Sharpen your sound – event report

Sharpen your sound – event report

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Thursday, 3rd April 2014


Some of the country’s leading sound experts turned up the volume on the state of their craft at RTS London Centre’s latest event. While technological advances are allowing them to sharpen their sound, these gains are threatened by programme-makers who do not understand their craft.

“We fight quite a battle on location to get good sound and it’s getting much tougher than it used to be,” said sound recordist Fraser Barber, whose recent credits number Sky thriller The Tunnel and BBC costume drama The Paradise. The neglect, he said, “stems from directors who are seemingly not that interested in sounds or have a misguided illusion that [any problems] can be fixed in post-production – it can be altered but it really can’t be fixed.”

At the panel event, “Sharpen your sound”, which was chaired by sound consultant Andy Finney, Barber added that mistakes could be avoided and money saved if the sound department was involved in the early stages of a production. Too often, he said, recordists were called in after sets had been built and costumes made – both of which have a significant effect on sound quality.

“The dialogue is the most important thing in a film, drama or documentary,” argued Dean Humphreys, head of post production at the National Film & Television School, whose recent credits include the Liam Neeson vehicle, Taken 2. “It is the backbone of the soundtrack. Everything else, the music, sound effects, the Foley and the sound design has to work around the dialogue.”

Any muddied or mumbled words could prevent audiences from following the plot of a drama, Humphreys said, adding: “In post production, you are sometimes honing syllables and vowel sounds in order to make a word or line more intelligible.”

The industry, he said, was in “a major state of flux” and, increasingly, sound people had to be all-rounders. “The younger generation, the 18- to 30-year-olds starting out in their careers, have to be able to do be able to do both sound editing and mixing. If you say, ‘I am a just a sound editor’ or ‘I am just a mixer’, you are clearly going to reduce the amount of work you get,” said Humphreys.

Dolby’s regional director for Northern Europe, Andy Dowell, told the event that since he began working for the company 14 years ago, this is the “most exciting time I’ve witnessed in sound”.

While some directors give sound a low priority on set, others rate the craft highly. Danny Boyle, said Dowell, ring-fenced the sound budget on his movies to ensure “there is time and money to do the sound”.

Dowell discussed leading products on the market, such as Dolby Atmos, which “are being used in more and more creative ways”. Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, which won the Oscar for best sound earlier this year, showed what could be done with the technology he said.

More than 100 films have now been produced with Dolby Atmos sound, which gives film-makers control over the placement and movement of sound around an audience. “It’s taken off in cinema and I think it is an interesting proposition for the broadcast space as well,” concluded Dowell.

The RTS London event, “Sharpen your sound” was held at ITV Studios in central London on 2 April and produced by Rosemary Smith.

Report by Matthew Bell

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