Live Action TV Tracklay and Sound Design

I’ve recently been employed by Gorilla, a post-production company in Cardiff. I’ve had a brilliant time here and have worked on some cracking TV. One project in particular has compelled me to write this post. Parch.

It’s an 8 part drama made for S4C and premiered on the 31st May 2015. My job was threefold; Dialogue Editor, Sound Editor (Tracklay) and Sound Designer. This is  fairly new territory for me as one area I’ve had the least experience is in live action drama sound editing.

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Dialogue Editing

The first job was to edit the dialogue and production sound. If you can nail this then you’re most of the way there as everything else is now icing on a metaphorical cake. I found it quite a challenge as I hadn’t done anything like this before but for one exception. A year ago Shaun Farley employed me to edit the dialogue on a feature film called Mandorla (it’s still not released yet), he did an amazing teaching me as I worked for him, especially as he was in San Francisco and here’s me in Cardiff, Wales, over 5,000 miles away. I was able to employ all the things Shaun taught me to my work on Parch and the Dubbing Mixer (Re-recording Mixer to you crazy Yanks), Andy Powell, and I came out with a pretty good dialogue track.

[EDIT] I am outraged that my dyslexia meant I missed a who couple of sentences here! Grr. Well, I meant to add that I also had a fair bit of guidance from Andy who’s advice has been invaluable throughout the whole process. He’s been doing this sort of work for a lot longer than I and I learned a great deal over our work on Parch.

I don’t speak a word of Welsh, well I do know a few now. Anyway I’ve actually worked in Welsh a few times before and also spent 4 years recording, editing and mixing Irish language programmes when I worked for Telegael. I actually find it easy to work in a foreign language, mainly as I can’t be distracted by the narrative and focus on the work. It doesn’t take long to get used to the sound of a language to be able to edit it either, even ADR gets quite simple.

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Sound Editing

Little did I know that you have to cover a lot of things that I never knew would need covered in live action drama. Car doors being a good example. Always add one in case the Mixer/Producer/Director want it louder for example. There’s a certain satisfaction in editing sounds in live action that comes from hearing the mix and seeing that the sounds have totally embedded themselves in the diegesis. There’s also a lot more detail that I was expecting. Having done a LOT of animation it didn’t impact my work as such, it was just a little surprising. There’s LOTS of car passes that will need covering.

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Sound Design

There’s as aspect of sound editing that blends with design. For example, lets take the atmosphere of the church. For the day time scenes I used two general countryside, windy, birdy atmospheres. One would hear the outside world from inside such a building. Then I created the low rumble windy sound that an underfloor heating system might be like. The mixer can then play with the balance of these three sounds and add meaning to the events going on. They could raise the relative level of the heating vent to make the viewer get a sense of emptiness.

One aspect of sound design is to ensure all sounds follow the narrative from start to finish and can give clues or reference things happening later. This isn’t always possible in Television due to tight schedules, while was on Ep1, Ep8 hadn’t been edited for example.

The final part of sound design is creating actual sounds. The protagonist in Parch, Myfanwy, has had an aneurism and is hallucinating (or is she?) and we hear what she is experiencing. The first thing I thought when discussing the sound design with Rhys, the Director, was the sound of blood rushing through veins. I ended up sort of using the cliche of pulse sounds, but without actually using those sounds. I used a lot of wind, running water and breathing that I used to create the desired effect. It all gets quite surreal and I wont reveal any spoilers for those who’ve not seen it. Which judging that most people who read this wont A) live in Wales and B) be able to speak Welsh to understand what the heck is going on anyway.

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