The Seeker: Dark is Rising – Exclusive Interview with Supervising Sound Editor Craig Henighan

“The Seeker: Dark is Rising” arrives in theaters October 5th. Sound Supervisors Craig Henighan and John A. Larsen honed their sound editorial powers on the film. Together the team already supervised this summer’s “Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer”. Henighan is currently designing on Doug Liman’s next “Jumper”, and Larsen is hard at work on Eddie Murphy’s next vehicle, “Starship Dave”. Hot off last month’s “3:10 to Yuma”, Paul Massey and David Giammarco mixed “The Seeker” on Fox’s John Ford dub stage. Giammarco is currently mixing effects on “Pineapple Express” and they both jump on the chipmunk sound bandwagon soon. Production mixing on the film was handled by Keith A. Garcia. Garcia, an established TV mixer, hooked up with “The Seeker’s” director David L. Cunningham on his last feature, 2006′s “After”. Composer Christophe Beck scored the film on Fox’s Alfred Newman stage. Beck just helped Vince Vaughn rekindle his relationship with his estranged, albeit jolly brother, composing for next month’s “Fred Clause”.

I want to thank supervising sound editor Craig Henighan for doing this Q and A.

DS: Material like “Dark is Rising” allows for creation of sounds no one has ever heard before. What are some of your favorite creations in the film?

CH: Some of my favorites are the sounds we created for the Rooks (crows), which were a combination of different species of crows, mixed with female screams. We had to create different layers of intensity to give them somewhere to build to, but not be too scary since the movie is PG. There are some pretty intense scenes in this film, and with music and sound in the mix it added another dimension of intensity that we had to be conscience of. A “less is more” approach was taken after we did a first pass. We all agreed that it sounded great but it would be way too intense for a PG rating. Chuck Michael and Ai Ling Lee were also in charge of coming up with great sounds for everything from possessed horses, to houses that turn to ice then melt and get swallowed up by giant flocks of Rooks that turn into a huge tidal wave of what the director called “The Apocalypse”, which is what the title “Dark is Rising” refers to. Fun stuff to create.

DS: As a sound supervisor could you describe a typical spotting session with the director and or editor?

CH: I don’t know if there is ever a typical spotting session. I find every film has its own way of living and breathing that permeates how the sound work starts and grows throughout the time we have. I’ve worked with directors that want to sit down and hang, work arm in arm with you, really get into the meat of what sound can bring to the table. I’ve also worked with directors that give a frame-work, or a general idea of what they want to convey, then let me go do my thing, come back and we do playbacks and mini temps to get that dialed in before we hit a dub stage. Beyond spotting, it’s even more important to get your work back into their cutting systems, be it Avid or FCP. When directors and picture editors can live with your sounds for a period of time, I find that they become much more open to exploring ideas of what and where sound can take their film.

DS: During spotting I am sure other films of the same type get referenced as good descriptions for sounds the filmmakers are hoping to have. How do you fulfill the filmmaker’s needs while maintaining originality in your sound design?

CH: Certain films do get citied, of course, but for the most part it’s a frame of reference or the idea that the director would like me to know about. I will distill that into my own ideas and see where it leads. It is a collaborative process and usually as the sound design grows, it becomes its own thing, and the roots and references of the sounds become less and less until you achieve what the director wants, while it still retains an original spin on itself.

DS: Since the story takes an “ordinary boy” on an extraordinary journey, does the sound he perceives, and in effect the sound the audience hears, change once the story starts to unfold?

CH: Absolutely – we start off with Will, and things are “normal” with the visual and with the sound, but as things move along, say for instance the crows start showing up, the sound starts to change, sometimes subtle changes in the BG’s, sometimes more obvious. The journey the boy takes is something that we were very aware of sonically, but it’s also how the film unfolds in terms of story, so in a way the road map is already set, we just had to follow it and enhance it when we could. It was a team effort on this one; Composer Christophe Beck, his editor Fernand Bos, mixers Paul Massey and Dave Giammarco all did fantastic work, as well as the rest of my crew, Helen Luttrel, David Butler, Mike Axinn, Warren Hendriks, John Larsen, John Murray and John Morris. Our Director, David Cunningham had no shortage of ideas. He had very definite things he wanted the sound to get across to the audience and he depended on all departments of sound to come up with things.

DS: Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain.” Just won a DGC(directors guild of Canada) award for sound editing. Darren’s films have always been very sound-centric. How did you end up working on “Requiem” and now two films in, how is he to work with?

CH: Darren is a director that absolutely loves sound, isn’t afraid to take chances, expects his crews to be risk takers and think outside the norm. He’s also around a lot, so instead of watching something together every week, he’d be around everyday, stop in, hang out, discuss ideas, then leave and come back the next day. For “The Fountain” we all worked on one floor together at Sound One in NY Pix Department, Music, Visual FX and Sound Editorial. Ideas were tossed around, back and forth, things were put together within an ongoing temp mix scenario, so by the time of the final mix, things really had time to develop and grow in a natural way. “Requiem”, on the other hand was done with us in Toronto, Brian Emirch (sound designer) in New York and mixed at Skywalker in Marin County. Brian had done “Pi”, which was very low budget and done very independently. From what I can remember, Doug Wilkenson, a Toronto Post Supervisor, was involved with the show, and introduced Nelson Ferreira, Steve Barden and myself to Darren and Eric Watson (producer) as a possible team to work along with Brian. That’s how it initially started; from there Brian and I went off and designed all of the sound effects and Steve and Nelson took care of the Dialog.

DS: What was your first gig like?

CH: My first regular paying gig was doing Cue sheets for a Foley artist named Steve Hammond, at Filmhouse in Toronto. I was doing production sound on shorts and independents during the day and writing out Cue sheets at night. It was an absolutely invaluable experience – from there I learned a lot about how sounds were put
together, how things worked, how the layers added up to make one sound or a series of sounds. It was a great way to see the merging of recording, the gear, etc. and learning the craft; [I learned] how to make the film come alive with sound.

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