Special thanks to fellow composer Chris Joye for conducting this interview, and for his excellent questions: http://cfva.com/ebulletin/news/interview-john-schuermann
Halcyon had a special free screening in Colorado Springs last Friday, December 7th 2012. Star Courtney Gains was in attendance as well as the filmmakers, Ashley Haglund, Mackenzie Haglund, and David Patino. Here are some music clips and the trailer.
It's done! The score and sound mix for Halcyon were completed last weekend, and I'm very happy with the results. Fortunately for me, so are the filmmakers :)
For anyone in Las Vegas this upcoming weekend, here is information on the premiere:
Halcyon is a solid little indie film, so make plans to see it this Saturday!
When it comes to creating a film score, my advice to filmmakers is usually to avoid a sound that is too trendy or "of the moment" - UNLESS that is the point of the choice to begin with. In other words, unless you want your film to be very consciously the product of its time, using currently popular musical styles will always tie your film to the time frame in which it was produced. One of the reasons orchestral scores continue to be popular is that they can impart a timeless quality to your film that does not immediately date it. When requesting a particularly trendy sound for a score, keep in mind that in 10 - 20 years that particular sound is going to date the film. This can be an effective strategy if that is your intent. For example, the score in the Austin Powers films immediately tells you that no matter what time frame the film is actually set in, the soul of the film is actually set in the 1960's. The use of 50's songs in American Graffiti immediately conjure a sense of time and place. If that is your intent, go with it!
As a counterpoint, think of most action and comedy films made during the 80s. As soon as you hear those synths and drum machines, suddenly you are pulled out of the film and you are aware that you are watching a product of the 80s, not a timeless action classic. The most egregious example of this I can think of is the film Ladyhawke, ostensibly a film set during the middle ages. If Richard Donner had chosen to use a traditional orchestral score, his film would probably had more of the timeless fairy tale element he was after. Instead, as soon as the action scenes start and the pop Alan Parson's score starts playing, you are immediately pulled out of the middle ages and plopped squarely into the 1980s.
For another example, look at two major SF films made during the 1970s - Logan's Run and Star Wars. As brilliant as Jerry Goldsmith's score is for Logan's Run, it can't escape that disco 70s vibe due to the heavy use of now dated-sounding synths (of course, the "70's shopping mall" setting of the film doesn't help either ;) On the other hand, John William's score for Star Wars has a timeless quality mainly because he deliberately avoided using the then trendy "sci-fi" synth elements.
Regarding the use of existing music or songs in a film, if you want to use a popular song that you think is crucial to the film's success, make sure you have determined whether or not you can afford the rights to the song or if the artist is even open to letting their song be used in a motion picture. Don't expect that a distributor will take care of that problem if they decide to pick up your film. The chances of that happening are extremely slim. My advice - before you put a song in your film that becomes crucial to the storyline, make sure that the song is available and you can afford it! If you are not sure about the availability or affordability of the song, find some up and coming acts to contribute a song that conveys much of the same tone or emotion that you are after. There are TONS of bands looking for exposure, and they are easy to find.
Just stuff to think about :)
The biggest problems for a post sound guy have to do with poorly recorded location sound (as you might guess). Even if you don't have the budget for a really good location sound guy on set, make sure you are aware of certain things while shooting. Following these guidelines can help you avoid major headaches in post (and save you time and money while you're at it):
Turn off all air conditioning / heating units.
Unplug any appliances that make noise (refrigerators, fans, etc).
If you are in a highly reverberant space, make sure you close mic your actors. Remember, reverb can always be added in post, but it cannot be subtracted!
For example, as I type this I am sitting in my kitchen and am acutely aware of the sound of the refrigerator - a sound that most people would be totally unconscious of. I was once shooting a scene at a local video store and had made sure that the air conditioning was turned off before calling action. However, halfway into the night one of the actors turned the a/c back on without telling me. I was so caught up in directing the actors I did not even notice until I had shot a good additional hour worth of takes. I mention this just to point out that certain sounds kind of "fade into the background" when we are shooting to the point we don't even notice them. However, when we load up the footage back in the edit suite, what was once "in the background" is now "front and center."
It is amazing how much better digital noise reduction technology has gotten over the last few years. However, sounds that change over time (such as a plane flying overhead or different cars driving by) are difficult to remove without causing obvious artifacts in the processed audio. This usually manifests itself as a "hollow" or "tinny" character to the processed dialogue. Right now I am working on the sound design for a film that is set in an underwater research station. Unfortunately, the set was located close to a local airport. Several sound takes have the sound of airplanes or local traffic intruding on the track. Obviously, it would not do to hear a plane flying overhead when you are supposed to be in an undersea research vessel! In most cases I am able to remove this type of noise, however, it does add more time and expense to the post-production process.
The reverb issue is very real, too, as many low-budget filmmakers end up using the camera mic to capture their audio. This can be acceptable in a small space that is fairly dead acoustically. But using the camera mic in a large reverberant space such as a warehouse guarantees that the resulting dialogue recording will be almost completely unintelligible (this is true even if you have a great quality standalone mic that is too far from the actors). This means you will need to pay for an ADR session during post, or that the low budget origins of your sound will be immediately evident to anyone watching your screener. And nothing pulls a viewer out of the film experience more quickly than bad quality sound - especially when your audience is straining to understand the dialogue!
Another issue for post sound editors is overlapping dialogue. While overlapping dialogue can be a great stylistic choice, it can be an unsolvable problem in post if the director / editor wants to make any changes to the original flow of the scene, or wants to use Take 12 of character A and combine it with Take 5 of character B. Complicating this even further is that many directors who like the authenticity of overlapping dialogue also like the spontaneity of allowing their actors to ad lib some of their lines. While I personally think this style helps enhance a film when the director is going for a documentary-type feel, it can be a real problem trying to get all of the sound takes to match. A partial solution is to body mic your actors so that the individual actors dialogue is available as a separate track with little bleed from the other actors. The other solution is to record separate takes of each actor without the dialogue actually overlapping in the same environment. That way it is sometimes possible to extract a word here or there from the separate takes to clean up an improperly overlapping cut.
Hope all of this helps!
I received the final cut of HALCYON on Friday, and get hard to work on dialogue editing / sound design starting tomorrow. The first 20 minutes are already completed.
Halcyon is a feature film starring Courtney Gains, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, and Pepper Binkley. The story:
Two men assigned aboard a deep sea research station become trapped inside and isolated from the outside world after a seismic event cripples the station. the event leaves one man mortally wounded, while the other struggles to cope with reality.