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Surround Professional

An unedited manuscript for an article published in Issue Five of Surround Professional

Anna’s Way

This article covers a series of interviews I had with Anna Behlmer in June of 1999...I had the pleasure of discussing effects mixing with her, a four–time Oscar nominee for The Thin Red Line, L.A. Confidential, Evita and Braveheart. The first woman to be nominated for the Best Sound category, thrice nominated and twice a winner of the BAFTA (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts…the British ‘Oscar’) for her contribution to sound on L.A. Confidential and Braveheart; A master of her craft…

[Surround Professional] First off, tell us generally about your work…

“I primarily mix sound effects. I work with Andy Nelson, generally just the two of us. He’ll do the dialog and the music and I’ll do the sound effects. When we get a film, we’ll predub and he’ll be in one room and I’ll be in another. So I’ll concentrate on the backgrounds, the effects and the foley.

“Depending a lot on what’s ready from the editors, its nice to do the backgrounds first. In exteriors, try to make it as wide and broad as you can, using surrounds always. In some cases with interiors, not using surrounds as heavily to give you more of a closed–in feeling. I try to use surround to give you a spatial feeling.

“I try to mix everything against each other. I’ll do a predub of winds and airs and hang that. Have it play back and then do a predub of traffic and then hang that. Against that, do a predub of birds, depending on the scene and what’s happening.”

[SP] So you keep adding layers…

“Absolutely, making sure that everything can blend together, making sure that you can hear everything. And using the dialog, the guide track. Popping it in and out. Occasionally if Andy’s ahead of me, then I can use his dialog predub, which is really nice.

[SP] OK, got the backgrounds done…

“…And then we go on to the hard effects, usually with all of the backgrounds up. The hard effects would be the cars, the airplanes, ships; anything specific. Then we play those, up against everything else, put that with the backgrounds, then do the foley. Sometimes Andy will help me with the foley; he’ll do the footsteps while I do the props. Occasionally, (chuckle) when I can get him to…”

[SP] Where are you getting all that material?

“It usually comes from the editors, from their library. Or, they’ll go out and record specifics…on Thin Red Line, the production mixer recorded a lot of specific backgrounds; birds, airs, winds and a lot of the guns that we used in the film, and sent them to the sound editor, Paul Huntsman.”

[SP] Tell us more about techniques and views on mixing in surround…

“When we do a film and we’re fortunate enough to do the temp dub, I will actually watch a reel as we go along and keep a notebook next to me. When we’re doing a temp, most of the time its only left, center, right and we don’t use the surrounds much but it’s an opportunity to see the picture for the first time. And I will go through, reel by reel, and make notes where I see opportunities. I did this on The Peacemaker, did the temp and realized that, ‘Oh look, in this reel, here’s an opportunity. In this train sequence, the train goes right across the screen and the back end of it continues on–screen on the left. I can take it into the surrounds.’ And I would write these down, on a reel by reel basis. Then later on, I would refer to that and it would help me to organize my predubs. I would say to myself,‘…Well definitely, in this sequence I’ll want to use surrounds, so I’ll predub it that way so I’m prep’d when I final it. I also did that on Braveheart, just making notes, trying to seize the opportunity…You have to really pay attention to the way a film is cut visually to see where your opportunities are. With the example of the train, where it’s still trailing off visually on the left side of the screen so you can rationalize that the rest of it is coming along side of us and behind us. Or, great opportunities where things can come over your head from the back.”

[SP] As part of the sound team on L.A. Confidential, you were nominated for a Best Sound Oscar. Tell us about your work on that picture?

“That was my third show for Curtis (Hanson)…”

[SP] The prior two being?

“…Hand That Rocks The Cradle and The River Wild. Curtis wanted a track that was in keeping with the film and making it realistic, very for–the–era. When it came to gun battles and fight sequences, we didn’t boom punches, we didn’t make things larger than life. We made them as realistic as possible…no gimmicks. A lot of surrounds in the gun battle, a lot of debris spraying into the surrounds, especially in the opening when they’re so outnumbered…It was such a fun gun battle, I really had a good time doing that.”

“I loved the foley on that film. There was a lot of precision in the timing and a great use of surrounds! There was one scene where Russell Crowe is underneath the house with a shotgun poised…”

[SP] “…getting ready to shoot the guys legs…”

“Right, he sits there and he’s hypersensitive and can hear every move, every sound. The sound of the guys walking from left, and then around as though they came around from the back of the house — from the left surround to the right surround, to the right and then across screen where he finally shot ‘em. It was just great.”

[SP] Favorite tools? I hear you’re a Fairlight fan…

“I am a Fairlight fan, ease of changes is really wonderful. We did Thin Red Line and all the tracks came off of Fairlight and it was always concise, always right there, anytime there was a problem it was easily fixed. Its a very efficient tool, considering how many tracks we had and how much conforming was done. That was the last film that we really did on film, we predubbed to film. It would have been much simpler, obviously, if we’d been on drives. But, just the ability for the crew to make the changes efficiently and quickly and then feed them back to us, the ease of having whatever you need on the stage. ‘It would be nice if we had another off–stage overhead and another off–stage bomb exploding’ and you just ask for it and boom, its there…It keeps the process creative and flowing.”

[SP] What’s on the top of your techy wish list to better perform your job?

“I’m very much looking forward to our new consoles, the AMS DFC (AMS Neve’s Logic DFC) at 20th Century Fox. We have new rooms coming online, taking delivery of our new consoles in June. It will be really wonderful to have a fully digital console, automated panners and automated everything. My wish list will be filled until, of course, we start working on it and then I’ll develop more wishes.

“We have a new building with two new dubbing stages. Two identical dubbing stages, which are fairly large, and then one smaller room for predubbing and smaller features, and several editorial suites. So, I looking forward to it!”

[SP] Have you gotten an opportunity to express your wishes during the creation of that facility?

“As far as the console, we’ve had meeting with AMS…logistics, layout, where things should fall. Metering, basic user things, where PEC/Direct switches (Another way of saying repro/input monitor switching – OM) should be, how we’d like metering to follow signal path. Fairly simplistic things but, with a virtual console, where everything is possible, you almost crave the simplistic.”

[SP] What factors prevent you from achieving the best quality sound?

“The only thing that would really hinder that would be if the material isn’t right. If there isn’t enough choice or if its not the right material. You can take a sequence and mix it to death, but if for some reason something is not working…if its not the right sound, you’re not going to be able to sell it…But sometimes, that’s just somebody’s vision being different from somebody else’s. Or, a vision that really seemed great when you’re putting it together in predubs but, when you get to the final and you’ve got the score that you didn’t have before, realizing that all this definition that you really wanted to come through you can’t hear, because the score is in a frequency that’s eating up where you are. Had you known, you might have done something else.”

[SP] What was the most important tip you learned from your mentors, (Todd-AO’s) Gary Bourgeois (lead dialog and music mixer on Pleasantville, A Civil Action and the upcoming Double Jeopardy) and Richard Portman (Academy award winner for The Deer Hunter and BAFTA winner for Nashville)?

“Gary taught me the nuts and bolts of mixing and Richard taught me the Zen…‘The answers always come from what’s on the screen.’ That’s a Richard Portman quote!”

[SP] You’re bucking a trend, any advice for minority newcomers to your field?

“Work harder. Do something to make you stand out and it usually comes down to hard work. Be determined, live it and breath it when you start out…it’s a (high level of) dedication. Also, have fun. That’s very important because there are a lot of us that can do this work and there are a lot of talented mixers. I really think that a director will go to one place or another because who would they rather spend five weeks with…It’s about relationships, who’s company do you enjoy. So, have a good time and have an enthusiasm for what you do!”