Filmmaking involves doing some odd things at times. To be honest, smashing pots and plates in the courtyard doesn’t rank that high on the what-the-hell-am-I-doing scale. But still…
In putting the final touches to The Garden, we needed three things: the sound of a plant pot smashing; a one-word bit of dialogue; and an ethereal laugh.
And so it was that writer and co-director Clare, our star John and his wife Minnie (co-star of Albert), joined Trish and myself for lunch followed by a bit of post-production work.
The lunch was leisurely, for which we were duly punished.
Once fed and watered, the first order of business was to record one word of dialogue. In the film, the character of Archie, played by John, reacts to the sound of a pot smashing. He silently mouths a name. But the silent bit turned out to be an issue. When viewed in the context of everything else going on – particularly background noises – it looked like a mistake, as though we’d simply failed to record his voice.
In order to get the acoustics right, we’d planned to record John speaking the name in the garden, because that’s where the action takes place (see shot above). The trouble was, while we were indulging ourselves in fabulous food, wine and sloe gin, the rain had really moved in. The sound of it hitting the ground, trees and bushes was really quite marked.
What the hell… we’re nothing if not resourceful. And we have quite a large living room, so we stayed in the warm and the dry. Through the headphones I could hear that the audio sounded indoorsy – too much reverb. So John had the idea of whispering, which pushed all the frequencies up the scale and helped quite a bit.
John spoke the word several times and then I asked him to try it again a little slower. As I’ve been editing the film, I’ve become quite familiar with how fast the name is spoken. I’ve watched it hundreds of times.
Next up was the laugh. We dragooned Minnie into doing that. She threw herself into it, finally laughing so hard that she practically choked, bless ‘er. Clare and I both knew we’d got what we needed, though.
SD card in hand, we rushed up to the office where The Garden was already loaded into Final Cut. First we previewed John’s one-word dialogue. I had a hunch that the slower version was going to work best. I selected it and dropped it casually on to the timeline, telling those gathered that it would be out of sync but we’d worry about that later. We played the clip. The sync was perfect. I mean absolutely, down-to-the-frame perfect. Moments like that don’t happen often.
Any undue warmth given to the sound by recording indoors disappeared once I reduced the level of the audio clip. The dialogue was also masked somewhat by the background sounds (including a couple of effects). It sounded absolutely right. One job done.
Minnie’s laugh also worked well once I used some EQ to remove all the bass frequencies and we added a little reverb. To understand why, you’ll just have to watch the film. (Soon, I promise.) Job two done.
While John and Minnie headed off into the sunset (or wherever it was they were going), Clare and I set up to record a breaking pot. Luckily, the rain had reduced to a drizzle by now.
It’s weird, though, how things don’t sound like themselves. The first few pot shards sounded like hard plastic breaking. Clare tried a couple of plates and they rang like bells. Finally, Clare hit on the idea of using slates. We happened to have a lot of those from a roof that had collapsed.
The slates smashed in a very pleasing way. I felt we were very close to what we needed … and in any case the batteries in the recorder were running out and the dead wombat was getting wet. (That’s a phrase you don’t get to use often.)
In the end, we used two clips of slates smashing, one laid directly on top of the other, to get the effect we wanted. So, lesson learned … while a thing doesn’t sound like itself, two other things might.