Interview with The Newton Brothers (Composers – Ouija: 2, The Runner)

the_newton_brothers.jpgWhat a great time I had chatting with the extremely talented Newton Brothers (Andrew Grush & Taylor Stewart). A composing team that has already “scored” an impressive resume. I talked with them while they were in the midst of promoting their composing work on the horror film “Ouija: Origin of Evil.”

Matthew Toffolo: You guys are called the Newton Brothes but you’re not actually brothers.

Taylor Stewart: Yes, we wanted to write under one entity. Whether that is writing for film, TV, or an Opera. So we named ourselves after the great Isaac Newton.

MT: So not the bank robbers then?

Andrew Grush: We found out about them after we named ourselves..but we just decided to go with it.

Have any of you ever played with a Ouija board?

AG: That scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. I stayed away from all of that stuff. Only since we came aboard this project is when we have played with them. And we’ve now played with a ton of Ouija boards.

Do you believe?

TS: I personally think that people believe what they want to believe and things manifest. I do believe that there are things beyond us – and whether people want to believe that a Ouija board can bring that out is up to them to believe or not believe.

Did you play the board to inspire you to write the score?

AG: The sound designer was playing with the board in the post studio to grab folly off of it and it was laying around. So we did play with it.

We attended a few parties leading up to the premiere of the film and the played on different boards that some of the fans had. Some people had these amazing boards. Very old and artistic. I think I may be done with them. Don’t want to tempt faith.

I heard that you recorded the score of the film in an old church and that it got a bit creepy.

TS: Lucky enough we recorded it in only a day. It had a vintage feel. A traditional sense that others things have gone on there in the past. The owner of the church mentioned that “things” have gone on. So that brought another feeling. The church was beautiful and it definitely helped bring the emotions needed to execute the score.

With this score you went full out with your score – lots of intruments, with lots of layered emotions. Your rough cut. Then you scaled back and removed a lot of stuff. Is this your general process with scoring films?

AG: Yes that’s our usual approach. To take it too far just to see how far we can take it. Then go backwards and ween things out. We found that in the end that it worked out nicely. In the original score we had a lot of brass and ended up removing it entirely to have a more timeless feel. So it’s now more of a woodwind score. It now has the quality of the era of the film.

It’s almost like it was too busy with the brass.

AG: Exactly. To enhance the themes of the film and the amazing cinematography, less was definitely better.

Speaking of that. When I was researching you guys you were talking a lot about silence. To set up your score, you need silence first to enhance things.

TS: That’s true. There are so many movies with wall to wall music and usually when that happens it’s a student film or a young filmmaker’s film. They want to push the emotional buttons and many times they go too far. Silence gives more reality to the film. It’s a mistake that many student films make.

Sometimes the composer just wants their music in the film and they don’t think about the entire scope of the film. And sometimes to get the best overall score, a score isn’t needed in certain moments of the film.

AG: It’s very true. There are so many themes in so many films we do. We write music for all of it. Sometimes we work a week on a cue in a scene that just doesn’t work and no music is needed for that particular scene. But you have to try it. Explore the themes in the film. And doing that makes the rest of your score better.

It’s very important to know what we aren’t making an album. We don’t need to paint our sound all over the place.

What do you look for in your director?

TS: We welcome as much input as possible from the director. Getting to know what they want to relay what they want to give the audience. Whether that’s a two note score, or a very detailed score with many counter points. We want to work on the story with them and interject our talent onto the film.

The more that director gives us, the better it is for us.

How did you guys meet?

AG: We meet through a mutual friend in 2001. We started working together on songs and bank stuff. That turned into working on films. We decided to work on it together and came up with the Newton Brothers. Then we just started jumping into stuff.

It’s really nice to bounce ideas off each other. To work alone and go down out own natural roads. Then collaborate and bring those ideas and feelings together.

So you guys are basically a creative married couple?

AG: Yes we are. Good call.

What movie have to seen the most times in your life?

TS: E.T.. Star Wars. Back to the Future. Predator.

AG: The film I watched the most is Aliens. I recorded it on VHS in 8th grade, and I would watch it over and over again.

What type of movie would you want to score that you haven’t scored yet?

TS: Sometime futuristic and electronic. Or a period epic movie like Braveheart. We write a lot of stuff like that and I guess people will hear it eventually.

AG: Same. That is our goal.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.
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Interview with Sound Mixer Tony Dawe (Return of the Jedi, Alice in Wonderland, Troy)

tony_daweTony Dawe has definitely witnessed a lot of things on set working sound, working on over 120 productions in the last 40 years. It was an honor to interview him after the craft of sound mixing on set and preparing the post-production sound department.

Matthew Toffolo: How would you describe what a sound mixer does in one sentence?

Tony Dawe: I don’t think you can describe it in one sentence, as the job encompasses so many different variables. To get the best sound really starts with reading the script, and then going on the recces to look at all potential problems on set, background noises, can we do anything about it, where the sparks want to put their generators, are we under a flight path etc. Talk to the director to see if they have any special things they want done with the sound. Go and see the costume department and find out if there are any potential problems with the artists costumes, as every artist now has to wear a radio mic on films and TV. Inspect the sets when they are built, and with all the props in, to look for squeaky floors and other minefields. Liase with the DOP, to see what he is trying to achieve, and how we can work with him on set without interfering with his lighting. There are many other things I could mention!

OK, in one sentence: Get the best possible sound under any circumstances that will enable the audience to follow the plot without saying “What did he say?”

MT: Is there a difference in your job description when you work on a drama like “The Hours (2002)” in comparison to working on a genre action like “Indiana Jones” or “Alice in wonderland”?

TD: If you mean, do I work in exactly the same way on both types of production, the answer is yes. Weirdly though in TV, my job credit is Sound Recordist, and in Feature films it is Production Sound Mixer; however its still the same job. Do I feel there is more kudos working on a large film rather than a TV film just because of the job description, no I don’t.

MT: You’ve worked on many Tim Burton productions. How is your working experience with him. How is he different than other directors?

TD: I have worked with Tim since “Batman” in 1987. I love working with him as there is always a great creative atmosphere on set, and I have learned more about film making from him than any other director just by watching my monitor. For instance, watching how a shot develops through several takes until the timing and the acting and everything else comes together in that magic moment, and then the reaction from Tim when he knows that is the best take. Incidentally, with all the directors I have worked with, Tim is the one I talk to the least. I just don’t like to interrupt his creative processes by talking about trivial sound matters. We both trust each other completely job wise.

MT: You’ve been nominated for an Oscar in the “Best Sound” category 4 times. How has the Oscar experience been like? Were you surprised that you didn’t win?

TD: I was delighted to be nominated each time and someone has to win, but that doesn’t make the others into losers. Every year there a lot of amazing sound tracks that never even get mentioned in dispatches. Validation comes from within, and having honesty about your own work. You have to ask yourself if you did do a good job; the best you could in fact, if so, there is the validation.

MT: You were nominated for “Return of the Jedi”. What was that working experience like? How involved was George Lucas?

TD: George Lucas was very involved in the making of “Revenge of the Jedi”, and spent a lot of time on the sets. I got on very well with George, and we had many discussions about the use of computers in film making and where that was going to go. Looking back, of course he was absolutely right. He is a most incredible person and visionary and I really loved working with him.

However, working on “Revenge of the Jedi” (which was its original title), was very intense and not one of my favourite experiences.

MT: You’ve been working in the industry for 50 years on over 100+ productions. Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

TD: I’ve been a sound engineer for 58 years, starting at Abbey Road (before the Beatles!), and ABC television (405 line B&W!) before I even got to work in film in 1967 at Shepperton Studios sound department, so there are a lot of projects to think about.

There are two productions that I’m most proud about, the first is “The Sweeney” TV series in the seventies, where all of us on the crew were pioneers in using small lightweight 16mm cameras and the Nagra tape recorders for the first time in drama’s and making it work. The rule was, there would be no ADR, so the sound had to be usable all the time. I did not use any radio mics on that show, but I always had the final word on what we could do or not do as the sound department. That concentrated a few people’s minds on the set! I learned so much from that experience over the 53 episodes.

The second project was very similar, and was series 4-7 of “Inspector Morse” in the 1980’s. Again, although the company would budget for small amounts of ADR, it was expected that all sound would be usable, so I was very proud when they did use it all, and the sound received an award from Bafta.

I’m not overly proud of any of my feature film work, as all of the budgets included a large amount for ADR, (the money for which always has to be used), and most of the time they would prefer to ADR something instead of spending time doing another take. This does not apply to the wonderful Directors who fully understand the role of sound in film, and will always go again when asked by the sound department. As the blending of my recordings and other peoples is usually very good, who knows then what has been recorded by whom?

By the way, one of my most favourite films to work on was “Dean Spanley” (As a movie it is an underrated masterpiece, well worth finding the DVD and watching it).

MT: Is there a type of film you haven’t worked on yet that you would love to work on?

TD: Yes, I’ve never worked on a cowboy film (and never likely to in the UK!). Also I’ve only worked on one film that had war scenes in it, and I would like to do another one sometime.

MT: How has sound mixing changed from a technology and creative point of view from the year you started to today?

TD: It has changed absolutely, but mostly in the last 20 years. When I started in 1967, we were still using 35mm full coat magnetic film to record on at Shepperton studios. They did not even have a Nagra recorder to do sound effects on, only very large Leevers-Rich reel to reel recorders which were not portable. When I recorded my first film in 1969 as a sound mixer I used a Nagra 4 with a small Nagra mixer, and that worked well. Microphones were all Sennheiser 805’s, with no radio mics. This type of equipment continued well into the 1990’s, except I had added radio mics (to be used mostly for wide shots!) Then came DAT, and the early machines which were not reliable, and ran very hot (and I didn’t adopt until later). Eventually the DAT machines became as portable as the Nagra’s, and they worked very well, except on cold mornings when the rotating heads stuck to the tape and had to be warmed up with a hair dryer.

In the last 12 years or so, we have had hard drive recorders, which again improved immensely very quickly. I started with an 8 track recorder which proved to be rather quirky and difficult to use, and for 7 years I had a Deva 16 as my main recorder, which was very good, but I now have a Fusion10, and Fusion 12 which have no moving parts, except the mixing knobs on the front and work wonderfully well. I hope to acquire a Deva 24 in the future. Just think of that, 24 tracks in a machine not much bigger than a Nagra!

I adore digital recording immensely as it is so flexible and totally transparent. On my sound trolley I still have a wonderful Coopersound analog mixer at the front end which makes it sound a bit like a Nagra.

Editing sound with Pro Tools is a dream, and I wish it been around when I was editing sound at ABC TV in the sixties.

Some of the magic from the early days has gone however, such as being able to do impossible mixes with only one or two channels. Today we just record everything in the hope that there is enough there to satisfy the sound editor. I still use open boom mics for most things, with the radio mics there as a backup. Basically what I am saying is that there is now very little creativity left in my job. What I used to produce as a finished track that would find its way into a film or TV drama rarely happens any more, as the tracks are dismembered and remade in post production. I have been asked quite a few times how I mixed a particular editors track on a feature film, so that post could undo it and re-assemble the track. What is the point in that? Because what I do is so instinctive, that I can’t usually tell them.

As for the profusion of radio mics on set, don’t even get me started on that one. Most other people on the set think that it solves all the problems with sound that can arise, but in practice it gives many more problems than it solves, and sometimes it involves fiddling about with the actors and costumes, which they hate, and so do I. Unfortunately we are not in control any more as we are beholden to other departments.

MT: What makes a great sound mixer? What skills does he/she need?

TD: Firstly I think that you need a great deal of patience, no arrogance, or the “look at me” concept that some mixers have. Know your place in the hierarchy, be very confident with your own ability, and sometimes exceed the boundaries to see if you can do it, and own up if you can’t!

Never argue with a Director, but reasonably discuss possible ways of getting round a sound problem with them. Always be as pleasant as possible, as it gets you much further than aggression.

Oh… and it helps if you know what you are listening for!

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

SOUND Design, Effects, and Musical Design in Film. Tips

SOUND DESIGN
FILMMAKING NOTES

Film Post Production and What Is Sound Design?

The process of creating the soundtrack for the visuals of a film. Since silent films began to talk, filmmakers have been looking to improve the post production of their film. It has become a whole new creative world as people like George Lucas proclaim that “It is 50% of a film.”

CINEMATIC SOUND DESIGN MULTIPLIES TWO OR THREE TIMES THE EFFECT OF THE IMAGE

IT HAS FAILED IF IT DISTRACTS THE AUDIENCE

SOUND DESIGNING IS ABOUT EMOTION, STORY AND RHYTHM

QUIET IS GOOD – THE BEST SOUND DESIGN IS THE SOUND INSIDE SOMEBODY’S HEAD

THREE COMPONENTS IN SOUND EFFECTS AND SOUND DESIGN
SPOKEN LANGUAGE
MUSIC
SOUND EFFECTS

SPOKEN LANGUAGE
-An actor can emphasize one word over the other and thus change the meanings of the sentence completely.
-It all depends on the dramatic contract
-Two types of spoken language- MONOLOGUE AND DIALOGUE
-Interior monologue-what the actor is thinking

MUSIC
-Directs channels of emotions that are already present with the audience
-Propels the action and increase the audiences emotional involvement in a project
-Powerful and manipulative art form that never needs translation into a foreign language
-Effects the entire spectrum of emotions
-Moves us to think and feel a certain way
-Can take us into realms we have never experienced
-Can provide ironic contrast
-Characterization can be suggested. Certain characters have certain music
-Underlines speech, especially dialogue

If you’re a DIRECTOR, remember the MUSIC when there is silence in a shot. At times you can hold the shot longer as the music will give it a greater effect

-Music can take awhile to make its statement. HOLD THE SHOT

MUSIC PERFORMS THREE BASIC FUNCTIONS IN SOUND DESIGN
1) To play the action in a scene
2) To play obliquely or play the subtext of a scene
3) To play against the action in a scene

MUCH LIKE THREE PRIMARY COLORS -These three functions can be combined and manipulated to create many gradations of MUSICALINTERPLAY
The best music taps into the core emotion of a film
-Moves plot along
-Enhances cohesiveness of the drama
-Reflects what’s obvious on the screen, what isn’t
-Speaks to the deepest levels of emotion the audience is suppose to feel

GOOD FILM MUSIC BECOMES A CHARACTER ALL ITS OWN

Give film a THIRD DIMENSION

MUSIC SHOULD ONLY BE IN THE FILM WHEN THERE IS A DRAMATIC REASON FOR ITS EXISTANCE

“So much of what we do is ephemeral and quickly forgotten, even by ourselves, so it’s gratifying to have something you have done linger in people’s memories.”
-John Williams, Composer (Star Wars,Superman,Jurassic Park)

SOUND EFFECTS IN SOUND DESIGN

The first thing in approaching a new project for the DIRECTOR is to make a list of sounds which they think might be effective. Thinking about the characters in the film and the environment in which they move.

Finding moments in the story where sound can add to the character. Their motives and the story

The pitch, volume and tempo of sound effects can strongly effect meaning of film

HIGH PITCHED SOUNDS often employed in suspense sequences
LOW PITCHED SOUNDS often emphasized the dignity of solemnity of a scene

LOUD SOUNDS tend to be forceful, intense and threatening
QUIET SOUNDS delicate, hesitate and often weak

SOUND EFFECTS WORK ON A SUBCONSCIOUS LEVEL
-Also serves sympbolic functions to the characters

ABSOLUTE SILENCE tends to call even more drama. Audience not used to it.

QUALITIES OF SOUND

LOUDNESS
-Film sound constantly manipulates volume
-Loudness will be effected by perceived distance
-Often the louder the sound, the closer the take will be

Some films exploit radical changes in volume for shock value. When a quiet scene is interupted by a very loud noise

PITCH
-The perceived “highness” or “lowness” of the sound
-Pitch is the principal way we distinguish music from other sounds in the film

TIMBRE
-Gives each voice, musical instrument and sound effect its unique coloring and character
-The harmonic components of a sound, given in a certain tone quality
-At the most elementary level, loudness, pitch and timbre enables us to distinguish amonng all of the sound in a film

DIMENSIONS OF FILM SOUND IN SOUND DESIGN

RHYTHM
-A recurring sound that alternates between strong and weak elements
-All three types of sound on the sound track have their own rhythm. Possibilities independent of one another
-Sound usually accompanies movements and often continues over cuts
-Sound many motivate movement in the camera

FIDELITY
-Whether the sound is faithful to the source as we conceive it
-Purely a matter of the viewers expectations-A slammed door gets a slammed door

SPACE
-The source of the sound
-From actual actions in the PICTURE or outside source like the film score
-Often a filmmaker will use sound to represent what a character is thinking

TIME
-Sound relates temporarily to film images in two ways
-VIEWING TIME – length of fim
-STORY TIME – length of time in film

“The power of sound to put an audience in a certain psychological state is vastly undervalued. And the more you know about music and harmony, the more you can do with that.”
-Mike Figgis, Director (Leaving Los Vegas, Timecode)

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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