'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'

Aug 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson

CREATIVE SOUND TEAM KEEPS THE SERIES FRESH

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Harry Potter and Dumbledore search for answers about Lord Voldemort.

Harry Potter and Dumbledore search for answers about Lord Voldemort.

Good heavens, will we ever be rid of Lord Voldemort? Here we are, six installments into the Harry Potter film series — the latest, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released in mid-July — and the Supremely Evil One is still wreaking havoc around the globe; indeed, in his quest for ultimate power, he is no longer just threatening Harry Potter and the wizards-in-training at Hogwarts School, but also increasingly sending his dark minions into the regular (Muggle) world. Yikes! It's been quite a ride these past eight years as J.K. Rowling's magical books have unfolded on the screen. We've watched the young actors pass through adolescence before our eyes, seen the special effects become increasingly realistic and frightening, and marveled at how each film has built on the previous one, even with four different directors at the helm, each eager to carve out his own identity in the series. The Half-Blood Prince (and the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which will come out as two films, one in the fall of 2010 and one in 2011) brings back the director of the acclaimed fifth installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, David Yates, and many others who came onboard with Yates, such as supervising sound editor James Mather. (Others are veterans of Potter films dating back to the first one, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.) It's partly this blend of experience and new blood that has helped keep the series fresh all these years.

When Yates was tapped to direct Order of the Phoenix, it was somewhat of a surprise as the director had never made a film remotely like it before. The same could be said for Mather; his best-known work as a sound supervisor was for several productions that came out of England's Aardman Animations — various Creature Comforts shorts and Nick Park's two stop-motion masterpieces, Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. However, it was another film that led to his being hired by Yates for Order of the Phoenix (and the subsequent three Potter films).

“I did a very, very different film called Notes on a Scandal, which was an extraordinary actor's film [earning Oscar nominations for Judy Dench and Cate Blanchett],” Mather says from his Soho Studios, where he's working on the highly anticipated new version of Sherlock Holmes. “It caught director David Yates' eye because he's a very good director of people; a real actor's director. The producers wanted me to come in and interview [for Order of the Phoenix] because this was going to be David's first big feature and he was very keen to incorporate new people into the world of Potter who had experience — maybe not on that scale, but there would be a team of people he could come in and run with. There was nobody who was going to pull rank with anybody else; it was all a case of, ‘Let's all do this together.’ He liked Notes on a Scandal and was also a big fan of Wallace & Gromit with all the detailed work that went into that.” Mather also had experience running his own London-based post-production company, SoundByte Studios, which is partly what prompted Aardman to let him try his hand at supervising in the first place after years as a dialog, Foley and FX editor.

Coming into a well-established, big-budget film series was challenging, to say the least, Mather admits. “I had big shoes to fill — [previous supervisors] Eddy Joseph, Randy Thom and Dennis Leonard all did fantastic work. It was quite a daunting prospect, and my first point was to look at the English technicians they had used on the previous films — designers, dialog editors and assistants, as well — and incorporate as many of them as I could, while also introducing some of the people that I normally work with. For that film, we had probably a 60/40 split of people who were previous Potter editors, so A) they knew the material, B) they knew the process, and C) they all had generic elements in their systems from previous films. It meant that from my and the other new editors' point of view, there was a lot of security in knowing that there was a shorthand already established. I think what happened as a result was that it gave the other 40 percent a lot more confidence — it certainly gave me more confidence — a little more room for creativity and a little more room for me to then sit back and watch and understand the process without trying to lead it blindly, as it were. And by understanding the process, I could then adapt it and change it to the systems I was more familiar with.”

Like all the previous Potter films, The Half-Blood Prince was shot mostly at Leavesden Film Studios, but posted at Pinewood Studios. Daniel Laurie was ADR supervisor, Derek Trigg the principal Foley editor, Bjorn Ole Schroeder the supervising dialog editor, and the main re-recording mixers — who worked on a Euphonix System 5 desk fed by innumerable Pro Tools systems — were Mike Dowson (backgrounds, Foley and dialog) and Stuart Hilliker (music and FX). Nicholas Hooper — another carry-over from Order of the Phoenix — wrote the moody, dramatic score.






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