For the past four weeks I've been working on a short horror film called Darkness Calls. The film is about a young couple that decided to spend their anniversary camping in the woods. When they awake to the sound of an telephone eerily ringing in the night, things take a turn for the worst. My production team and I were assigned to provide a dialogue edit, a soundtrack, foley and SFX, and a 5.1 surround sound and stereo mix.
This project presented the opportunity to learn to mix in 5.1 and utilise the Avid S6 console. I found mixing in surround sound easy to grasp and enjoyed the creative benefits of being able to truly immerse the audience in the film. I found it essentially like unlocking a 3rd dimension to sound design and that really opened up the ability to create authentic atmosphere and moments that had impact. The use of sub frequencies enabled us to allow the audience to feel the impact of what was happening on screen which I think lends itself especially well to the horror genre.
I really only scraped the surface of the capabilities of the S6 console. I found it quite easy to learn as I was already familiar with it's little brother, the S3. I think this console is suited well to post production as it allows tactile control of just about whatever parameter you could ever want. This is essential for post production as automation and fine control is a big part of mixing for film and television. Being able to utilise the digital meters with waveform display was also especially useful.
For the soundtrack we created a harsh synthesiser driven array of sounds and beats. The music definitely allowed us to capture the vibe and unsettling effect we were after as well as keeping it intense. Producing the soundtrack took about 3 of the 4 weeks we had to mix this film as we did a lot of fine tuning of certain sounds, risers etc.
Creating the soundtrack in this time wasn't too difficult. It is only a short film and the first third of the film is a calm before the storm to the more intense second half so it really didn't require any music. The beginning of the film is the introduction of the two characters and it's very dialogue driven so music would have felt out of place. That being said, the score was still a big part of the film as it needed to drive home the horror the film is trying to convey. We created a lot of droning synth noises in an attempt to make the viewer feel uneasy and agitated almost. We also created risers and impact sounds to reinforce the 'jump scare' moments.
From feedback we received it became clear we did hold back a little and could have taken the dynamics further. Our client suggested we take the film from the 5 (as in level of dynamics/intensity) that it is and push it to a 7 or 8. We were cautious of the average sound level of the film exceeding broadcast requirements but learned it didn't matter so much for cinema, and especially this film which inherently will be incredibly dynamic given its genre. I received praise for the dialogue edit which I was proud of as I put probably the most amount of my time into it.
Despite developing a lot of new skills and workflow processes/techniques, I found it easy to apply existing skills to this project. Being proficient in Pro Tools allowed me to get editing done quickly and basic knowledge of the recording process allowed us to record foley sounds without difficulty. I think the key to keeping your skills relevant is having a really strong understanding of fundamental knowledge like 'what microphone would be good for this?' and 'how can I use EQ to fix this?'. You can apply basic knowledge of signal flow, processing and effects to just about every workstation and workflow. Having a well trained ear will allow you to analyse your work at a technical level at the least even if you aren't familiar with the type of work you are doing. For example, being able to hide a fade or knowing how to sculpt a sound with EQ.
But that will only get you so far. Mixing and album and mixing a film are two very different beasts. The only way I've found to keep myself able to tackle any project is to get as much experience in everything as I can. When I began practicing audio engineering I focused a lot on music production and really honed my skills there. Now that I've worked on 3 films I have developed skills in this field too. Those basic skills will get you on your feet but experience and the knowledge you gain with it will get you running. You can get by mixing a film at a technical level and making it sound neat but the tricks you learn by doing will allow you to get creative and breathe life into your project.
I've found once you're really comfortable and efficient with the technical stuff, it paves the way for creative work. You get to spend less time worrying about 'how do I stop this dialogue from sounding muffled' and more time adding interesting effects that take it to then next level.
From the past four weeks working on this film I've learned a lot about mixing film and creating a really solid dialogue edit. I will definitely be able to apply the things I've learned from this project to future film work. Other skills I've developed like being able to use the Avid S6 and learning to mix really dynamically I can apply to various other streams of audio production. I am very proud of our resulting mix of Darkness Calls and I think it holds its own in the horror genre. The film itself is an intriguing concept but a soundtrack and mix can really enhance the tone of the film and I think we achieved that.