“30 Days of Night” descended into theaters October 19th. Helping to make vampires sound scary again is Sound Supervisor/Designer Tim Prebble. Prebble, a native Kiwi, supervised films ranging from the film adaptation of “The Bridge to Terabitha” to the livestock snuff film “Black Sheep”. Mixing took place at Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post, with two craftsmen from LOTR mixing team, Michael Hedges and Gethin Creagh. The pair, current mainstays at Park Road, have been mixing together for over a decade. For the New Zealand part of the shoot, David Madigan handled production sound. Madigan has been mixing both TV and features in NZ, (his native home) for twenty years. Brian Reitzell composed the Score for the film. In addition to being a drummer for the band Air, the music supervisor, editor, and composer has worked on all of the Coppola’s children’s feature films to date. Though brief, there is a little blurb about some of the “instruments” Rietzell used for the score HERE(4th article down).
I wanted to thank sound supervisor Tim Prebble for taking time to do this Q and A. I was excited to cast the filmsounddaily.com net across the Pacific for this. An native New Zealander, Tim writes his own sound related BLOG and wanted to provide this link of the “30 Days of Night” sound crew, HERE.
DS: Though any avid enough film-goer has probably knows how we break bones with celery stalks, how much goes into the sound of a kill?
TP: Our brief was primarily to keep it real, to not stylize movement or action but to reinforce true intent, although, to a degree, that approach was more about how the end result is perceived rather than how we set about achieving it. While the vampires have a specific motivation for their violence, i.e. to extract blood, we were also interested in supporting their back story and how they are sentient beings. David Slade also gave us the intriguing motivation that the vampires preferred the taste of blood with a large amount of adrenalin present and for that reason, the attacks tended to be fast and frenzied, but only as the final part of the victims’ orchestrated terror. Accordingly, there was a lot of collaboration between the sound design, physical sound effects, foley and the score to insure each moment worked as a composite whole well before we were on the mix stage. In terms of physical sounds, (apart from the obvious vegetables) some other elements that proved valuable were persimmon, rock melon & semi-dry seaweed as well as contact microphone recordings of a variety of shellfish being manipulated.
DS: As David Slade’s second feature, how was the budding director to work with and how did he approach post sound?
TP: David Slade was fantastic to worth with for one simple reason – he loves the role sound has to play in film. This was directly reflected in the script, the shoot & also in my start date – I literally began work on the project the day David and picture editor Art Jones completed their first assembly. From then on I began feeding them temp FX mixes on a scene by scene basis, prior to the main sound team starting and our two full temp mixes for audience previews. Another important factor in the overall approach was that David Slade is very interested in the area where score and sound design merge, often preferring the latter as less overtly manipulative. This is apparent in his first film, “Hard Candy”, but it is also territory that I love to inhabit, so collaborating with David Slade and composer Brian Reitzell was a joy.
David’s respect for sound also meant that David Madigan (production mixer) & Hugo Tichbourne (boom) were able to do a fantastic job of providing Ray Beentjes (supervising dialogue editor) and his dialogue team with great coverage including many valuable wild lines, as well as wild sound effects for us including key vehicles & snow moves.
DS: The population of Barrow, Alaska is trapped in their town for the duration of the sunless month. How was sound used to channel the claustrophobia?
TP: Constraints can often motivate creativity in unforeseen ways and due to the nature of the environment in “30 Days of Night” the humans spend a considerable amount of time in contained interior spaces. Accordingly, we were fully justified in exploring complex off screen ambiences and action without it ever feeling unmotivated. By establishing the potential for these early on in the film, we were then able to manipulate their presence to support the drama and the creeping feeling of claustrophobia throughout the film. My favorite scene for sound in “30 Days of Night” is also one of the quietest and in my opinion provides the best example of both claustrophobia and implied horror in the film. In this case the mixers Michael Hedges (sound effects, ambiences, vampire vocals & foley) and Gethin Creagh (dialogue, ADR & score) used a reductive process of slowly removing all real or normal elements until we are left in near-silence for the reaction and gradual reintroduction of reality. By the time the inverted climax is reached, all natural ambiences have been replaced by very subtle tones and our perceptions are entirely focused on the emotional impact of the action rather than the action itself. Similarly, at many times in the film we are witness to characters hiding from the vampires and these moments allowed us to mix the scene from a highly accentuated point of view.
DS: How did you adhere to conventions that audiences have about cold winter sounds, like wispy winds, while keeping yourself satisfied with the level of detail and movement in the backgrounds?
TP: One thing about the city I live in (Wellington) is that it is one of the windiest cities on the planet and so whenever we saw that a southerly storm was predicted, we would all be out recording, exterior & interior winds in as many different environments as we could. One very memorable recording session was inside a wind turbine and material from that session was used in many different contexts in the film. Our FX Assistant David Vranken is also normally based in Europe, so prior to him starting work we sent him north to record ambiences and a library of snow foley. Consequently, Matt Lambourn (Ambience & FX Editor) was armed with a huge library of new material and did a very careful and considered job of creating an orchestra of winds. In my opinion his best work was in the extremes, the quiet drafts and air pressure shifts of hiding in a small attic space, contrasting dramatically with fighting a total white out blizzard to find a new safe haven.
The ambience predubs went wide but were always driven as much by the emotional arc of the scene as by the literal action. I personally love working on ambiences and consider them a very important element in any film soundtrack but in this case it was definitely an advantage for me to contribute primarily through maintaining my objectivity and providing input during our many ambience run-throughs. We also knew from day one that the film wouldn’t have an over the top or relentless score and this aspect was crucial to the ambiences being able to be used creatively.
DS: The vampires in the film seem to be a welcomed departure from the suave, seductive Anne Rice creations; ferocious creatures bent in the pursuit for blood. How was their viciousness vocalized?
TP: In my first meetings with David Slade prior to the shoot I was very happy to learn that a linguist based at Auckland University had been hired
to develop a language for the vampires. Apart from the eventual vampire dialect, an ‘incursive’ vocal technique of vocalizing on the in-breath was also employed. The director did an ongoing series of vocal workshops in preproduction to refine these techniques, which we also applied when it came time to do ADR & create new elements.
During post, the vampire vocals were a combined effort by both myself and ADR/dialogue editor Chris Todd. In my experience I have always found that I far more believe creature vocals that are performance based, as opposed to being created as an after thought, and we spread our net wide to find local character vocal performers who could match the existing characteristics of the vampires but also provide potential new directions and options. One inspired avenue involved vocalists from some local death metal bands, with one singer in particular who could naturally ‘sing’ tritones! The film also has some transformative moments & for these we also used a few very specific animal elements, primarily small marsupials native to New Zealand which matched the existing tonality.
In terms of breath work, in the film we visually see cold breaths from the humans but never for the vampires and combined with emphasis on the vocal power of the in-breath we were able to approach this performance aspect from a unique angle. In ADR we also recorded many vocal sounds as elements for the vampires feeding that utilized a lot of yoghurt to great (and messy) effect.
DS: What was your first gig like?
TP: After attending film school and spending four years cutting sound effects and ambiences for TV drama series, I was lucky enough to land my first feature film via a schedule bottleneck: basically the film “Saving Grace” by New Zealand director Costa Botes came along when everyone else was busy! I was so hungry for it and still vividly remember the start of the final mix; the combination of trepidation & exhilaration at hearing a lot of hard work come to life on a much larger scale than I was used to. My second gig was even more exciting as I managed to land a stint on Peter Jackson’s film ‘The Frighteners” filling in for my dear friend & mentor Mike Hopkins, until his schedule freed up. I spent six weeks working up versions of the films ‘tunnel of light’, with the last few weeks spent in the edit room next door to Randy Thom – someone who is an endless inspiration to me. I feel blessed that sixteen years after attending film school I love what I do with an ever growing passion. I absolutely relish the challenge each new project brings, but also remain a permanent student as to how sound affects us physically and emotionally in the real world & finding new means of expressing that.