Shakespeare inLove

Offering an alternative insight into the working methods ofthe Bard, Shakespeare in Love challenged hard for cinema's most coveted awards. Kevin Hilton goes behindthe scenes

I  N A CINEMA WORLD dominated by special-effects blockbusters, it does the heart good to see two historical costume dramas in the running for clutches of Academy Awards. Most surprisingly, one even challenged the aural armoury of Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line and Armageddon in the Best Sound category. But Shakespeare in Love, in company with Elizabeth (Studio Sound, November 1998), has made history hip and proved what some movie buffs have known for some time--that there does not have to be a conflagration every five minutes for a film to have interesting sound design.

The Best Sound nomination at the Oscars is merely one of 13, a feat more or less duplicated at the BAFTAs. Also challenging the blockbusters were Gwyneth Paltrow for Best Actress, Geoffrey Rush for Best Supporting Actor (to go with the same nomination for his role in Elizabeth), Best Director (John Madden) and overall Best Picture. Last year's multi-nominated, multi-winning Titanic may have had a historical basis, but Shakespeare in Love is also a romantic comedy, a genre that has proved notoriously unrewarding in the awards stakes. To further hamper its chances, it is a British picture, albeit one made with American money.

Still, its quirkiness--which doubtless comes from being scripted by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, whose deconstruction of the Bard goes all the way back to his play and later film, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead--may see it through. The plot: struggling in his career and personal life, Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is stalled on his latest work, Romeo and Ethel, the Sea Pirate's Daughter. Impressed by an elusive actor called Thomas Kent at a premature audition for the play, Shakespeare later falls in love with Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), who inspires his writing. Complications pile up: Viola is betrothed to a lord (guaranteeing the attention of Queen Elizabeth--played by another Oscar nominee, Judi Dench) and is revealed to also be Thomas. As women at that time were forbidden to tread the boards and female parts were taken by men, she disguised herself as a man, prompting the classic line, 'That woman is a woman!'

Shot in entirety at Shepperton Studios--where a replica of the Rose Theatre was built--it was decided to carry out the sound rerecording and a good proportion of the track-laying there as well. This was due to the long-term working relationship between producer David Parfitt, a former business partner of actor-director Kenneth Branagh, and dubbing mixer Robin O'Donoghue, who spent 20 years at Twickenham Studios before moving to Shepperton two years ago. He now works in the Korda Theatre, a dubbing suite that was built around his requirements.

The floor sound was recorded by Peter Glossop, who is noted for his innovative approach to his work. Dialogue was laid down onto the eight tracks of a Tascam DA-88, giving the sound editors and rerecording mixers a choice of the overall boom mic and individual radio mics. This took up seven of the eight tracks, with the eighth for a final mix. For safety, Glossop also backed up onto trusty Nagra. Supervising sound editor John Downer comments on this technique, 'Fifty per cent of the time the mix was great. Other times, we went back to the individual tracks. Overall it gives us a fantastic variety; although it does mean that the dialogue editor [in this case Sarah Morton] has to work through all the different tracks, which is time consuming.'

Robin O'Donoghue adds that this technique gives flexibility in a shoot that was dialogue heavy, where a number of actors would be talking almost all at once. 'On Track 1 of the Hi-8 we had the boom mic,' he says, 'and then the radio mics pre-fader. If an actor popped in a good ad lib or made a nice grunting sound where it wasn't scripted, we still had it pre-fader even if it wasn't picked up properly by the boom.' Downer points out that it works for technical problems as well: 'If there were phasing problems in the mix, with different mics doing different things at different times, we still had the discrete inputs, which is great if you've got the budget for it.'

The result is to limit the amount of ADR work needed at the rerecording stage, although the actors are always booked for this after the main shoot just in case. 'Sometimes there can be crackle on the mics,' says Downer, 'but it's rare. We had very little ADR for a picture of this size, but it was shot anyway. If we hadn't, we would have regretted it.' O'Donoghue estimates that there was 98% original sound on the whole movie.

Postproduction sound started in July 1998 and ran for around 18 weeks. Downer, concentrated on the effects, working with a small team of three--Sarah Morton, ADR editor; Brigitte Arnold; and Foley editor, Howard Eaves--at Anvil Sound Studios, based at the old Denham film studios in Buckinghamshire, before moving to the then Miramax offices in the West End of London and, finally, Shepperton. Each worked on a Waveframe workstation, which has the ability to perform an 8-track auto-conform, rewriting the EDL and selecting what is needed.

'The workstation automatically conforms as is on Track 8,' explains Downer, 'so it's a question of looking and seeing, because, on this kind of film, a lot of the mics cross over each other. Any extra track laying we did was to make the voices come through and make the set sound like it is in the centre of late 16th century London.' Downer adds that John Madden, the director, wanted the audience to be aware of the city when it was appropriate, but, in scenes set in the Rose, he wanted the focus to be on the theatre.

Downer says that Madden was 'very hands on, in terms of what sounds he wanted' and has definite ideas about sound. O'Donoghue, who had not worked with Madden before, confirms this. 'With directors you have worked with before, you know their tastes but with someone like John, you have to find out what they want. When I do the premix balance, which is often done without the director there, I like to have it in pretty good shape for when the director comes in, although it can be adjusted before the rebalance. This stage is useful because you find out what the director likes; for example, I tend to use a lot of reverb and some directors don't like that, they prefer it clean.'

The sound design for Shakespeare in Love is a busy one with, where appropriate, animal noises and plenty of crowds. Post precision extended to working out how many horses were in particular shots and what kind of shouts and calls would be appropriate for theera. This involved Sarah Morton researching through both history and period cookery books to check how life was lived at the time. 'This was all worked out ahead of the rough dub,' says Downer. 'The idea was to make people aware that this was 16th Century England, but not at the expense of the drama. It had to be subtle, not brash--although there were times when we wanted it brash.'

Brashness came at obvious cut points, with the sounds of carts and horses being used to carry across edits. One aspect that is certainly not brash is the use of surround sound. Downer felt that over use of surround would draw attention away from the other elements. 'It would be distracting to have chattering behind the audience,' he explains. 'Surround is generally better for big-bang movies, it's not really appropriate for historical drama.'

O'Donoghue concurs, saying that he does not like 'gimmicky' surround. 'Idon't put anything in the rear that wouldn't be in the front,' he says. 'Inever use discrete sound in one loudspeaker. If you have something like a cheer, the only difference between the left and right ear is a slight time delay. The idea of one sound in, say, the right ear or loudspeaker is unrealistic.'

The sound editors laid back 40 tracks of dialogue, which Downer admits is an unusually large number for this kind of movie. 'There was a lot of choice to be had,' he says, 'from the boom mic, the radios, the floor mix and the ADR.' The effects were organised in eight stereo and eight mono groups, while there were a further 16 tracks of Foley, which occasionally rose to 20. Many of the effects were recorded on location; these were augmented with library recordings, both from commercial CDs and from the archive that Downer has put together from his time working on period productions, which are his speciality.

The first rough dub was mixed to a Waveframe at Anvil, but all subsequent mixes were carried out at Shepperton by O'Donoghue. Ultimately he was left with up to 32 tracks of voices, that had to be balanced and equalised, with reverb added for some scenes, particularly in the Rose Theatre. In addition there were 20 to 30 tracks of atmosphere. All these were divided into three dialogue premixes (the main actors with multitrack reverbs for surround and a hard centre channel), foregrounds, five tracks of crowd noise (plus three of reverbs) and general, less detailed backgrounds and five to six effects premixes.

All this had to be combined with the music, composed by Stephen Warbeck, award winner for his work in the category of Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score. This was recorded and mixed at CTS Studios by engineer Chris Dibble, who is usually based at Lansdowne Studios, part of the same group as the Wembley complex. Sessions took place during October and November 1998 in Studio 1 and continued Dibble's working relationship with Warbeck, whose credits include the Prime Suspect TV series and last year's surprise Oscar nominee, Mrs Brown, also directed by John Madden.

The score features a 70-piece orchestra and was recorded onto the studio's 48-track digital Studer, with discrete surround sound mixes being laid back in 20-bit onto a Genex 8-track magneto-optical recorder. Studio 1 is equipped for 5.1 mixing and is based around ATC loudspeakers. Unlike the model in America, where three mixers concentrate on different elements, O'Donoghue was the sole dubbing engineer, dealing with the dialogue, effects and music. 'It means that I'm not partisan,' he says, 'and the result is like one soundtrack, with the dialogue not drowned out by the music.' However, the music is relatively loud in some sequences, notably a montage where Shakespeare is working on the play and Gwyneth Paltrow is on stage and the end of the film. 'Initially John [Madden] wanted the dialogue to "surf" on top of the music,' recalls O'Donoghue, 'but it was almost impossible to hear both so we came back to a more realistic balance.'

The Korda Theatre is equipped with a Harrison MPC, the second such desk to be installed at Shepperton, and features an Akai DD1500 built into the console and 12 DD8s in the recording room. The room also features magnetic equipment to ensure compatibility and to avoid A&endash;D conversion, the Waveframe tracks were downloaded onto Hi-8 and then to Akai hard disk.

O'Donoghue is a believer in making the first pass of the mix with everyone who should be involved in the process being there. 'We run through the whole reel,' he says, 'which is about 20 minutes long for each these days. This means that we can get a feel for the whole balance, which I automate and record. As everybody's ears are fresh, it means we have a good frame of reference for later, when fader creep might start to occur.'

Robin O'Donoghue says he is very pleased with the final balance, something that was validated by the Oscar nomination (shared with his assistant Dominic Lester and Peter Glossop), which was short-listed by his peers. The question is, as a member of the Academy, for which of his competition did he vote?   
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