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Pushing Buttons at SXSW

SXSW_2015_Family_CMYK-02

What draws us into a movie so much that we cry, laugh and feel touched by what we are seeing? What about films gives us an experience so immersive that we share the emotions of the characters and escape our own lives to share in their own? Many aspects of the filmmaking craft are dedicated to this end, but often sound is one of the most highly effective, yet, most commonly unnoticed ways filmmakers achieve this. The sound mixer’s tedious and precise adjustments of the elements in the sound track; dialogue, music and sound effects, and the way that they rise and fall in concert with the emotional context of each scene moves us to feel sadness, anger, fear and empathy all without the slightest hint in our minds of the ways we are being manipulated at the hand of a skillful mixer.

“The most powerful tools I use as a re-recording engineer are my emotions and my ears. If I’m not feeling something while I’m riding the levels and fades of the music dialogue and FX, then the audience won’t either,” says Supervising Sound Editor and Re-Recording Mixer, Brian Quill.

As the holidays wound down, Flavorlab Sound wrapped up Post-Audio on two films heading to the South by Southwest media festival (SXSW). Jack Goes Home is a dark psychological thriller while Long Nights Short Mornings is a romantic drama about a young man’s, sometimes profound, personal journey as he dates and beds numerous women in New York City. These two films have obvious stark differences in their audio needs and aesthetics.

“For Jack Goes Home we wanted the audience to share in the psychological vortex that the main character slips into. Director Thomas Dekker wanted the film to feel quiet, empty and awkward.  For us, this meant keeping the sound hyper focused on specifics like prop movements and foley, while leaving ambient noise as controlled as possible”

The result of this approach is a film that instills an anxious anticipation, as the audience watches and feels the layers of psychological darkness peeled back to the core of the main character’s internal struggle.

For Long Nights Short Mornings, Brian and his team took an almost entirely opposite approach.

“Director Chadd Harbold said to me, ‘New York City is loud and the movie should sound authentic,’ so we focused mostly on ambiences and less foley type movements. We then played with slipping out of the New York city cacophony, in and out of diegetic sound and score, to bring us mentally in to share the moments of the lead character on his journey.”  Brian notes.

This connection with the lead character helps to create empathy. The audience feels as though they have shared in the evolution of the character and relate to him subconsciously.

For Brian and the Flavorlab team two very different films and two different approaches to the craft, but with ultimately the same result of immersing the audience and allowing them to share an emotional journey. Catch both films at the South by Southwest media festival (SXSW) in Austin, TX.