DANIEL THOMAS FREEMAN
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"The Silence After Life" cover

Feature film released 2020 on Blink in the Endless

post-production


A screenshot of the final audio post file for reel 5 of the feature film The Silence After Life

Post took two and a half years as the extremely limited post budget necessitated that all post be done by the director alone, except for ADR acting from Sally and Emma and critical reviews from co-producer Val.

Although this was far from an ideal situation - progress was slow because of all the techniques which had to be mastered or extended as well as finding time to do this between work and personal commitments - one big advantage was that all editing, grading, VFX and particularly score and sound design were very much treated as one entity. One example of this approach is the scene of Katherine entering the graveyard where the music and sound design are practically indistinguishable as they are fused so tightly together.


EDITING


Although the score was always going to be a critical character in the film, the edit was taken all the way to final cut without a single note of music being written or used. Taking inspiration from the great Walter Murch, a lot of the editing was done in silence in order to ensure the film was as visually strong as it could be before pushing the film further out with audio.

During early edits of the film it became clear that the first ten minutes of the film were the weakest so a lot of attention went into ensuring the film now starts with a burst of energy to ease the audience in before settling into the more meditative state. To do this, three separate scenes were amalgamated into one: the phone call, the turning over of Martin's photo and the accident. The first of the two filmed kitchen scenes was also dropped completely and the confrontation in the front room was halved. By doing all of this, the first reel then became much more dynamic and therefore we hope the audience feels that the later, slower pace of the film has been earned.


GRADING


Although working with a professional (enough) codec, our camera did not support log format so care was taken to shoot in-camera as near to the final image as possible knowing that there would not be a huge amount of leeway for grading the 8 bit colour image captured. Despite this restriction, many scenes were extensively graded, particularly on the scenes which had been shot day for night where the blue tint from the production image was pushed into a full night-time look.

Although Katherine's experience blurs between reality and vision, the aim was to keep the grading mostly simple and straightforward so that the audience could accept Katherine's reality and visions as being equally valid for her. There were a few exceptions. The shots of the Woods Girl were pushed a little to make them feel more ethereal and spiritual whereas Claire's nightmare was graded more aggressively to distinguish it from Katherine's experience.

Most of the more complex grading was done to make up for difficulties in lighting. Weather on some external shoot days had very patchy cloud cover so exposure could vary quite considerably even within the same shot which led to more time in the grade. The lighting of the bedroom for Claire's first nightmare was also less than perfect so this required a lot of corrective work, although it did result in one of our favourite looks in the film.


VISUAL EFFECTS


VFX was mostly used to fix issues that had cropped up in production or in the edit, for example removing Sally from an out-take so it could be used to replace a scene of the Fields Girl in the final moments of the film when the original shot for this scene proved unusable.

One exception to this was the rain sequences in the woods, manor house and orchard where multiple layers of rain elements were added with one shot including some complex animated rotoscoping around Katherine's moving umbrella.


*** THE REMAINDER OF THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS ***


AUDIO


Audio post took a long time on TSAL, partly because sound recording was designed to ease production rather than ease of post, partly because the sound design had to be sophisticated enough to replace the use of dialogue in the film. Although based in reality, the sound design is often pushing the envelope out to hint at the beyond. And, as already noted, the virtual merging of sound design and score was always planned for certain sections of the film and this blending took many iterations before it worked seamlessly.

Thanks to the careful (enough) microphone positioning, the advances in modern sound processing and some judicious editing a lot of original production audio was preserved through to the final mix. However some scenes had to have their audio completely replaced. The scenes where Claire comforts Katherine at the back of the church and Katherine returns to her home with Claire are two examples of where the audio was all created in post following ADR sessions with Sally and Emma.

It was originally envisaged that we were only going to hear the sounds of nature when Katherine walks away from home into the woods. However, during the shoot of her frantically clawing stones for her aborted suicide attempt, the production audio was 'marred' with the sound of a plane flying overhead. The scream of the jet engine fitted the scene so well that yet more air traffic noise was layered in, particularly over the subsequent desperate crawl out of the pond which uses layers of heavily rumbling and heavily processed BBC recordings of vintage Vickers VC10 and BAC 1-11 airliners.

Similarly Katherine's house had been scripted as an isolated house far from the main village but, in practice, the location used was on a busy main road with traffic noise sometimes clearly heard on the production audio. Rather than fight this, circumstance was embraced again and additional ambience recordings of road traffic were purposefully made to lay into the scenes set at the front of Katherine's house. The sound design for Julie's house in "The Souvenir" (2019) was influential here. This decision had the by-product of sonically connecting her house to Martin's fatal car accident - she only escapes the constant audio reminders of her loss when she leaves her house and starts to recover.

Other examples of sound design in the film are the use of crowd noises as Katherine starts to integrate back into society (the muffled and then clear congregational chatter in the morning church service followed by the distant sound of children playing heard in Claire's kitchen), the orchard scene where nothing is heard except the bonfire, and the rough winds in the chapel.


SCORE


The last component to be added was the score. Although there are no themes as such, there is a distinct and broad difference in approach between the scoring of scenes of despair or panic or sorrow and those of recovery or hope. The former is more atonal, using heavily processed percussion, piano and electric violin whereas the latter tends to be much more melodic and sounds more conventional in instrumentation.

All of the score was first performed by hand before being heavily edited and / or processed. Although some commercially available, orchestral sampled instruments were used, these were played by hand then processed and mixed to give an artificial but still organic sound, using these electronic instruments for what they are rather than what they are pretending to be, purposefully blurring the edges between the realistic and the beyond.

Most of the score was purpose-written for TSAL but the existing track "The Stark Beauty of the Divine" from the director's album "The Infinite and the Unknowable" (2006) was used both for the end credits and, in a newly created version, over the daytime All Saints scene.

Probably the most detailed scoring occurs at the end of the film where the music had to be convey both the complexity and the ever-blossoming hope of Katherine's situation and the subsequent revelatory vision she experiences. Getting this right meant applying many layers over many iterations of the score.


Sunday 17 January 2021


All content © Daniel Thomas Freeman 2011 - 2021 (except where otherwise marked)

DANIEL THOMAS FREEMAN
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