We talked to Doug Sinclair (right), supervising sound editor on all three series of Sherlock, regarding Bang Post Production’s 16 August Emmy win for ‘Outstanding sound editing in a mini series or movie’ on the BBC One crime drama series.
What was your brief/concept for this?
The sound concept for Sherlock is to bring the audience into the world he occupies. Modern London is a constant backdrop to a lot of the stories so the sounds of taxis, tube trains, traffic, sirens, crowds etc all help to bring that to life so that Baker Street is very much his base.
His senses are heightened so the idea behind the sound is that it helps to take you through the mind palace process, his speed of thought, and the things he's focussing on so the audience can go on the journey with him and experience the world as he does.
What was the sound editing process like?
I will read the script as soon as I can, often before shooting starts, and start to formulate some ideas for things that may be different, difficult, or that might need to be specifically recorded.
At Bang the sound editing process starts with a spotting meeting with the director and editor to get their take on what's needed and discuss any specific set pieces or problem areas. Then we'll work from the script. They are very descriptive so the first stage is for Jon Joyce and Stuart McCowan to go through in a linear fashion and build all the basic elements, the atmos, and the real world sound effects. Will Everett records and Sue Harding performs the foley creating interesting sound effects and making sure everything is covered for the international M&E (Sherlock is now shown in over 240 territories). We'll then add layers of the more esoteric effects to give tension and character to the scenes.
In parallel with this myself and Paul McFadden [left , cofounder of Bang] will edit the sync dialogue cleaning it up where necessary, looking for alternative takes where there is a bump on a word or a noisy background but being very careful to keep the original performance intact. With the cast we are lucky enough to work with on Sherlock the performances are stellar from everyone so it's important to preserve every detail wherever possible. This aided by the brilliant multi-track location sound from John Mooney, which gives us access to the individual mics from each actor. There are often great sync sound effects recorded on location, which can be used in the show and for the M&E.
ADR is logged to cover any action scenes or technically difficult locations where the sync sound is just not usable or a line has been changed for editorial reasons. I shoot this at Bang or in London (usually with Peter Gleaves) depending on where the cast is, although we've had to do a number of ISDN sessions where the cast members have moved on to other productions overseas.
The big set pieces we will work on as separate entities and, where time allows, we'll get them into our Dolby theatre, listen through, and adjust or add elements where needed. Finally we'll combine all the elements and run through to make sure everything is working together before we bring in David Arnold and Michael Price's brilliant score and start the premixing and final mixing with Howard Bargroff at the helm.
Sherlock stars Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson
Can you run me through the technology set-up?
We run everything on Pro Tools Native, HD, or HDX systems from tracklay through to final mix. In the theatre the picture is run from an Avid Media Composer as a satellite and everything else is mixed in the box so any late changes or additions can be dealt with quite easily. There's no shortage of processing power and we have almost all of the major plug-ins so as much time as possible is spent mixing creatively rather than trying to find work arounds.
Once we get to the final stage Howard's desk set up allows all the main 5.1 and stereo mixes and stems to be printed in one pass. We then spend a further day doing the M&E mix and stems.
How long was the production process?
For each 90-minute episode the sound editorial schedule is three weeks and the mix is six days (three premix and three final mix) and one day for the M&E.
What special challenges did it present?
There are number of challenges. First and foremost is dialogue clarity. There is a lot of beautifully written and performed scenes which involve information coming at the audience often quick-fire and with other things going on at the same time so it's imperative the dialogue is clear. The editing is key to this as it's amazing how the small clicks and bumps can be the biggest distractions even in a busy scene. Clear dialogue is a key motivator for us. You lose an audience very quickly if they can't hear the words and follow what's going on.
For the sound effects it's finding the right balance of style, density, and level. Too much or too loud at the wrong moment and you're taken out of the drama. We also have to be conscious of becoming too sci-fi especially in the busier, more visually dense sections. The editorial process never stops from day one. When the first sounds are cut through to the final day of mixing we are constantly adding, adjusting, and taking things out to get the best combination of elements to tell the story. Nothing is sacred; if a sound or sequence isn't adding something then it's fixed or taken out. We're very lucky insofar as all the production executives, directors, and editors we've worked with on Sherlock enjoy the process and have a clear idea of when something is right or not. There is also at least two or three sections in each episode where as a sound editor or mixer you can stretch your imagination and technique to their limits.
Another important challenge is to make sure the music is used to best effect. David and Michael's score is such an integral part of Sherlock that we will often adjust and pitch sounds to sit in with the music so the two are working with one another. Editorially there are decisions to be made about whether to use both music and sound effects, music or effects on their own, or neither. It's important to remember the quiet sections can be equally as powerful as the loud ones.
Although sitting in the mixing chair Howard makes a lot of editorial decisions about how much of the edited sound effect elements we provide to use.
The other challenge is time. With each episode being 90 minutes we are basically doing close to a feature film in a month. It's immensely enjoyable but there is plenty to keep us occupied every day.
What was your response when you were presented with the award?
Absolutely blown away, what an honour. We were delighted just to be nominated a second time for both editing and mixing alongside the other shows (Fargo, American Horror Story, Mob City, Klondike, and Bonnie & Clyde). We admire them all and they have crews doing brilliant, inspiring work. But to be voted winner is very special – the extra hours crafting and fine tuning to make your work as good as it can be do get noticed. It's great for Sherlock too. All the production staff, cast, and crew are a wonderful team so it's great to see the show recognised in this way.
Lastly, what are you working on right now?
Currently we are working on Glue, a new eight part drama series produced by Eleven Film for E4, which starts airing soon. Again they are a great crew and a brilliant young cast so it's one to watch out for. We're also doing some foley for Lime Pictures and Paul recently completed the mix for the feature film Set Fire to the Stars, a biopic of Dylan Thomas starring Elijah Wood as John Malcolm Brinnan.
We've also opened our new video department run by Steph Lynch making us a complete one-stop shop for post-production.
Oh – and we have an Ice Bucket Challenge to deal with!
In the meantime the Emmy will take pride of place in the honours cabinet!