Name: Stuart Wilson
Occupation: Sound Mixer
Describe your job.
I was the sound mixer on SKYFALL. I record the sounds happening in front of the camera; dialogue mostly, then cars, motorbikes, helicopters, footsteps etc. I have a team that works with me and I decide how we’ll cover a scene, what microphones to use and so on. A lot of the job is actually getting rid of the sounds we don’t want. In real life your brain focuses on what you want to hear, but that selective process doesn’t exist on a recording so we have to do it for you.
Is there a recognised career path in your industry?
People work as assistants or volunteers on shoots. I started knocking on the doors of production companies and got a job carrying boxes and making tea. I did that for a while and eventually got onto a training scheme. It’s not essential to have audio engineering qualifications but it helps. I think working with as many people as possible is great and sometimes I wish I’d had the chance to work with more people as an assistant, as it’s really valuable to see how other people approach things.
How much of the sound recorded on the day of filming was used?
Most of the dialogue was used. Sometimes there are circumstances that make it impossible to get usable sound, but we were fortunate on SKYFALL to be able to get most of it. If the director cares about getting good sound on the day, as Sam does, then we’re half-way there. The actors and director work so hard to get the performances just right at the time of shooting that they don’t want to have to recreate it in a studio later.
What sort of pre-production did you do for SKYFALL?
A key part is the costumes; finding ways to hide microphones without spoiling the iconic styling, trying to get fabrics that won’t rustle and spoil the sound. This is something that has to develop over weeks as costumes become ready. The script also meant that at different points in the story we had to rig communication between Bond and the various other characters: Eve in the field, Q in the new HQ and M and her staff at MI6. Sam wanted to have these links working live as much as possible, or at least with me playing back the selected performances of the off-screen actors for those on-screen to interact with. They would also need earpieces that looked cool! From reading the script and talking with the director, I knew we wanted the audience to feel in among the action, so we planed our equipment accordingly to be lightweight and portable for those sequences.
Is there anything to do when the filming stops?
We try to record every set and location when it’s empty. If the editor wants to prolong a moment between lines of dialogue you need some quiet background sound to fill that hole. We had a scene in the catacombs underneath London and we went down early and played what we call a ‘frequency sweep’ to capture how each frequency reflects off the space. That way, if you do have to record any additional dialogue, or even footsteps, you can apply that same reverberation to those sounds.
What was the biggest challenge on SKYFALL?
It’s a delicate balance to be close enough to the action to capture it vividly without invading performance. In the Sound Department you need to be there but not there at the same time. You need to prepare all you can, then step back and let the cast take the stage feeling free to do whatever they want to in the scene, while we try and keep it all working at the recording end… and make it look effortless!
Any highlights from the shoot?
There are those great iconic lines that you know are going to be heard and quoted for years to come – that’s a thrill, to get to record these for posterity!