Zheng Jia did not always plan on being a sound editor. She spent most of her young life working towards a career in computer sciences. However, when she realized she wanted to pursue something different, she started exploring as many career options as possible, and filmmaking kept coming back to her. It gave her the power to tell stories, to change lives for the better, and to share her work with the world. After starting to watch films for more than simply entertainment, she began to realize the power of sound. It has the ability to completely transform a scene, to take it to a new level. She would be storytelling, bringing out emotions with her work, and she was intrigued. It was this realization that put Zheng on the path to greatness, as she is now an internationally sought-after sound editor.
With an outstanding reputation, Jia has come a long way from that girl who didn’t know what to do with the rest of her life. She has worked with some of the world’s largest production companies and on many popular film and television projects. She is currently working with NBC Universal on their long-running show Law & Order: SVU, and her esteemed resume features many more hits. Earlier this year, Zheng worked with Warner Brothers on the upcoming film Luna, and once again, she has proven what a force she is as a sound editor.
“It was an absolutely amazing experience working with Warner Brothers, and truly a privilege to be able to work with the most experienced post production crew, alongside close filmmaker friends. I got to experience the freedom of great communication and artistic collaboration with talented filmmakers that I’ve known for years, and also got to go through the strict disciplined post-production schedule and protocol through one of the most professional film studios. It was also a great feeling to know that the whole studio system was there supporting the entire journey for us filmmakers and we could always communicate and work closely together towards any potential issues and obstacles. Our main goal was always the same: to create great art,” said Jia
Luna is set in 1930s Shanghai, China. It follows the famous prostitute Luna, who offers to play a gambling game with an unexpected guest. As the attraction between the two builds, both of their undercover political identities unravel, leading to unexpected consequences.
Zheng’s worked as the dialogue editor for the film. She was in charge of the whole audio build-up from the human voice perspective. All the crowds in different locations (on the street, inside the brothel) needed to be created from scratch. Because of the unique texture of the story, everything needed to be in Mandarin with a certain accent and in the certain location. To do this, Jia collected many Mandarin sound footage from past projects and from her own personal collection, and put them together piece by piece in order to create the perfect tune for a 1930s Shanghai brothel back in that era, which was a key point of the whole story. Her work was invaluable.
“Working with Zheng was a great experience. Firstly, she gave us constructive suggestions on sound recording before we started shooting. The story takes place in 1930s Shanghai but we shot it on Warner Bros. back lot. To make the story sound real, we needed a lot of effects to recreate the environment of 1930s Shanghai. Finding them in the United States was nearly impossible, so Zheng got them from her own collection,” said Xu Zhang, Director of Luna. “She has a lot of experience, skill, and work ethic, which make her one of the best at what she does.”
Luna is Warner Bros. first production that is fully produced and presented in Chinese Mandarin, with with a Chinese main cast and crew, telling a Chinese story, with a strong Chinese female lead character. As a Chinese female filmmaker herself, there wouldn’t have been a better fit than Luna for Jia. After, Zhang and writer/editor Mei Liying approached her to be a part of their project, knowing that they needed a talented sound editor due to the nature of their film, Jia was immediately on board.
The film required not just a good sound editor, but one that also was fluent in Mandarin. Although that is the language of the film, the lead actress was not fluent. There were many takes with good acting, but not a completely authentic accent. This is where Jia’s extraordinary talents truly shine. She had to go through multiple takes to find lines that would match the performance, and string them together flawlessly. To do this, Jia had to have full knowledge of the certain dialect in that region in China, back in the day, in that specific location or situation, with the very specific crowds and groups and everything human voice related. Such a task is normally daunting and time consuming, but Jia turned everything around in two days.
“Especially for Western audiences and Western crew members including Warner Brothers studio producers and other staff, my work was their direct way of experiencing a world that is vastly different from the nowadays Western World, and that was immediately affecting their whole emotional experience when watching it. I worked closely with Xu and Mei in order to pick up and fix the subtlest places of the dialogue in creative ways in order to keep the performance authentic while still making sure that culturally or language-wise everything still made sense,” Jia described.
Besides the technical part of dialogue editing, Jia was in charge of creating the human voice environment for the crowded brothel, with different groups of people – men, women, laughter, flirting, drunk conversation, polite, higher-class small talk, etc. in order to make the whole story as authentic as possible. To achieve that, she went through all of her sound library collections, and even went out and recorded some authentic materials herself. Eventually, she was able to build up the whole brothel environment, and it sounds remarkable.
The film premiered at Warner Bros Studios in May. It will begin making its film festival run soon, and there is little doubt that not only will Luna be a tremendous success, but Jia’s sound editing will receive acclaim from both critics and audiences alike.
“This project itself was a great pleasure to work on. Xu and Mei created such a great story and characters that were so very intriguing and authentic, and as Chinese filmmakers, it was an absolute honor and great presentation to be able to work on a great project featuring strong female minority lead in a major Hollywood studio,” she concluded.
Audiences can also look forward to Jia’s work on the small-screen in the upcoming CW series Life Sentence. It’s a dramedy, very different from the sound editor’s previous work. Be sure to check it out next year.