Valérie Deloof on editing the sound for Proxima, collaboration in post-production, and creating an immersive soundscape. This is the third article in our Special Issue on Proxima.
Earlier this year, I interviewed sound editor Valérie Deloof about her collaboration with Céline Sciamma on Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which was published in our ebook Portraits of resistance: The cinema of Céline Sciamma. Having collaborated with editor Julien Lacheray on Portrait, as well as other films, Lacheray recommended Deloof to Winocour for Proxima; Winocour was also a fan of Deloof’s work on Robin Campillo’s 120 BPM.
On the difference between working with Winocour and Sciamma, Deloof told me, “Alice and Céline are very different, but two things strongly unite them: their extreme sensitivity and their commitment, which is total and drives their team. They do not position themselves in a hierarchical relationship to others but in a collaborative relationship. They give a lot and also offer a lot of freedom to their collaborators. They make you want to get fully involved with them.”
If getting the sound of the fire, breathing, and footsteps right were the key challenges on Portrait, Proxima presented a new dimension of problems: creating the sounds of rockets, the atmosphere inside the space training centres (including of the machines), the sounds of communication technology, and working with Winocour’s trademark interest in subjective sound. Plus, the film features dialogue in English, French, German, and Russian, so Deloof needed background voices in all of these languages to create the right atmosphere for the astronaut training centres. Deloof told us about her collaboration with Alice Winocour, editor Julien Lacheray, and sound mixer Marc Doisne on Proxima, and how she helped develop the sounds for Winocour’s immersive and detailed soundscape.
Seventh Row (7R): At what point in the filmmaking process for Proxima did you get involved? What conversations did you have with Alice during prep?
Valérie Deloof: I met Alice very shortly before filming started. We had an appointment at a cafe near her home. I had read the script so that we could discuss it. Alice showed me lots of visual references, photos of the sets, and video links of space training sessions. She passionately shared with me her discovery of the universe of the astronauts. She was describing to me a concrete and non-fantasized world, and it was obvious that she would like to anchor her fiction in this reality, and that the sound of the film should integrate this dimension. We also discussed our respective feelings of guilt as mothers, echoing that of the character of Sarah. [We spoke] of the difficulty of giving up what and those we love, of reconciling our family lives and professional lives, and of our fears. Very personal things, which are the foundation of this film. It was important to share this in order to feel how our sensibilities could come together.
7R: Alice has told us that that sound is so important to her, to the extent that she writes some sound details into her screenplays. Did this help with the sound editing process?
Valérie Deloof: There is a lot of time between when I first read the script and when I start sound editing. Once I start the editing process, I no longer reread the script, but watch the film, which is already a new interpretation. Certain descriptions in the script have allowed me to hear and visualize the film at a given moment, and some things may have remained in my memory, but I watch the film with what it contains now and what it refers to my own sensibility, like any viewer.
When sound ideas are written, the mise en scène allows them to come to life and they become evident. It is clear that in the way she shoots, Alice makes space for sound, and that space becomes easy to occupy. When she writes, “You can hear the blowing of the wind in the trees rustling above them,” she films these trees.
7R: In what way did you collaborate with editor Julien Lacheray?
Valérie Deloof: Julien is someone who is very interested in the work of sound. Right from the start of the editing, he sets up strong intentions that are important for the pace and mood of the film. His work is invaluable because it also allows Alice to make the first sound choices at this point in the editing of the film. While I was able to question some things, I also kept a lot. A real guideline or guidance was given.
At the start of the [sound] editing, with Pierre André, the chief sound operator, we did a listening session to the ambient sounds recorded on the set and to sounds that came from our personal sound libraries that could feed the film. We put together a small bank of sounds for the editing. This allowed Julien to initiate the sound editing work on many sequences.
7R: In what way did you collaborate with sound mixer Marc Doisne?
Valérie Deloof: Unfortunately, due to the changes in the schedule, the mixing had to be delayed a lot, and I couldn’t be there for it. I had to do a rough mix of the sound editing to send it to Ryuichi Sakamoto, the composer, because he wanted to have it to work with when writing the score. My editing was therefore rather readable and balanced; my absence was not too problematic for Marc. We took the time to listen together to this provisional mix in an auditorium to discuss the sound issues, the difficulties I may have encountered, and any indecisions or questions we might have.
7R: How closely did you and Alice collaborate during the sound editing process?
Valérie Deloof: During the sound editing, we organized regular listening sessions. There was real teamwork between Alice, Julien, me, and Laure Anne Darras, the dialogue editor, with a lot of exchanges of points of view, criticisms, advice, and reflections.
It was interesting to see how Alice was progressing in this work. Each new thing could cause concern or a desire to go further. Alice has a real need to make use of the elements that are offered to her and to interrogate their place in the film. Working with her was all the more interesting as she sought to situate the soundtrack of her film on the border between a simplistic realism and an emotional atmosphere of sound that diverges from this realism.
7R: How did you approach capturing sounds that had a raw realism in the sound edit?
Valérie Deloof: The sound recordist had ensured that he recorded anything that could be specific to the settings of the film and which could otherwise be difficult to piece together or reconstitute. I had asked him, in particular, to make recordings for me in both English and Russian, to have voice material for the background sound. He also made a lot of recordings in the space training centers. These sounds gave me a firm grounding in editing, and I supplemented and refined them with elements from my own sound library, which come from multiple sources.
7R: To what extent did you allow the film to slip into a more subjective sound space? What sounds did you capture for this purpose?
Valérie Deloof: Switching to a subjective sound space is sometimes about simply removing one sound element, increasing the level of another, or even seeking to amplify the musicality of a sound, to transform it. This can be done by choosing which sounds by their nature evoke a sensation, or by processing the sound, which can be very simple, such as isolating a frequency to create tension.
7R: The space training facilities where Proxima was shot are quite unusual spaces with unusual sounds. How did you work out what was important to capture? I imagine these aren’t sounds you can easily find in an effects library.
Valérie Deloof: Contrary to what one might think, these are not hard places to illustrate, primarily because no one but Alice, the film crew, and the astronauts know what these places really sound like. We are, therefore, free to invent everything, if we wish.
Pierre André, the sound recordist, recorded a lot of things during the shoot, because these places were [full of] sounds; I think he liked it a lot and he was aware that he was in a unique place. Pierre is also a sound editor, and he knows that we like to have rich and varied material to play with, but basically, the sounds of these places are similar to those of any industrial site, with its air conditioning, wind tunnels, and various machines.
A lot of the added sounds have nothing to do with the setting of the film. Cinema allows this; we don’t expect it to be an identical copy of reality. The added sounds are nevertheless chosen to be credible and integrated into the setting, and this depends more on their acoustic accuracy [to the space] than on their nature [as individual sounds]. The challenge was, rather, to choose between putting on an air conditioning symphony or letting Sarah exist in this setting that is her daily life.
7R: The quality of the sound in the film changes with different communication technologies and spaces. The voices on a phone call or Skype call sound like reduced quality, and then in the scene where Sarah is in quarantine and Stella comes to visit her, the sound gets muted by the glass wall.
Valérie Deloof: All this is a clever mix of the work done by Pierre André on the set, by Laure Anne, the dialogue editor, and Marc Doisne in the mix. It’s not my fault!
The radio effects were done while editing the live shows; I just added transmission accidents.
For the quarantine scene, the sound was actually played over loudspeakers and recorded on either side of the glass; we therefore had the choice between a close sound recording, a normal pole, and a diffused sound, which made it possible to choose the best possible balance to make the separation between Sarah and Stella felt.
Laure Anne and Alice spent a lot of time on this because this balance was fragile. The sound behind the glass was too muffled to be intelligible, and the changes of the camera axis and the space created sound breaks that were too violent, which could break the intimacy of the scene. The balance was found when we started to cry with each screening.
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