It’s still Paul Davies’ month here at Designing Sound and now is the time to dig into one of Paul’s most celebrated works: Hunger.
This 2008 film tells the story of the fierce battle between the Irish Republican Army and the British state, which in 1981 led to a hunger strike in which 10 IRA prisoners died. A haunting, intense drama that has received worldwide acclaim – it premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, winning the prestigious Camera d’Or award for first-time filmmakers. It was also a major breakthrough for the lead star, Michael Fassbender. Paul Davies talks about the film’s extraordinary stark soundtrack:
Designing Sound: How did you get involved in Hunger?
Paul Davies: My initial contact for the film was the producer Laura Hastings-Smith, who I’d worked with before, on a film called The Lives of the Saints, directed by Rankin, the well-known British photographer. Laura, because of my work on this film, suggested me and Richard Davey (who had been the re-recording mixer on Rankin’s film) as the sound team for Hunger. I went for a meeting with Steve, which went well, and subsequently we were appointed as the sound post team for the project.
DS: The director Steve McQueen has a background in video art. How did that influence his filmmaking, particularly the use of sound?
PD: As you say Steve has a background in film and visual art, however my relationship with him was no different than with any of the other directors I have worked with in the past. Steve related to me as a narrative filmmaker, and not as a fine artist. The only time I was really aware of Steve’s fine art background was in our initial meeting which happened before the film had been shot and he showed me his visual reference book, which contained images of renaissance paintings and contemporary photographs from the period of the hunger strike. After this Steve’s concerns were with narrative and atmosphere, and how we were going to convey the emotion of the story in sound and images.
DS: How was your working process and your schedule on the project?
PD: As I indicated in the earlier section I had read the script and had a meeting with Steve about the conceptual approach before filming began. After this, because the film was actually shot in two sections three months apart, to allow Michael Fassbender the lead actor to lose weight, I saw a cut of the first two thirds of the film, before the second shoot and then saw a couple of versions of the complete film before starting work on the sound design with my assistant sound designer Chu-Li Shewring.
The sound post process started with a detailed spotting session with Steve and the picture editor Joe Walker, Joe had also compiled his own sound notes which acted as a basis for the sound design. Already from the cutting copy Steve and Joe’s intentions regarding the minimal use of music and the use of production sound effects recorded by Mervyn Moore the location sound recordist, provided a clear template for us to follow. The actual time we had for sound editing was actually quite short, four weeks each for me, Chu Li and Peter Shaw the dialogue editor. Fortunately Mervyns’ tracks were very well recorded and provided a firm foundation for us to build the sound design upon and also meant that we only had to record minimal ADR. Tim Alban recorded and edited the foley, which also provided a crucial element in the sound design. We knew that much in the way we had worked on Lynne Ramsay’s films we would want to be able to foreground well recorded Foley in the mix so as to “zoom” in to the characters in the film, to draw closer to them and feel their physical presence.