PopMark Media’s November “Confessions of a Small Working Studio”: The Sound of 'Lovely Molly'

Nov 7, 2011 6:37 PM, By Lisa Horan

Kevin Hill, sound designer/engineer and director of PopMark Media’s audio post division, Studio Unknown

Kevin Hill, sound designer/engineer and director of PopMark Media’s audio post division, Studio Unknown

We don’t like to brag. It’s not our style. But sometimes, we land a project that is just too interesting not to talk about. The work that we completed on the latest Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project) film, Lovely Molly, is one such example. We’ll take a look behind the scenes at how the sound for this psychological thriller was created in our recently Dolby-approved facility and the highly significant role it played.

When filmmaker Eduardo Sanchez first met with our own Kevin Hill (sound designer/engineer and director of PopMark Media’s audio post division, Studio Unknown) to discuss the sound for his new, yet-to-be-shot (at that point) film, Lovely Molly, the original idea was to create a simplistic mix that sounded less like a typical film and more like a home video based in reality. However, as Sanchez admits, “The filmmaking process is always collaborative, very organic, always changing and typically results in either a slight or significant difference between what you first imagine and what you wind up with after shooting, editing and mixing.” In this case, the differences were significant. In the end, the sound not only drove the story, but became an invisible but very critical “character” in the film. In fact, the sound wound up playing a more significant role than in any other film with which Sanchez has been involved.

Much like his ideas about the sound, Sanchez had a clear idea of what he wanted the film to look like, and he communicated his thoughts to his DP, John Rutland. It was Sanchez’s intention that Lovely Molly, a film centering on a troubled young woman and her supernatural nightmares of her deceased father, have a documentary look and sound. However, Rutland had a different viewpoint.

“John is very talented and brought more of a cinematic sensibility to the look of the movie,” says Sanchez. “I didn’t want to fight him on it because it wasn’t as if I didn’t not like what he was doing.” Sanchez gave Rutland the creative freedom to move forward with his vision, and says that was a wise choice, as the film came out looking a lot better than he ever thought it would. However, the new visual direction prompted a brand-new approach to the sound for the film. “It looks much more cinematic and polished than I had envisioned, which was great, but that meant that the whole idea to take the documentary sound-mix approach went out the window because the audio would no longer match the visuals.” As a result, Hill and his team—which included sound designer/engineer Matt Davies, sound designer/engineer Dave West and sound intern Zach Trees—now faced the task of creating a more comprehensive and cinematic-style sound mix.

To add to the challenge, the team was responsible for giving life to a character that didn’t have a visual depiction in the film: a demon horse creature that haunts and taunts Molly, the main character. “We knew we needed to give this demon a personality of its own, and in this case, it had to have a very menacing, heavy tone to it and really come across like it was stalking Molly,” explains Davies. “Because this demon is never really seen, the sound was going to be the only way to give it human characteristics, so we recognized its importance.”

One of the first steps to accomplishing this was through creative Foley. The team recorded everything from concrete, wood and brick impacts, to clanking hollow coconut shells, to stabbing and scraping a rusty drywall handsaw on a plastic fluorescent light ceiling cover that was covered in tiny bumps. The latter approach wound up being extremely effective, according to Davies, as it created various roars that changed in pitch depending on how much he flexed the cover. Each of the captured sounds was then placed into a database for the team to combine and manipulate until they arrived at the ones that had the right texture and depth to create the thick, ominous footsteps the character required.

What also aided the process was a trip the team took to an historic house in Hagerstown, Maryland, where scenes from the film had been shot. The original intention of their visit was to capture environmental sounds in the house itself, but they were pleasantly surprised to find an actual stable and several horses right on the premises. “This was a really great find because we had wanted to capture some genuine horse sounds because we realized you can’t easily mimic an 800-pound animal and the way it’s able to walk with both power and grace,” says Davies. In the process, the team collected all sorts of snorts, footsteps, grunts and whinnies. In addition, one added bonus was that the muzzles of the horses were covered in flies, and every time they snorted, the flies would fly away momentarily and then come back. What resulted was a dramatic buzz that would decrease and then increase in volume, and this sound wound up accentuating the idea of pestilence. “This became a perfect audio element for creating the idea of a plague or disease and for representing the main character’s disintegration into craziness,” says Davies.

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