In doing sound for the war film several different things have to be considered in building a sort of “creative architecture” for your sound design. Usually these will be driven first by the expectations of the Director / Producer and Picture Editor that you are working for. In most cases they will hope to have the sound follow in the path of previous Iconic films or videos such as “Saving Private Ryan”, Blackhawk Down” or “Band of Brothers” – there are many, many great war films that have terrific sound jobs- so you typically are going in to such projects with very high hopes and expectations.
On the films “The Alamo” and “The Great Raid” I was working with the awesomely talented Jon Johnson- We actually had the two films running concurrently with somewhat erratic, but longish schedules. The great benefit to this though was that we were able to keep in a similar mindset for about a one year period to hone the battle sequences which played a fairly significant role in each film.
The Great Raid
The things that were critical in both the Alamo and the Great Raid was to take Jon’s classic axiom “Drama trumps Reality” to a place which would be dynamically satisfying without getting in the way of the story telling- Something that as a film dubs, with all of its collected sound elements, can be a frustrating experience for a sound effects artisan- But it should not be- because we are in the business of making the ideas of the Director and Editor become real- and sometimes our work is not the focal point in a given moment. But, in not knowing what direction the mix will go in, we must prepare our work in a manner which allows the most latitude as a scene is put together by the Re-recording mixers and the Director at the dub.
In the practical sense of how these films were put together- Both films were constructed in a sort of piece-meal manner- with the sound team building scene collections vs reels for much of the pre-temp mix period- these allowed us to make bigger sound design decisions as to the sorts of weapons sounds and other characteristic sound directions we would try and refine to tell our story- My role in both these films as far as editorial work was concerned was to address the bigger battle sequences, which included weapons, impacts and explosions for the most part. All of those ended up being pretty big bits of work, especially background battle effects which were created and laid out in mutliple predubs.
For the Alamo- the Predub assignments were as follows –
- Principal Weapons
- Background Weapons
- Bullet and Cannon bys
- Background Gunfire
- Background Cannons and Explosions
Each of these predubs were 8 channel blocks either mixed to 5.1 + LCR or LCR+LCR+M+M. which were then added to the final mix by Chris Minkler our FX mixer. The track count for each predub tended to run between 24 and 64 channels of source elements.
In developing the sounds for the film “The Alamo”, The team at Fury and Grace was granted the nearly unbelieveable oppertunity to spend about 30 man days on location during filming to record sound effects on and around the set- this was conducted mainly by Miguel Rivera who spent almost 3 weeks at the location outside of Austin Texas recording the actual filming of the Battle of the Alamo and many other scenes which surrounded it. We also did a 7 day trip with Jon, Michael Stearns and myself being on set for the fall of Bexar and the arrival of the Mexican Army for the seige of the Alamo. During this trip we also were able to record live fire weapons and cannons. On top of all that, at the end of production, Jon and I were able to travel back to the location to record explosives that were left over from filming with the Special effects team… Mark Johnson the producer, is a great and insightful guy as far as helping sound out….
If this was not enough, we also did two additional Cannon recording sessions as well as three different rifle sessions here in Los Angeles.
The collection of recordings we were able to bring to bear after this was over 200 hours of fresh, never before heard materials. If you happened to see the Alamo, the detail present is pretty remarkable, it is a shame it had such a narrow amount of interest.
On the film The Great Raid, we had a similar schedule and development curve- but we were unable to do much recording due to the way the post schedule and budget evolved- We were able to convince the producers to arrange a recording session with Paul Brincott, who was the production recordist and the key armorer to go through the weapons used in production- Though these were helpful, the location in Australia which was used for the shoot had a lot of insects which made most of the recordings less than ideal- On the flip side however was the great usefulness of the production and b-roll recordings made during the filming- those sounds provided a nice foundation for the weapons that I designed for the film itself.
On a creative level, one huge issue The Great Raid presented was that (in the story) the Army Rangers were overwhelming to the Imperial Japanese Army opposition force- they had massive firepower and near total surprise- so the element of danger to the the hero force was relatively minimal. This was the case in the historic record as well as the films photography- so in order to make for an exciting engagement, it was important for the Japanese to appear and sound quite fearsome. In most cases, the Japanese weapons looked pretty cool, so providing a “bad-ass” sound for them was not difficult- but when you are cutting between Japanese soldiers with slow firing bolt action rifles, to Rangers with Browning Automatic Rifles, it is obvious who is going to have the bigger sonding weapons….
We will be coming back to this topic later this month…..And taking a look at the films “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”.
Written by Charles Maynes for Designing Sound.