days in the Desert isn’t a biblical flick — it’s a character study of man vs. nature and man vs. man. And even though the audience already knows how the story will end, this leaves them free to enjoy the journey. Last Days in the Desert recently had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

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JVC at Sundance with new pro cameras

JVC is at Sundance in Utah showing off its new GY-LS300 4KCAM Super 35mm camcorder at the New York Lounge, sponsored by the New York Production Alliance. Designed with DPs, documentarians and photographers in mind, the GY-LS300 features a JVC 4K Super 35mm CMOS sensor and records 4K Ultra HD, Full HD with 4:2:2 sampling, SD and Web-friendly proxy formats to non-proprietary SDHC and SDXC media cards.

The camera also features an industry standard Micro Four Thirds (MFT) lens mount, but JVC’s own Variable Scan Mapping technology maintains the native angle of view for a variety of lenses. As a result, using third-party lens adapters, the camera can accommodate PL and EF mount lenses, among many others.

“Sundance is the ideal venue to launch our new GY-LS300 and showcase its shooting flexibility for filmmakers,” said Craig Yanagi, manager of marketing and brand strategy, JVC Professional Video. “Our Variable Scan Mapping technology electronically adapts the active area of the Super 35 sensor to provide native support for many different lenses from a variety of manufacturers.”

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At the New York Lounge, JVC is also showcasing its new GY-HM200 4KCAM camcorder, which is also targeted at pros. The GY-HM200 captures 4K Ultra HD, 4:2:2 Full HD (50Mbps) and SD imagery with a 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS chip. A built-in 12x zoom lens with optical image stabilizer also offers 24x dynamic zoom in HD mode.

Both the GY-HM200 and GY-LS300 include a 3.5-inch LCD display and 1.56 megapixel color viewfinder, dual XLR audio inputs (mic/line switchable) with built-in phantom power, an integrated handle with hot shoe and dedicated microphone mount as well as SDI and HDMI video outputs. Each camera also features a built-in HD streaming engine with Wi-Fi and 4G LTE connectivity for live transmission directly to hardware decoders, the Wowza Streaming Engine and the ProHD Broadcaster server powered by Zixi. Integrated support for several streaming protocols including RTMP also allows the cameras to stream instantly to Ustream or other Web-based destinations while simultaneously recording to SDHC/SDXC media cards.