No two jobs are ever quite the same when it comes to working in sound post-production in Ireland. It’s one of the things that sound editors Niall Brady and Steve Fanagan enjoy most about their work at Ardmore Sound and Screen Scene. It’s a work environment that has often seen them shift between big-budget and low-budget productions; from long projects worked on over a number of months; to others delivered over a couple of weeks – and always to the highest of standards.
While IFTA-winning ‘Albert Nobbs’ has won recent plaudits for the team at Ardmore Sound and Screen Scene, their work on the Emmy-nominated and hugely popular first season of ‘Game of Thrones’ has also been highly praised, not least by the show’s viewers. Recent online reviews of the Blu-Ray disc of the series are notable for their praise of the show’s sound.
Both Brady and Fanagan worked as part of a large team of sound editors and mixers on ‘Game of Thrones’ that included Garrett Farrell, Peter Blayney, Michelle McCormack, Michelle Fingleton, Jon Stevenson, Fiadhnait McCann, Caoimhe Doyle, Eoghan McDonnell, Jean McGrath, and Aza Hand. All were led by British-based supervising sound editor Stefan Henrix, sound designer Andy Kennedy and sound re-recording mixer Mark Taylor on the large-scale project that stands out in the recent memory of both Brady and Fanagan.
“For me on that show, the great thing about it was the level of detail we were encouraged and allowed to do on the show because HBO demand such a high-end delivery that is really top quality. People are really taken aback by the level of detail. For me that’s what that show was all about. We had a big team working on it. You know, to do one hour (of the show) I had three weeks and all I did was cut effects. Steve was working on foley and fx editing. You had someone else on dialogue and then Andy was in England doing sound design. So you had a lot of people with a lot of time to create a very detailed and full world. And that for me was the most exciting thing about ‘Game of Thrones’ and what I remember from working on it.
“In ‘Game of Thrones,’ there was no detail too small that we couldn’t add. You were creating a world that doesn’t exist; that only existed in the books or in people’s imagination. So we’d whole worlds to create and the screen was always packed with extras doing interesting things in the background, like passing in the background and hammering; scraping things; dragging wooden carts. There was all sorts going on and there was nothing too small that we couldn’t add to help that world. And it’s paid off because people are recognising that it’s a great sounding show.”
Fanagan adds: “I had a really good time working on the dragons towards the end of the last episode on ‘Game of Thrones’. That was a really interesting challenge because you are slowly seeing the picture develop and come together because obviously they didn’t have dragons on-set the day that they filmed. So those are things that that they made in post-production by VFX.
“The visual effects are slowly developing and we were developing our sounds along with them. It’s not something that I did on my own, which is what's great about working as part of a large team on a job like this. There are other people involved and it was really a great collective and creative experience trying to figure out what this thing would sound like when it screams, because they were baby dragons rather than big dragons. So that was really interesting. I think throughout the show we had a good time with it. There were some really unusual sequences, places and creatures in the series, it was a huge, fun challenge for everyone figuring out what these things should sound like from the point of view of foley, sound fx and sound design. I mean what does a direwolf sound like? It was fun for us all figuring out things like that with Andy and Stefan.”
While ‘Game of Thrones’ may have been fun for the team at Ardmore Sound to work on, the continuing experience of working on such major global productions is invaluable, not only to Fanagan and Brady, but to the Irish sound post-production industry in general. Working on some of the biggest shows in the world will not only keep Irish sound editors at the top of the game, but will also give them learning experiences they’ll invariably pass on to younger sound editors starting out.
“That’s for sure,” says Brady in agreement. “I think it’s really important in as much as every film or TV show is different, and every production you go to is different and has different aspirations or budgets. What’s really nice about Screen Scene and Ardmore is that there’s a continuity of experience of people who are working on projects all the time. So you’re always bringing that level of experience to the next job no matter what the budget. So delivering the high-end stuff is exciting, but it’s also very rewarding being able to bring that experience too every project after it. And each project definitely informs the next project. You never stop learning. You never get to a place where you know it all in sound post production.”
“I agree,” adds Fanagan. “Every project helps inform the next one. For me, on ‘Game of Thrones,’ it was great to work with people we hadn’t worked with before such as Stefan, who was the sound supervisor, and Andy who was the sound designer. They are both English-based sound editors and both had worked on some really huge shows in film and TV before that such as ‘Generation Kill’ and ‘Batman Begins.’ So they brought a wealth of experience and a work flow that was different to how we worked and I think has informed how we worked on ‘Albert Nobbs’ and have worked since.”
So with sound effects editors having added foot-falls to add tension in ‘Albert Nobbs’ and created sounds for dragons and direwolfs that never existed outside a reader’s imagination, is sound 50 per cent of the movie and TV experience?
“Our focus is on sound so for us, it is very important,” says Brady, “but really 100 per cent of the experience is story. I often refer to ‘Once’. I did the sound edit on that and that had the shortest edit I’ve ever done. I just cut the production track, there was no additional effects added. I did the cut in three weeks. You know, it was a very simple track and that was on John’s (Carney - director) insistence and in the case of that film he was completely correct about it.
“He said ‘I don’t want to fill this world with surround information. It’s a low budget movie. I just want a production track’ and he was correct in that sense for this film. There was very little spent on it in a production values kind of way but it was one of the biggest movies that year relative to its size. What that showed, is that in the end it is essentially all about story and whether an audience connects with it. That’s the important thing and we can only hope that what we do help tells that story, and adds to it.”
Fanagan interjects too firmly put to bed the argument. “All that we can ever do,” he says, “is re-enforce the story that the director is trying to tell. That’s what good sound does, I think. It helps to tell the story that's onscreen, which comes from the work of everyone involved in a film's creation in all the departments in pre-production, production and post production. You can’t create 50 per cent of the experience with sound, if the all of the other aspect of the film aren't there!"
Steve Fanagan and Niall Brady work as part of a large sound post-production team in Ardmore Sound and Screen Scene. They are currently working on director Lenny Abrahamson’s ‘What Richard Did.’