After more than 40 years in the Film Industry and 30 years as a Supervising Sound Editor, I have learnt this – if you want to make the Film Industry your career, talk to as many professionals as you can, always display keenness, never be late, never complain about having to work ridiculous hours, learn the basics before you even try to get a job, be humble (you may think that you can do the job better but don’t forget they already HAVE the job) and, above all, learn to make a good cup of tea! Best job in the world!
This is from an article published in Network Nine News written by Eddy Joseph – if you want to subscribe to the magazine contact firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the www.network-nine.com ‘Publications’ page
I left school at 17 with a smattering of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels but no interest in further education. It was thought that, as I was good at mathematics, I would make an acceptable accountant! After less that two years commuting to London and wearing a suit, I left and wandered – somewhat aimlessly – making pork pies, injecting plastic lipstick cases, training as a clerk for the Inland Revenue (oh, the stories I could tell – but I signed the Official Secrets Act!), delivering for the Victoria Wine Company and studying for an HND in Business Studies (didn’t finish that either)
Eventually my Dad, film producer Teddy Joseph, said in exasperation, ‘What DO you want to do?’ Now, I have to say that I had also failed as a singer/songwriter, although I had appeared with Tom and Jerry (later to become Simon and Garfunkel) in a Folk club in Chesham, so my artistic ambitions were severely dimmed. ‘Wouldn’t mind getting into the film industry Dad, like you’.
In June 1967 I was employed as Production Runner on ‘Salt and Pepper’ at Shepperton Studios at £12 a week plus overtime plus holiday credits. It was BRILLIANT! Only problem was, what to do when the shooting was over? A friend I had made in the Shepperton Bar (where else?) called Peter Keen – incidentally a superb sound editor – told me that there was a 2nd assistant picture editor’s job going at MGM Studios in Borehamwood with Archie Ludski and David Grimsdale on Ivan Foxwell’s ‘Decline and Fall of a Birdwatcher’. I turned up not having much clue what a 2nd assistant did but, knowing that I wanted to work in the film industry more than anything else, it was a stepping stone. Whilst hanging around the cutting rooms and reading the script a union organiser (ACTT then, BECTU now) knocked on the door and asked to see my ‘ticket’ (Union card). So by lunchtime on the first day of my new job I was ushered out of the studios. The rule then was ‘you couldn’t get a ticket without a job but you couldn’t get a job without a ticket!’
Another friend I had made at Shepperton told me that Illustra Films, a successful commercials company in Soho, were looking for a trainee assistant editor and, by training in the cutting rooms, I would eventually get my ‘ticket’. Illustra didn’t need a trainee but they did need a bookkeeper! I agreed to sort out their books provided that, when an opening arose in the editing department, I would move across. After a couple of months this happened. I was trained up to assist, to cut Sunday Times commercials, to run around Soho and generally have a great time. A year later I got my ticket, forgot about working on the production side and got a call from John Taylor, a music editor on a TV series at Pinewood Studios called ‘Strange Report’, telling me that they needed a 2nd assistant picture editor. On that series I worked with a wonderful man, Keith Palmer, who later took me as his assistant on both picture and sound projects.
In 1974 I assisted Leslie Hodgson on ‘The Odessa File’ and subsequently, an ITC/RAI TV series ‘Moses the Lawgiver’ starring Burt Lancaster. When all the editors had left, Roger Cherrill (the owner of the Post House) asked me to be the sound editor on the re-cut feature version. The main editor was Gerry Hambling. I assisted him for a few years on films such as ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Fame’. Then in 1981 Alan Parker asked me to be the sound editor on ‘Shoot the Moon’. That was my first film as Supervising Sound Editor and sound editing has been my life for 30 years.
WHAT QUALIFICATIONS ARE NEEDED?
I progressed through a form of apprenticeship. I don’t think that there were any film courses when I started. Unfortunately, the editorial structure has changed since 35mm magnetic and not many sound editors now have the luxury of an assistant – but I learned from watching over the editor’s shoulder and absorbing the knowledge by a form of osmosis.
There are many courses now at film schools and universities that flirt with sound editing and design and some, like the National Film & Television School, which specialise. The problem is always how to leap from the confines of education to the élitism of the cutting room. Luck, application, hard work and more luck are needed – and it is still ‘who you know’ more than ‘what you know’.
To answer the question. There are no specific qualifications required to start sound editing. It would be useful to have a technical background and a working knowledge of ProTools or a similar sound editing tool. A degree, HND or BTEC in some area of sound could be an advantage but is not necessary. Indeed one of the foremost sound designers in the UK left school at 16 and started straightaway in the cutting rooms.
HOW DO YOU HAVE TO INTERACT WITH OTHER DEPARTMENTS?
We couldn’t operate without a close relationship with the editorial department. In fact, it was always the picture editor who chose the sound editor. That isn’t so much the case these days as sound editors can be appointed by the director, producer – or be a part of a post-house package . The sound editor’s loyalty, however, must always be to the director and the picture editor.
We should be able to take the editor’s working track, which may include sound effects that we have already supplied and start from there. The picture assistant should be encouraged to liaise with the sound department whenever changes are made to the picture.
ANECDOTES – PROBLEMS – PRIDE
I was interviewed in the mid 90’s by a director who was looking for a sound editor for his high profile project. ‘I shall expect alternatives for the sound effects’ he said. ‘Oh’ I said ‘you’d better look for someone else. I don’t lay up alternatives’. ‘Why ever not?’ he questioned. ‘Well, when I track-lay the effects that I feel are right for the particular scene, I move onto the next scene. Surely you should employ someone who is confident in their creative ability?’ I got the job, didn’t lay alternatives and was never asked for one!
During the crossover period between magnetic and digital sound, we realised that the new technology was really not tried and tested. We were the guinea pigs. One of the problems was how to keep the projector, the 35mm recording master and the digital play-off tracks in sync. On one film the re-recording mixer and I were so concerned about sync slippage that we transferred out all the dialogue premixes onto 35mm and I spent all night re-cutting those premixes so that they were perfectly in sync with the picture.
‘Angel Heart’, directed by Alan Parker in 1986, was a wonderful film to work on. Apart from it being a fascinating film for sound design, most of the post-production was done in Paris! Although we started the premixes in Elstree, we finalled in Los Angeles at Warner Hollywood Studios. It was my first experience of mixing in Hollywood!
One of the reasons I moved over to sound editing was having the privilege of working with Alan Bell. In 1969 I was the 2nd assistant picture editor on ‘I Start Counting’, a thriller directed by David Greene. The editor, Keith Palmer, brought on Alan Bell two weeks before the end of principal photography to do the sound. This practice has long gone. It is now considered perfectly acceptable to start the sound department after the film has been locked, rarely leaving enough time to think the project through. Alan was a stocky, heavily bearded ex-Merchant Navy man with a penchant for roll-ups and drink. Many drank then – in fact it was normal to have a couple of pints every lunch-time. It didn’t seem to affect efficiency and creative perception! An early scene in the film featured a teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) going into the woods to play in a deserted cottage. In the corridor near Alan’s room I could hear strange bird coos and wing flaps. What Alan was doing was laying pigeon sounds as if they were emanating from the roof of the porch so that whenever Jenny (or anyone else for that matter) went in or out of the cottage the birds would be disturbed. I realised then how important ‘sound’ was to story telling and that one sound could create or destroy a mood.
TECHNIQUES & TECHNOLOGIES
I started working on 16mm and 35mm (both picture and sound), editing in mono on Synchronisers and Moviolas. Sound accuracy (on 35mm) was to one sprocket or 1/96 second. When the mix was complete an Optical 35mm Negative would be shot, processed overnight and, after the print had dried, played back the next day. The last mono film I worked on was ‘Another Country’ in 1983, although I had track-laid and mixed for 6 track Magnetic and Dolby Stereo on ‘Pink Floyd the Wall’ in 1982. The Dolby 2tk Stereo was a fantastic advance which I enjoyed using on ‘Birdy’in 1984.
The first ‘digital’ film for me was ‘Damage’ in 1992. Louis Malle’s sound recordist, Jean-Claude Laureux, decided to record the production dialogues digitally on a DAT machine. Louis requested that the dialogues should be edited digitally. I was offered the sound editor’s job by John Bloom provided that I learned to use a Digital Work Station. I only track-laid one more 35mm magnetic film after that. My first DWS was a DAR 8 track and I stayed with DAR until ‘Cold Mountain’ in 2003 when Walter Murch suggested I should use a ProTools system.
When I started, I was taught how to scrape the magnetic oxide off the track to reduce clicks, sibilance and to create fades. How different it is now! There were also a maximum of 3 sound editors on a film. The sound effects editor supervised with a dialogue editor and a foley (footsteps) editor – each editor had an assistant. Now there can be as many as 10 editors but only 2 or 3 assistants on the big films and there is much more specialisation. There are sound editors known for certain facets of sound for example, vehicles, guns, animals and atmospheres. There are usually 2 dialogue editors, one for production dialogue and the other for ADR. You may get a foley supervisor and several foley editors and, of course, specialist sound designers.
After more than 40 years in the film industry and 30 years as a Supervising Sound Editor, I have learnt this – if you want to make the film industry your career, talk to as many professionals as you can, always display keenness, never be late, never complain about having to work ridiculous hours, learn the basics before you even try to get a job, be humble (you may think that you can do the job better but don’t forget they already HAVE the job) and, above all, learn to make a good cup of tea! Best job in the world!
Eddy Joseph’s credits include: Green Zone – 2010, Nowhere Boy – 2009, Last Chance Harvey – 2008, Quantum of Solace – 2008, Casino Royale – 2006, United 93 – 2006, Corpse Bride – 2005, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory – 2005, King Arthur – 2004, Cold Mountain – 2003, The Life of David Gale – 2003, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone – 2001, Enemy at the Gates – 2001, Angela’s Ashes – 1999, Lost in Space – 1997, Evita – 1996, Michael Collins – 1996, Interview with a Vampire – 1994, Little Buddha – 1993, The Commitments – 1991, We’re No Angels – 1989, Batman – 1989, Angel Heart – 1987, Birdy – 1984, The Killing Fields – 1984, Fame – 1980, Midnight Express – 1978, Sunday Bloody Sunday – 1971, Salt & Pepper – 1968