My response to the question: “Oh that’s Sound Post-Production … what got you into that then?” – by Ben Simpson
It wasn’t so much that I was incapable of doing the work at A Level, it was more that I wasn’t in the right state of mind to make a good job of it. I know I can’t be the only one to ever feel this way – too much time spent being talked at rather than to. I suppose the insipid teaching is partly responsible. After I came out with two AS levels in Law and Psychology and an A level in Drama, I felt my time in education was over and so I went into full time work.
The monotonous tedium of jumping from job to job got old all too quickly and all I knew was that I wanted to be involved in music, creating it, producing it and making it sound like the tracks I’d admired for so long. I decided that now was the best time to ‘follow my dreams’ (kind of) so I enrolled in a BTEC course in Music Technology. Three tutors in particular were very encouraging and kept pushing my limits, which I loved because it gave me a challenge that high school never could. It was the best experience I’d ever had in education – apart from Reception because you could just mess around in the sand pit all day; you do that now and people think you’re odd.
It was during this course that I did my first post-production module and knew that I’d found what it was I wanted to do with my life. It had never occurred to me before that sound should be recorded separately from where the film was shot. It sounds silly to me now obviously, but not many people will believe you when you tell them that, for example, 98% of the sounds in ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ were created entirely separate from the filming. Foley and composition were the main parts of post-production that stood out for me. I got to write music and also create some natural effects with weird and wonderful techniques, such as kicking a bin in various ways with different things in it to create the sound of an exploding tank. It’s all about layers – like an ogre.
From here I managed to convince an award-winning director to let me compose some music for his short film ‘Grotto’. By this time the film was already picture locked and so I asked if he would give me a few days to compose something to it and if he didn’t like it, then at least he would know he made the right decision. From what I can gather, it is now being made into a feature length film, which is awesome. I wasn’t as confident with Foley back then as I am now and so I didn’t dare apply for that role too and potentially ruin it! Though with hindsight (being 20/20), it would have been well worth just trying to get involved in it somehow because although I wouldn’t have been able to contribute all that much, I might have been able to help now and again and would have learned a lot. Sometimes though, you want to make a splash when you do something for the first time instead of just wading in slowly from the shallow end and have everyone think you can’t do full lengths of butterfly. My plan was to get good behind closed doors, then kick it down like ironman with the sound effects to boot!
I worked so hard at college that I got the best possible grades, showing me at least, that not all intelligence is measured in academia, and the value of a person in society should not be forever coupled to the measure of how well they could regurgitate what they were told as a teenager. As Albert Einstein said, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on how well it can climb a tree, it’ll go through it’s whole life thinking it’s an idiot.”
I chose to go on to University to do a Music Production BA, knowing I could specialise in post-production, and doing so for my second year as well as for my final year project. I have been taking every opportunity, which has lead me to talking to some of the top Foley artists in the industry for advice and insight, get advice from seasoned professionals by the sheer luck of going into the right church just to ask if I could record some Foley in there for the ambience, be the composer for a excellent final year film project for the Leeds Beckett Film School, be a Foley artist for a TV series pilot that is currently – at the time this is written – filming, record the Leeds Symphony Orchestra and write this article – all alongside my work for my final year. To get the composition job I used my old trick of “give me a few days and I’ll send you something over, I know I can deliver what you’re wanting.” This time it wasn’t picture locked so I couldn’t sync the music to the picture, I just had to capture the feel of the whole thing by reading the script over and over and listening to what the director and producer were saying they wanted. It works, for me, like an inverted mind map. The centre is the goal and I have to use my knowledge surrounding it to get there, as opposed to expanding outward endlessly.
University – although ‘expensive’ – has been one of the best ways to get to know people in the industry, so that’s the route I’ve gone. I was the antipode of a typical student, I think I went out ‘on the town’, so to speak, only once. To be honest though, I really dislike drinking, being deafened by endless dubstep and ‘dancing’ around sweaty drunken strangers anyway, so it worked out for the best!
However, I believe that because I’ve worked hard it has given me confidence in my abilities. I can demonstrate and discuss what I do and why I do it, meaning when I apply for positions and opportunities, I do so more positively and with more equanimity. That is one of the most important lessons I have learnt from University. The grade is mostly in the justification. If you can’t justify why you’ve done something creative then it can be confusing, but if you can, then it becomes more understandable and shows off your creativity in the light you intended. Think of all that modern art – an unmade bed was one I believe, as was a light switch and a bin full of make-up – it’s how it was justified that made it artistic.
The way of the creative industries is that no one is “the best”. Ask a group of people who is the best actor is and I’d wager it’ll be a while before you get a repeated answer … unless it’s the morning after the Oscars when “Best Actor” has just been awarded – but again, that’s the opinion of a certain group of people – and why would their opinion change yours? What I’m trying to say by bringing up subjectivity and justification is that I’ve found that you can have sound coming from a spaceship whilst in space, you can have elephants shaking the ground with their steps and you can have longbows creaking when arrows are drawn, as long as it makes sense with the film.
I am confident that – with this work ethic – I can continue to be part of wonderful projects, each of them improving my knowledge and making me more and more pleased to have dropped out of work to go after what made me happy. So I tinker around on a piano making nice sounds for brilliantly creative films and it seems my journey through education has come full circle, because ironically enough, I spend a large number of my days messing around in sand pits after all … and I don’t care if people think I’m odd, I love it!
The author’s self-portrait