Tag Archives: Sound

Sound Editor Jingjue Zhou works with Narval Films on impactful new film ‘Pier Las Vegas’

Sound. It is 50 per cent of the movie watching experience. A simple rain drop to a massive explosion would not be made possible without the hard work of the sound editors behind-the-scenes that work tirelessly to create an authentic sound that allows audiences to be immersed by what they are taking in on screen. China’s Jingjue Zhou knows this better than most. This celebrated sound editor has worked on all genres of movies and television shows and is always refining her talents. She is a true storyteller, using sound to subtly enhance a script, creating drama and emotion through the sense in a beautiful and natural way.

Whether taking in her work at SeaWorld Orlando’s “Sesame Street Land” interactive game plays, or through award-winning films such as Spring Flower, millions around the world have appreciated Zhou’s extraordinary sound work. Her versatility and commitment to storytelling through sound make her a force to be reckoned with in the industry, and despite her success, she remains committed to her craft, simply enjoying what she does.

The highlight of her esteemed career came when working with Narval Films LLC. She has worked on several films for the renowned production company, including the documentary Road to Olympia, which tells the story of a Chinese bodybuilding athlete. Long Wu is a celebrity athlete with millions of fans on social media. He is the first Chinese IFBB pro card holder and first Chinese to compete professionally in Olympia.  It’s a story about his career journey over the past 10 years. The film was broadcast on China Central Television, the biggest TV platform in China, and the social media platform Weibo, achieving 1.5M views and 6.9K likes.

“From this film, I got to learn all the hardships Long Wu has been through and the essence of success in one’s career. Long Wu, though successful, is still very humble, hardworking and extremely self-disciplined. I am proud to be on the team telling this story so more people can get to know such a cool person and sport,” said Zhou.

Zhou’s favorite project with the production company, however, is the film Pier Las Vegas. The story is about Gao Xing, a hearing-disabled and vocally impaired person from a small town in China, who works as an ordinary housekeeper at a Las Vegas casino hotel, and always rummages through the guests’ luggage secretly while cleaning the room to search for clues about his sister who was adopted by an American family long ago. However, Gao’s life changes one afternoon when a massive shooting occurs at the music festival outside of the hotel.

“This fictional story takes place during the real life event of the tragic Las Vegas mass shooting. The people killed are not numbers. They have their own life stories and families. The movie is a portrait of one of them. It’s a powerful story that helps people remember those who die in these events and reflects on our society,” said Zhou. “What’s the problem and how can we change it? This film evokes those questions.”

Pier Las Vegas is a drama with an experimental storytelling style. It is directed by Yun Xie, a talented Chinese director. Her award-winning movie Truth or Dare has had a very successful theatrical release all over China. Zhou was happy to work with her on such an important film as Pier Las Vegas.

The sound editing in the film is very heavy and challenging as the main character is constantly in and out of a dream state. Zhou had the chance to play with lots of interesting plug ins and synthesizers to generate her own sound palette.

“It’s fun and challenging when it comes to sound editing for dreamy sequences. The director always said to me that it was my moment to shine. We wanted to create a feeling of being out of place in these dream sequences. We were really happy that all the sound came organically to make the audience feel the same way the character feels,” said Zhou.

Zhou’s hard work more than paid off as Pier Las Vegas has seen immense success all over the world. The film premiered in China’s top art house film festival earlier this year and has been an Official Selection at six prestigious festivals so far. It was also nominated for several awards, and Zhou is thrilled to see where it will go next.

“I am so happy it got the recognition internationally, especially in my home country of China. It’s selected to be in the competition of First International Film Festival, taking place in Xining. Every year, all the top artists and first-class Asian film committees will attend this film festival. Some people tell me that my sound work helped them so much on understanding the style and story of the movie, and that couldn’t make me happier,” she concluded.

 

By John Michaels
Photo by Tianyi Wang

Chen Xu gets his hands “dirty” while creating sound for ‘The Shaft’

In 1999, Chen Xu dedicated himself to watching approximately 1,000 movies in order to absorb as much information as possible about sound design and sound mixing within the film industry. Interestingly enough, the overwhelming lesson that he learned was that regardless of a film’s genre or budget, a good sound design could always supplement a film’s visual stimuli and boost the viewer’s imagination beyond this imagery. Sound design has the ability to change the entire viewing experience and Xu felt confident that he possessed the skill set and creativity to be able to take any visual film component and take it to the next level with the addition of his sound design. Since then, he has earned a substantial amount of recognition for his talents, not only in the form of awards, but also in sheer demand for his work. Fortunately for Xu, sound design and sound mixing are a lifelong passion and he is one of the few people in this world who can say that they get to do what they truly love and call it “work.”

“Sound is not as specific as the film’s picture; however, it tends to be integral to our subconscious mind. The delicate organization and arrangement of sounds can greatly enhance a movie. On the surface, it appears to be a mere aid to the picture but in reality, the space and importance of the sound creation typically accounts for over half of the film. This gives me a sense of freedom in my work to express my own creativity. That’s where I really like sound,” said Xu.

Throughout his remarkable career, Xu has used his sound design and sound mixing expertise to enhance the scripts of a number of renowned films such as A Simple Goodbye and The Wasted Times. For his work on The Summer Is Gone, Xu received a nomination for Best Sound Effects Award at the 53rd Golden Horse Film Festival. For Xu, however, receiving awards and nominations are simply a bonus to being able to mix and design sounds for a living. In fact, the true highlights of his career come to life when he gets to work on projects enriched with culture and meaning. This is why, in 2015, when Xu was approached about working on The Shaft, he could not refuse.

The Shaft, which has earned over a dozen international awards, follows three intertwined stories of a father, a son, and a daughter fighting to hold onto hope and family as they face the harsh realities embedded within life in a poor Western-Chinese mining town. The story illuminates a number of complicated relationships hidden beneath the community’s hardened exterior and when Xu first read the film’s script, he knew it was something he had to be a part of. Xu credits the film’s realistic script as being the main draw to accepting this challenge. This meant that for the film, Xu would be in charge of all sound-related work, from production mixer to sound design to final mixing during the film’s post-production phase.

What Xu hadn’t necessarily anticipated when accepting the opportunity to work on The Shaft, was just how harsh the conditions would be. Due to the fact that the film deals with miners, many scenes were shot deep underground and as a result, Xu was tasked with ensuring that the film’s sounds remained as clear as possible given the setting constraints. In addition, the actors insisted on shooting their own scenes despite dangerous conditions, and therefore, Xu had to accompany them in the mines to shoot their scenes. Oftentimes, he would be covered in particles of soot at the end of a shoot. To his director’s appeal, Xu masterfully captured the realistic texture of the town and the state of those living within its conditions through his sound mixtures. In addition, he chose to enhance the importance of the film’s sound design by only using music at the conclusion of the film. In addition, he managed to capture the unique, untouched atmosphere of Guizhou Province in China. Given the fact that Guizhou Province has not yet fully integrated into the fast-growing Chinese economy, he knew that it would be extremely important to ensure that audiences could grasp the authenticity of the film’s location.

Where some sound designers may have found themselves intimidated by the challenges presented when working on The Shaft, Xu found himself energized by the opportunity to experiment in new areas of his art form and to help his colleagues tell this story in the most interesting fashion possible. The film’s director, Zhang Chi, requested that Xu stray away from the typical, clear-cut sound design principles and create a more “dirty” sound arrangement. This, however, did not require Xu to simply arrange the film’s sound elements, but to do so in an intentionally disorderly manner. Chi felt as though this would help to enhance the film’s objectivity. He did not want to criticize the characters, nor did he wish to sympathize with them. He wanted to present the world with an understanding of the social realities embedded within the Chinese culture today and to do so in a way that would resonate with his audiences.

In the coming year, Xu will take charge of the sound mixing and design for two feature length films and hopes to continue spreading his talents throughout the sound editing industry for years to come. To anyone else looking to pursue a career in sound mixing and sound design, Xu offered the following advice:

“Sound design and mixing is a very creative but oftentimes relatively boring job. If you want to become a good sound designer, you must first be able to endure loneliness and genuinely love movies, so that you can always maintain the vitality of your creation,” told Xu.

 

Written by Sean Desouza

Sound editor Zheng Jia transports audiences to 1930s China in upcoming film ‘Luna’

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Zheng Jia at Luna premiere

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.

Sound designer Randolph Zaini talks award-winning film “Paper Tiger”

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Sound Designer Randolph Zaini

Only someone who is truly passionate about what they do can talk about it the way that Randolph Zaini speaks about sound design. He explains the intricacies and nuances to the craft as if they are the elements in his poem. Sound design is more than a passion to him; it is a lifestyle, and it is one that he loves living.

When working on the award-winning film Paper Tiger, Zaini showed audiences around the world what he is capable of. The film went to several international film festivals after premiering at the 2015 New Filmmakers Festival, and won the IndieFeast Award, Award of Recognition 2016. The film is also in discussion of being distributed through SCA channel.

“It is incredibly encouraging that the film has done so well. There were many risks that the director and I took in our approach of creating this movie, and receiving so many accolades and distribution only strengthens our belief that we take risks for the right reasons. Chances were either we’d be received with open arms or shunned out of the gates, but it wouldn’t be anything in between, which would be a more regrettable position. Luckily, we were received with very positive reactions,” said Zaini.

Paper Tiger is about a Shaolin monk undergoing an internal conflict after refusing to help a victim of assault. He is part of a traveling troupe promoting Chinese martial arts, yet at the same time, he doesn’t do anything when witnessing an actual act of violence in front of him. In this film, not only does the main character not have any line of dialogue, but he also doesn’t emote very much, coming from a stoic Shaolin background.

“I wanted to do the project because at the core, it is a story that speaks to me. Not that I am a warrior monk of any kind, but that issues of identity crisis and often feeling as if I don’t belong are two things that keep recurring in my life. I am a Chinese-Indonesian; a Chinese by ethnicity, but an Indonesian by birth and citizenship. The feeling of being displaced has always lingered at the back of my head, as well as the cry for help to be accepted without judgment. These emotions are something that are relatable to what the main character of Paper Tiger is going through. Empathy then became a gateway to my involvement in this project. It is a story, or more specifically a state of mind, that needs to be told,” said Zaini.

As a filmmaker, how do you facilitate a character who doesn’t speak and doesn’t indicate with facial expressions, yet at the same time goes through a difficult time? This is where sound design shines, and Zaini was more than up to the task. He approached this by heavily utilizing ambiance design. Introspective moments, volatile moments, anger, despair and frustration is communicated by what is heard surrounding the character. There was one moment when the monk had just performed a martial arts routine, received by a round of applause. As he walks away backstage, the announcer gives a very commercialized version of the cultural history and the business manager sells the cardboard image of the Shaolin, but slowly all that dies down, and all that can be heard are the monk’s footsteps. He is isolated, if not excluded from this world. He is displaced; a man out of his time. Through such sound treatment it becomes painfully obvious. The entire film is filled with this style of sound design that Zaini accomplished so well.

“When given free rein on the sound design process, I was able to experiment with countless techniques I had never done before. That was such a liberating feeling you don’t find that often in ambitious film projects like this. I was also performing every single sound cue for the foley effects. In that sense, I was able to construct this fully realized, complex character by how I would direct the sounds he would make in the story; be it the movement of his monk garb, his prayer beads, and even his footsteps, everything became an audio cue that I instilled into this character. It was tremendously exciting to be able to have a hands-on approach in the story to such level,” said Zaini.

Zaini’s contributions are directly linked to the film’s success. The director, Marshall “Chu-Jen” Wu knew what the sound director was capable of, and knew there was no other person that could achieve the sound he was looking for. Zaini was given complete creative freedom. As the sound design process is very abstract, many of the techniques Zaini used would usually raise questions from directors who are not experienced with ongoing sound projects, but Wu had full faith in Zaini’s capabilities.

“Throughout the entire production of the film, Randolph was able to bring in references from other films, animation, music video, and concerts. Many of those references are not known to the Western market, yet precisely on the point of the vision that I tried to create. One of the most memorable examples of this was Randolph using Japanese Taiko drum performance as the referential suggestion for the soundtrack during the climax martial arts fight in Paper Tiger. The end product is nothing but phenomenal,” said Wu.

Everyone that worked with Zaini on the film was impressed with his skill and commitment to produce flawless sound. The producer of the film, Alexander Moscato, says that every idea Zaini brought to the film only made it better.

“Randolph is an absolute pleasure to work with. He comes to work with a smile and a great sense of humor, and his dedication and passion are quite inspirational. He truly cares about the projects he works on. He takes great care to understand the director’s vision, contributing innovative ideas and insights. When you work with Randolph, it is a collaborative process of discovery, filled with lots of laughs, new insights, and stellar sound design. Randolph is an artist in every sense of the word. He has an ability to bring you into the world of the story by creating dynamic soundscapes. He knows how to tell a story through sound, as he masterfully uses sound to advance the plot, as well as the emotional experiences of the characters that drive the story,” said Moscato.

For a small taste of why Zaini has such an esteemed reputation, you can view his work on the drum scene from Paper Tiger here.