In this interview from the ebook Tour of Memories, sound designer Jovan Ajder discusses The Souvenir, his ongoing collaboration with Joanna Hogg, creating a naturalistic sound design, the challenges of sound capture on a shoot involving so much improvisation, creating the sounds of different locations, gesturing at the world beyond the frame through sound, mixing a quiet film, and using diegetic music and soundscape as score. To read the full interview, get your copy of the ebook Tour of Memories now.
Sound designer Jovan Ajder has collaborated with Joanna Hogg on all of her features, starting with Unrelated. While sound design is often lumped in with post-production work, Ajder starts working on Hogg’s films before the cameras are even rolling. “I’m usually involved in the start, [during pre-production,] talking and liaising with the production sound recordists, so we know where we are at and what pitfalls we are due in for, and anything that we can [do to] help the process along.”
Ajder’s pre-production work actually influenced the sets — a very important element for a film so invested in the power of spaces. Ajder collaborated with production designer Stéphane Collonge to ensure that the set designs would allow the team to capture realistic ambient sounds. Similarly, Ajder convinced Collonge of the need to reduce unwanted background noise, which sometimes meant changing the materials of the flooring, curtains, or furniture.
Ajder steps back during the filming process but then gets involved again during post-production, this time overseeing a large team of specialized sound editors. “In the sound post-production process, we split disciplines of sound editing because it can’t be achieved through one editor; there’s too much work. We have a dialogue editor, an effects editor, a supervising sound editor, like myself, an ADR editor, if need be, and a music editor. All those disciplines are separate, and they have specialists.” This is where the production sound gets cleaned up, the music gets cut, and the sound effects (e.g., footsteps, cars that can be heard from the street) are created.
Editing and mixing the sound for one of Hogg’s films usually takes two or three months. “Once the editing is finished, we have the mixing side of things where you have a pre-mix and a final mix. That is where Joanna sits with me, and we’ll mix all the elements together.” Their process involves exploration and experimentation. “When you watch the film once, you get ideas immediately, and you put something down. From one idea, something else comes from it. It could be a happy accident.”
“Joanna really likes the sound process. She likes sitting there, throwing out ideas, and listening, which is nice because you feel the work is being valued. Other directors, they don’t really care for it that much. Any director worth his salt usually cares a lot. It makes a huge, unconscious difference, as soon as you have bad sound and bad music.”
The exact mixing process “depends on the type of film and how much space we have to work with. When I say space, I mean between dialogue and what’s happening on and off screen. Joanna likes this implied storyline behind the most obvious storyline, so we have sound effects making you subtly think something else is going on; without the viewer actually knowing, they’ve been influenced by the sound. We had more space on previous films, so we could have a lot more sound effects, a lot more implying of the outside world and the internal world through sound. For Exhibition, we had a lot more space between the dialogue. In The Souvenir, we have a lot of dialogue, and that limits you with what you can do with the sound, at times. The Souvenir was [also] a quieter film, more introspective from a sound point of view.”
Read more excerpts from the book here.