Case Study - Full Service (Location + Post) Independent Feature Film
Project Eden Vol. 1 was one of those projects where we really felt privileged to be a part of. From Production Mixing in the lush surrounds on the New Zealand Unit to taking it on a 3 month Post Production sound journey ending in Melbourne working with the AFI award winning Re-Recording Mixer Paul Pilrola, the journey was inspiring,
We first met Terrance Young (Producer/Co-Director) and Ashlee Jensen (Writer/Co-Director) back in the beginning of 2015 on a 40 degree exterior one-day short film on the Sunshine Coast. We hit it off right away and knew we would be making movies with these guys again. Twelve months later Terrance contacted us about doing the location sound on the New Zealand unit for the feature film; Project Eden Vol. 1. He sent us a script and we both sat down and read all 120-odd pages start to finish – it got us, and we knew this would be an amazing project.
It was here really that pre-production began for us. The film was being shot in three different countries (AUS, USA, and NZ). The US block was completed and we got sent a rough cut. Our excitement grew. The shots looked great, the acting was on point and the location sound was clean and crisp. We contacted the US sound crew – Conduit Sound, We wanted to make sure our location sound would match and had a lovely chat with Jim to discuss his
gear. Jim’s a Zaxcom guy… (we don’t hold it against him) but his lavs were cos-11D’s like ours, so our Lectrosonics wireless would match quite well. Jim then gave us the perfect excuse to upgrade our main boom mic as he mentioned they used the beautiful Schoeps CMIT-5U, a mic we have been ogling over every time we saw one.
The film was to be shot on a RED, so, noisy fan jokes aside, we made a plan for sync. We actually ran a Zaxcom IFB system which also sends timecode. so with a couple of custom cables from Ian Grant (at Audio Cables QLD) we could send a guide track to the camera, along with timecode in one low-profile solution - and use the rest of the kit as IFB for Terrance, Ash, Aleshia (continuity), the EP’s or anyone else of importance.
Flights were booked, accommodation locked in and we hit our first setback. With some research, it turned out our $25K worth of wireless audio systems weren't compatible with New Zealand operating frequencies because of TV interference. We needed a hero, that hero was a local sound mixer and general legend Ian Grant. He agreed to do a gear swap with us as he was running his wireless in an appropriate block. After some awkward hugs, tears and case of beer or 2 we turned our attention to a carnet through a customs broker.
As is always the case on international jobs, taking $80k worth of professional sound equipment into New Zealand for a couple of weeks isn’t as easy as it sounds. We setup a customs declaration with our customs broker which pretty much stated we would take all the gear back home after we finish shooting and not sell it on the grey market. Our gear fit into 5 pelican cases and we boarded the plane at around 5am from Brisbane bound for Aukland.
Seth and Joel - getting set for a day of location sound in NZ.
Due to an error in Australia, the lovely gentleman at NZ airport customs couldn’t quite verify our documents and detained us and impounded our gear! After around 5 hours of sitting in the naughty corner, a bit of back and forth between them and our customs broker, they released our gear, we pick up our hire van and drove to the nearest pub - it had been an ordeal!
The accommodation was right in the heart of Auckland and they had a great common room complete with kitchen, living room and a ping pong table that allowed us to have a few days to meet the rest of the crew and begin planning. Our priority was to build a relationship with the camera department, go through the script and shot lists noting when actors would be miced and de-miced, do last minute gear checks, and discuss wardrobe. We even managed to make a cheeky trip out to Hobbiton on the Sunday before the shoot…so good!
Day 1 saw an early start arriving to set in the dark where we were all greeted with a beautiful sunrise, a delicious breakfast, and some friendly llamas. We actually had it pretty easy on the first couple of days, as most of what was being filmed was the car chase footage and a little dialogue in a tranquil forestry.
Day 3 saw a unit move up to a little coastal town of Weipu, where we would work out the week on an amazing forest campgroup surrounding the Weipu caves. Then came the rain…it poured, which really started a series of bad luck for production. During the second day out there we heard news that the generator truck had rolled off a cliff on the way to set when the road collapsed, luckily they breed electrics departments tough in New Zealand and no-one was hurt. As far as we were concerned however, Wiepu was a dream location (very quiet) and we recorded some fantastic outdoor dialogue, the CMIT performed flawlessly. After some ill words spoken to the rain gods we all headed back to base in Auckland and nervously handed over our muddied and soaked clothes to the laundry.
Joel (Production Sound Mixer) working with actor Joshua Ockenden in Weipu
The second week saw us mostly in the sound stage Studio West. We love sound stages. They’re usually quiet, there’s power, and we remained dry. The very talented people in the art department had made the most ridiculously amazing cave/underground bunker. I can tell you that automatic weapons being fired (blanks) inside a tight set on a sound stage is a rush. It was here we met Eric Avari, such a gentlemen and probably the most compelling acting performance we have ever witnessed. After his first take of a seemingly unscripted monologue all 50 of us stood silent in awe for what seemed like 5 minutes before someone muttered “so…do we need another…?
The bar scene promised to be a large day for us in the sound department. We had to hire cross hire extra wireless to accommodate the amount of speaking roles and hired a local sound assistant to assist. Preparing for unscripted sounds was our main concern. We put down mats over the hardwood floor where crew would be walking, convinced the 50 background talent to pretend to talk and move around quietly, and covered some aircon vents with blacks. The scene turned out great, albeit a loud old leather couch.
Our last day saw us out in the corn fields doing drone shots and some chase scenes finishing on our final location on an old bridge made to look like a border crossing. Traffic control allowed us 5 minutes on, 5 minutes off, lets just say, there were some unhappy locals passing us all in hi-vis seemingly doing nothing…
Location sound was complete. We had an absolute ball and recorded some of the best production sound to date. Living and working with crew from all around the world was an experience we will never forget and forged friendships and professional relationships we will foster.
Seth (Boom Operator) during a stedi-cam sequence
Seth and Joel discussing a game plan for one of the pivotal scenes on location in NZ
Soon after we got home and dusted off our location gear, having established an excellent working relationship with Terrance, he called us and discussed us being Supervising Sound Editors. We jumped at the opportunity, put aside 3 months and got to work. The first task is always diving into a preliminary dialogue edit and make ADR, foley, ambience, FX and music cue sheets. These can get pretty extensive and lengthy but give us clear direction for the rest of the process. We were tasked with proving an M&E mix so the film can be dubbed for foreign language releases. This poses a number of issues, namely, there can’t be any important foley within the dialogue stems, which results in some careful editing and pretty much replacing anything that isn’t dialogue. We spent a couple of weeks recording and performing foley, slowly but surely ticking off cues from our lists. We bought a whole heap of ambiences and FX libraries, most notably forests and city soundscapes, gunshots and vehicle sounds.
Seth actually finds some sick joy in dialogue editing, something about dialogue being the most important sonic inclusion. We use Izotope’s RX 5 Advanced for most of the cleanup and some ninja protools skills.
With regards to our overall approach to the sound design, we wanted it to evolve over the course of the film. We wanted to give a feeling of numbness in the beginning, ambiences were either harsh or blurred subliminally giving a sense that there is more to life than the busy city our lead finds herself in. As Evelyn discovers more about her world the sounds become richer and clearer until she finally wakes up in the campsite, surrounded by lush forest and a rich natural
Our 5.1 Surround control room where the main post-sound build took place over 10 weeks.
soundscape that harps back to the opening shot and features glimpses of her dreams – she is awakened. Editing in 5.1 surround allowed us to produce an immersive experience particularly during the dream sequences and final war battle.
Our composer – Jamie Mergatroid was always sending us drafts and we slowly pieced together the score. In this day and age virtual instruments allow a composer to produce a near-real orchestral score and Jamie didn’t disappoint.
There were literally only 4 scenes that needed ADR and we had Conduit Sound take care of that over in their studio in Minnesota. A little bit of cheeky Re-Voice Pro and the dialogue pre-mix was complete.
About half way through the post-production block we put our sights on finding a re-recording mixer that would do this film justice. We made a list of our “dream” Australian mixers and sent a dozen emails. Wayne Pashly was the first to respond with a lovely email saying he would love to be involved but is currently half way through sound
Working alongside Paul Pirola in his re-recording studio in Melbourne.
designing the Lego Batman Movie… fair enough! One morning, the AFI award winning Re-Recording Mixer, Paul Pirola gave us a call back. We chatted for around an hour and half, such a lovely guy and true professional. Convincing Terrance to use Paul was as easy as linking him to his imdb page! With credits like Wolf Creek, The Taking of Phelam 123, Wentworth and The Slap to name a few we knew he would give the film a true cinematic experience. We sent Paul pre-mixes and got feedback along the way. He became a mentor and friend. We booked a 2 week stay in Melbourne where we could sit alongside Paul and drool at his ProTools skills and acute hearing. The whole experience was humbling, Paul showed us workflow ideas and mixing techiniques that were on another level. Terrance and Ashlee came down in the second week and sat in on the final mix sessions, one of which saw us in one of the dub stages at Soundfirm Melbourne, the first chance to watch and listen in a cinema environment, a truly memorable experience. A true professional, Paul waited until the last night to take us out on a rather large night on the town before our 9am flight back to Brisbane.
Joel, Paul Pirola and Seth on final day of the final mix.
Project eden Vol 1 was an excellent example of how working with a single dedicated sound team like Soul Sound Design from project's beginning to end produces staggering results whilst keeping the costs controlled and efficiency high. We were able to lift the entire films production value by providing top level sound production from within our boutique operation, outsourcing to other freelancers as required and avoiding the big production cost of a large scale post house. The film has since been picked up for distribution all around the world and won “Best Vision” at its world premiere at the 42nd Boston International Sci-fi Film Festival. We commend the hard work everyone put in to making this film and can’t wait to start Volume 2!
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