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Fred Salles

Re-creating soundscape of a past era

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Hello,

I am currently doing production sound for a indie feature set in the fifties in an African city.

Obviously we struggling to avoid plane, (chinese) motorbikes, modern cars, AC fans, water pumps, amplified call for prayer, to mention only the quotidian ones...

I do not think I will get a chance to record enough stereo ambient sound as I usually do because of these issues.

I have a fairly number of years of experience in film but this is my first non contemporary era film. So my question is can we rely on post only to re-create ambient sounds, assembling   isolated sounds, to get credible  soundscapes for the diverse scenes set in town?

What are the standard practices for past era film sound design?

Any tips welcome.

 

Thanks

PS: no we do not have contact with post production team as they are not on board yet.

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Hopefully, production is wise enough to give the post production team plenty of heads up to record these sounds (or search archives for them). Otherwise, I’d say don’t bother and let them do the job. 

On the other hand, art dept must probably dig up a lot of old cars and stuff that you could probably have access to and record (or the post team). I’ve always found period pieces to be fun, and often times not at all as hard as you might think sound wise. In post, you’d be surprised with how much you can get away with in terms of time. It’s all about the feeling and not so much about authenticity. You know that of course. 

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Hi Fred, post will look first at the script and then afterwards at the film (first cut, assembly or whatever) to find out everything they can about story elements, vehicles, objects, animals and birds and atmospheres. There will probably already be a ‘first library’ of probable elements even before the supervising sound editor sees a frame if the budget is sufficient and they were decided upon in time.

 

Obvious sound elements like objects and vehicles are of immediate concern. Nice clean recordings, with clear ‘in/out’ points and from different perspectives to match camera will be very much appreciated for on-screen objects - the priority being for the more individual in character or difficulty to track down later for foley (bruitage). The most important of all are objects which are sonically or visually part of the storytelling. Occasionally there are important (script) objects which look spectacular but sound quite mediocre - even so, a recording of such for post not only lets them know that you were aware and want to point it out but also that they can easily demonstrate to director and production that this is the case and help them to budget to find or create a suitable sound.

 

Aside from screen or story objects, as Olle said vehicles are a big part of vintage stories - in your case probably not only the odd car but perhaps animal driven as well. If such ‘props’ are to be sourced in Africa they are perhaps extremely unlikely to be available to a post team in France (unless the budget and spirit of cooperation are both huge). As much separate ‘second unit’ (even if only one member of the sound team with perhaps help from a junior member of the art department for example) sound recorded away from filming of such items will help a great deal for post - obviously in the best conditions you can get away with. Again, even if ‘good recordings’ are difficult or impossible to achieve, a recording of ‘what it is’ will help both as a guide to accuracy for effects editors and as a potential demonstration to production that extra is needed from them later.

 

The worst that you, the production sound team, can ever possibly do is to miss an opportunity to get at least a recording of something that it will be impossible to ever get again. The best you can do is to collaborate pre-filming with the main sound editor to have a good plan of what opportunities may occur and which to go for (or fight for). It is understood - and sadly too common - that both are out of your control!

 

Aside from all that your job is to get the cleanest possible dialogue and you already know the difficulties of achieving that for a period fiction. So your efforts in this regard will always be appreciated in post beyond anything else. Post will be able to research a ‘soundscape’ that is realistic in atmosphere, wildlife and detail which works to tell the story. French bruitage is second to none (although perhaps more subtle generally than American ‘blockbuster’ foley).

 

Are you in Paris by the way? I was stagier there early in my career and have several friends in post sound there. My boss of one time, Richard Delmotte of the Harlequin cinema (Films Cosmos and Arkeion Films) spent twenty years making and distributing films in Africa from the era you are talking about. Period sound I have worked on includes the Anne Hathaway film Becoming Jane ten years or so ago.

 

Hope this is a good starter, all the best,

 

Jez Adamson

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Thanks Olle and Jez for your inputs.

After wrap of the shoot I tried to get as much material i could in a very limited time, mostly wild of everyday life in rural area that could have been the same in the 50s city (man and cow pulled carts, water pit, children games and songs, nature landscape etc...)

hoping post would be able to construct semi urban credible soundscapes.

Jez I am from Marseille and live between  Marseille, Cape town and Nairobi.

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That you were thinking about this during production is great, and I'm sure you got what there was to get.  It's up to post to make the shots believable now, to the degree the director wants authenticity.  They will be thanking you every day for the extra sounds you got for them!

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