“Eastern Promises” hits theaters September 14th. Supervising Sound editors Wayne Griffin and Michael O’Farrell helped mark the soundtrack with dialog, ADR, effects, and Foley. O’Farrell, whom supervised director David Cronenberg’s last, “A History of Violence, is currently mixing one of Judd Apatow’s next projects, the David Gordan Green directed “Pineapple Express”. While Griffin has been in cahoots with the director since 1986’s remake of “The Fly.” Mixing for “Promises” took place at Deluxe’s Toronto based sound facility, with re-recording mixers Christian T. Cooke and Orest Sushko at the helm. Also sound thugs in the Cronenberg ranks, the team has mixed four of the director’s films. Hot off this summer’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” Stuart Wilson mixed production dialog on the film. Continuing his working relationship with director Michael Winterbottom, Wilson just mixed the director’s current film “Genova” as well his last seven other efforts. Beating all the musical notes into submission, Howard Shore scored the film at London’s Abbey Road studio. Shore looks to be attached to Martin Scorsese’s next two narrative ventures, “Silence” and “The Rise of Theodor Roosevelt”.
I wanted to thank Michael O’Farrell for doing this Q and A. I saw the film last night and I got to say the bathhouse house scene that Mike teases in his answers is definitely as intense as he claims…
DS: While “A History of Violence” is 100% Cronenberg, he was still at his tamest by keeping the sound very naturalistic. What was the approach on “Promises'” soundtrack?
MO: It’s interesting to hear you say that, thanks! Actually, the sound on “History of Violence” and again on “Eastern Promises” is anything but naturalistic but it’s great that you remember it that way.
Usually the films themselves determine what the feel of the soundtrack will be. Both of these films are really character driven and heavily claustrophobic. They are essentially quiet complex films about interpersonal relationships, secrets hidden and occasionally revealed. I think sound editors by nature are terrified by quiet. They often try to fill the glass to the overflowing point, stretching to fill every blank aural space. Noise is, after all, why people primarily hire us. Knowing when to back off and stay quiet is just as important.
In these pieces, as the tenor of the film changes, as the drama builds, so does the force and nature of the sound effects. I think if you went back and looked at a few of the set pieces in “History” or “Eastern Promises” you’d be surprised at how outlandish some of the sounds are. In a straight run however, the viewer is hopefully caught up in the tension of the situations and brought to that emotional point where more surreal sounds are accepted as part of the dramatic landscape.
I think when you are starting a film you should remember the music you love, and that most great compositions have a broad arc. Beauty, in this case at least, lies in the dynamics: The interplay of hard and soft, loud and quiet, knife and flesh.
DS: I read in a recent interview that what makes working on a thriller so much fun is the opportunity the genre allows for playing with the audience. Given that David likes to use that device on his audience, did you guys get any time to play?
MO: Well, some time [to play]. For me, Foley and effects recording are definitely my personal play time.
I’m extraordinarily lucky to have a great collaborator in my co-supervisor Wayne Griffin who handles the dialogue department, as well as our foley artist Andy Malcolm and a great production recordist in Stuart Wilson. Along with our great crew, Tony Currie on Dialogue and Rob Bertola on FX, we did manage to get in a fair bit of play time sonically and otherwise.
David Cronenberg is quite remarkable in the fact that he usually only does one or two recruited audience screenings. He’s that confident and that sure footed.
That’s quite unusual in this age of multiple previews and short schedules. I’ve gotten used to laying down my preliminary version of the FX tracks in the first couple of weeks that I’m on a film. And while it’s amazing how much of that version is what takes hold and becomes the basis of the final track, I do love to get other people’s perspective on a particular sound; hearing things that are 180 degrees opposite from what I was thinking of, something that I never would have come up with. This film is full of these kind of happy accidents and plain hard work. From Tony’s great crowd ADR work in England to Rob’s peculiar take on a tattoo needle, this project was a definite group project. Collaboration, interaction and play are what make this job worthwhile.
DS: The word “visceral” is often used to describe his films, yet, to me that word always seems like a nod to sound. What are some of your favorite visceral sound moments in this film?
MO: Hmm…that would be telling. Let’s just say that there is a very intense scene set in a bath house and a very unfortunate incident involving an eye. Oh and a throat… actually a couple of throats. David C’s new pet name for me is “O’Feral” if that gives you any clues.
David did a study of street fighting techniques when he was prepping “History of Violence.” The primary rule for survival, for coming out on top in life threatening situations, was to get in very close to your opponent when fighting. I think we’ve all taken that to heart in both of these films. We get in close, really close. It’s all about small perfect sounds… listen for the fingertips hitting the metal tabletop…(Andy Malcolm our Foley artist can take credit for that one..)
DS: One of the first and simplest “tips” I got for BGs (backgrounds) coverage was to use wet car-bys to convey night. Since I have read most of this film takes place in the evening hours, what ways did you convey nighttime while keeping it interesting and obviously menacing?
MO: Actually, it rains a lot in this nightmarish version of London. The nights are about rain and unseen trucks rumbling by. We recorded a lot of new rain for this film, hopefully enough to keep it interesting, at the very least really damp
DS: I am a big fan of David Gordon Green. How is he to work with on “Pineapple Express”?
MO: Just great so far. He’s got a very funny film on his hands. If he magically turns into an jerk during the mix you’ll be the first to know!
DS: What was your first gig like?
MO: Some poor, put upon, commercial editor in Toronto with a very tight deadline (And obviously no viable options…) hired me fresh out of film school to cut negative for his series of spots. Strangely enough, I didn’t get a call back for a return engagement. Shame really, I probably could have had a very hot neg cutting career by now!
My first real sound editing gig was for the late, great Canadian sound editor Ken Heeley-Ray on an epic high school football film called “Crunch” back in 1981 or so. If you can’t find it at Netflix, they subsequently changed the name to the much classier “The Kinky Coaches and the Pom Pom Pussycats”.