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Children of Men

Andy Martin:
Just having seen Children of Men yesterday. I'd like to take this opportunity to offer up a huge, gigantic bow of the head, honorific handshake and kudos to Richard Beggs and the entire sound team of Children of Men. Is there anyone out there who has the ability to shove an internet-connected computer in front of Mr. Beggs so that he could talk about this project?

I'd love to hear about how many choices originated from the sound team and how much originated with Alfonso Cuaron and the screenplay?from the melding of tinnitus- ringing with music to the barking dogs in the birth scene to just the marvelous silences throughout?

This is one film I will be watching and listening to many times again in the future.

Randy Thom:
Finally got around to seeing Children of Men, and I agree with Andy about the high quality of the sound work. Very fine work, Mr. Beggs.

I also can't resist pointing out that the scenes in which the sound design shines are:

1) ones which have little or no music
2) ones where dialog is sparse

Most directors would have filled these scenes with bombastic score and expositional dialog. To their credit, Mr. Cuaron and the screenwriters resisted that temptation. Score was used in moments when it could contribute something that sound effects couldn't contribute. Hooray!

Not a great film in my opinion, certainly not in the class of Blade Runner, which I've seen it compared to, but my hat is off to the decision makers on Children of Men who set it up for sound design to make a significant statement, and to Beggs and his team who took good advantage of those opportunities.

How could I have forgotten to mention #3?

3) The key sound design sequences were shot in POV style, the shaky camera having been placed and moved in ways that suggest the point of view of a human participant in the action.

Any film sequence with the holy trinity of sparse dialog, sparse music, and pov visuals is almost guaranteed to be a sound design tour de force. In the hands of a master like Beggs it is guaranteed.

And, the rather brilliant shot /sequence in the Fiat Multipla chase.. still figuring out how on earth they did that, since the cam almost never leaves the car....

Mark Kilborn:
I saw CoM at some point in December, but I've been so busy with work that I haven't had a chance to check in with the list here. This was easily the best sounding film I saw all year. The design work was incredible, and the mix was surprising at the very least. I couldn't believe how much was going on in the surround, and I'm happy that they weren't afraid to break the "exit sign rule."

Andy Martin:
what is the "exit sign rule"?

Mark Kilborn:
That you shouldn't put too much in the surrounds for fear that the listener will stop focusing on the screen. I was told in school that it shouldn't be broken. Then again, you know what they say about rules...

Randy Thom:
I think it refers to the generally accepted "rule" (which has never actually been a rule) in film mixing that it's dangerous to put too much sound or certain kinds of sound (like principal dialog) into the surrounds (where the exit signs in the rear of the theater are), or at least exclusively in the surrounds.

In my opinion, whatever seems to serve a dramatic purpose for the scene and the film should be considered, regardless of conventions and traditions. On the other hand, if a certain technique calls too much attention to itself then maybe it's not a good idea. But putting dialog heavily in the surrounds has worked very effectively on some films whose stylized visuals have opened the door for it. I'd put Strange Days and Children of Men near the top of that list.

On the other hand, if a certain technique calls too much attention to itself then maybe it's not a good idea.

David Steinwedel:
In some instances it seems like a 'chicken and egg' sort of thing. Imagine a scene where the actor on-screen is looking at somebody placed directly 'behind' the audience.

Most of the time that person 'behind us' would still have dialogue placed in the center, albeit with some form of filtering. Putting the dialogue directly behind the audience would draw attention to itself and away from the film--But only because the audience isn't used to it.

Randy Thom:
If the scene is cut so that there are alternating reverses that can be a problem. Having a character's voice jumping back and forth between front and back (or left and right) can seem cheesy, gimmicky, distracting, etc. But it depends on many factors, the main one being how "experimental" the overall style of the film is. If it's the kind of film that is breaking "rules" anyway, then anything might be appropriate.

Andy Martin:
And I'm sitting right next to you, Dave. An excellent example would probably be the "Oh, George" THX logo in which the THX repairman flies back to do some tinkering behind the audience's heads. His dialog/ voice is only heard before he flies back, but given that we are led to believe (by the SFX) that he's back there doing something it would be shocking to hear his voice emanating from the middle speaker when we know he's behind us.

Christian Conrad:
I think since in everyday experience we are blinking with our eyes all the time, so we are very used to edits/cuts in the/our picture. But if some sound is jumping in direction it makes us feel very unconfortable, because we do not know this experience in real life. Panning along with POV shots is something closer to our normal experience, like the way the sound changes when we turn our head, that is why it probably works best.

David Evans:
The panning in Children OF Men really works best when it was predicated upon the POV camera movements . When ever we were following a pan about the landscape , what was originally in the front of the audience could then track the pan and move to the rear. This does happen many times throughout the film, as many scenes were presented in a single take format . In these moments the camera is acting as if it is the microphone as well as the camera . This approach may be much easier for an audience to deal with as it is predicated upon visuals that support the change in audio

The director from very early on , wanted to experiment with the movement of sound within the theatre . There was an intensive amount of evaluation and discussion of each scene to determine if the panning was interfering with the telling of the story . Throughout the entire post process the degree and frequency of the panning was constantly de-evolving , starting out very extreme, and ending where it is now in the finished track .


"Children of Men" thread started Jan 14, 2007 at Sound Design discussion list

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