From The Horse’s Mouth
This weekend, I gave a very short talk at an event in Newcastle, called From The Horse’s Mouth.
It was organised by Tyneside Cinema as part of a short film course they’ve been running for 15-19 year olds in the North-East. The aim was to get a few industry professionals to talk a bit about how they found their way into the industry, with the hope that this might provide some useful advice to the course participants.
I’ll be honest, although I’m happy to give advice whenever asked, the main reason I agreed to talk was as a favour for the organiser, the filmmaker and writer, Ian Fenton, who I know and like from way back when I did the sound for his short film, Flickerman. However, in the end, I think Ian is the one who did me a favour: It was fantastic to get an opportunity to chat with the other speakers who had such diverse roles, like screenwriter, cinematographer, distributor and programmer. How often and how else would you get the opportunity to talk with such a cross-section of the industry?! I strongly recommend taking up such an offer if you ever get the opportunity – I’m sure I got more out of it than I was able to give.
Anyway, I promised Ian I would post a kind of reading and links list as a resource for any of the participants, should they be interested, so I’ve added it below. Firstly, I thought it might be worth adding a rough transcript of my presentation too.
Fellow pros, please feel free to add any of your own recommended reading, links or advice in the comments section.
TRANSCRIPT OF MY PRESENTATION
How did you get from school to where you are now?
At school, I naturally gravitated towards the arts; particularly English and then, when I went to University in Manchester, I studied History of Art. While I was at Manchester, I got very into the whole music & DJing / nightclub scene there. By the time I’d graduated, I’d become interested in learning how to make my own music rather than just playing other people’s, so I signed up to a course at a place called Manchester Midi School which was basically an intro to music production and midi programming. I absolutely loved it, and emerged from it, a year later, desparate to work in a recording studio.
This inevitably focused my sights on London where, over a period of about 2 years, I picked up dribs and drabs of work experience or very low-paid / unpaid work as a runner at various studios around London (the most significant stint I did was probably running at Livingston Studios when Ry Cooder was mixing Buena Vista Social Club there). By chance, one opportunity that came my way at the end of that 2 years was a staff job as a runner at a post-production sound facility in Soho called Magmasters. Unlike running in a music studio, which generally only offered occasional shifts which you were lucky to get 20 quid for, I started at Magmasters for the princely sum of £7500, which enabled me to move to London for the first time, albeit into what was basically a squat in Brixton!
From then on, it was just about hard graft, and trying to be amiable, diligent, humble or confident, depending on the situation. I made teas for about a year and a half – all the time learning how to use the studios and their hardware. As a result, I was able to fill in when a sound editor or recordist was off sick or left to work elsewhere. From there, it just became about working hard to gain more experience, more responsibility and more opportunities. I’ve done all sorts of post sound roles since then and now work at another, smaller post sound company called Phaze UK, where I now specialise in Dialogue and ADR Editing for films.
What is your role now?
My role as a Dialogue Editor is to firstly take all the location recordings that the Picture Editor has used in his/her cut and make these sound as smooth, fluid and ‘natural’ as possible, so that there are no jarring cuts or distracting bumps and bangs on the characters’ dialogue. Any lines of dialogue that are unusable, due to noise, clarity or performance, have to be replaced with ‘ADR’ (Automated Dialogue Replacement) which is recorded in a studio with the actor/actress in front of a TV monitor, lipsyncing his/her original lines as they appear in the film. Finally, I record additional background voices with a ‘Loop Group’ (this is called ‘Crowd ADR’) for any crowd scenes or to cover any spurious background people who can be seen to be talking behind the film’s principal characters. Once all these stages are complete, I take all this work to a large dubbing theatre to be mixed in conditions intended to replicate how it will sound in a cinema. My dialogues are mixed together with FX, Foley and Music to create the Final Mix in Surround Sound.
From your own personal experience, what are your 3 top tips for someone who wants to get into the film business?
- Although I’d say a large proportion of people working in post sound are freelance, I would recommend starting off your career / getting your foot in the door via a staff job at a facility or small post soundhouse. It’s simply a great way of being introduced to the trade, learning the trade and working out what aspect of the industry most interests you.
- Don’t chase positions at facilities or soundhouses by simply posting bucketloads of CVs. I think this has always been a pretty futile endeavour but is particularly so since the internet and social media completely transformed how people connect and get each other’s attention. Use these tools to create a platform where you show your passion, creativity and commitment. Network and build relationships. Get involved in groups, attend events – increase your chances of having a stroke of good luck come your way.
- Don’t just focus on learning the specific technical skills of the particular craft that interests you. For example, with hindsight, I now feel that my English A-Level and History of Art Degree have served me just as well in the film industry as has my Diploma in Studio Recording. This is because it is just as important to understand the art of storytelling as it is to understand the principles of sound. Empathy, creativity and your analytical skills are as important as your technical ability. One of the fascinating things about working on films is that you experience an eclectic variety of subject matter, so an open and enquiring mind is always useful.
- “Dialogue Editing for Motion Pictures” by John Purcell (The only dialogue editing guide book you’ll need – I’d hang on for this new edition as it’ll be more up to date)
Career / Attitude
- “The Start-Up of You” by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha
- “Linchpin” by Seth Godin
- “What Colour is Your Parachute? 2013 by Richard N. Boiles
- “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
WEBSITES OFFERING FILM SOUND CAREER ADVICE
- Social Sound Design (Search ‘Career’, for example).
- The Music of Sound – in particular, Career Advice Part 1 and Part 2 are must-reads.
RANDOM / MISCELLANEOUS
Google is such an amazing resource when it comes to researching, chasing leads, etc. – make full use of it! A relatively short search whilst preparing my talk offered up this eclectic mix of articles, vids and websites that are relevant in a variety of different ways. Don’t just look for advice from film industry pros – advice from any creative professional can be relevant to your own ambitions in the film industry.
- “How Do I Get Freelance Work” by Jessica Hische
- “Careers in the Film Industry” (in The Guardian)
- “Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career” – Larry Smith (TEDxUW Talk)
- My First Job in Film
- Get in Media