One Small Voice: Rennie Gomes

Published on 26 November 2017

Film sound designer/mixer Rennie Gomes explains how good sound can help your film go places.

Interview By Pamela Ho

For a film to travel internationally, there are certain standards to be met. Besides a strong story that appeals to diverse audiences, the production quality has to be there or distributors will not bite. When it comes to sound, there are many things young film-makers don’t think about.

For example, if your film is in English and a buyer in Spain wants to dub it in Spanish, you will need to have a full music and effects track. What this means is, if they remove the dialogue track, everything else should still be heard — the actor’s footsteps, the door closing, traffic in the background.

The problem is that many film-makers try to cut cost and dismiss Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR), where we get the actors back in to re-record some of their lines. With location sound, some background sounds recorded on the dialogue track will disappear when that track is removed for foreign-language versions. So while it’s tedious and costlier, it’s better to re-record noisy scenes in the studio, then add effects and Foley (background sounds). This is what I call rendering an ‘international feel’ for your film.

To reduce time and cost, it helps to involve the audio supervisor even before cameras start rolling, so that he/she can run through the script with the director and give suggestions, like choosing locations to ensure a cleaner dialogue track, or to start capturing surrounding sounds. I capture all sorts of sounds because even markets around the world sound different! The unique blend of traffic, everyday activities and background voices help create the atmosphere — it’s not just the music.

We also script for crowd scenes. For the film 1965, for example, we got people into the studio to re-record the crowd scenes because even if the lead actors are saying their lines, we can still hear snippets of what the crowds are saying. It’s not gibberish and it adds to the tension of the scene.

I do a lot of work for HBO and Netflix, and the Americans are firm believers of ADR — not just for the clean sound, but also, when you get the actors back in the studio, sometimes you can get a better performance out of them. Our team can number 20 to 30 people for a film, from Foley artists to sound engineers and composers. It’s a whole ecosystem. But the scene in Singapore is still nascent.

I hope to see, in Asian films, more detail in sound. I see a lot of pretty visuals, but very predictable audio. When overall standards in sound pick up, international distributors will bite, and the budget for your next film will go up. In this way, our film industry will grow.


RENNIE GOMES is a film sound designer/mixer with over 20 years’ experience. In 1995, he co-founded Yellow Box Studios (a Singapore-based award-winning production and post-production facility) with composer Ricky Ho. A pioneer in film sound, Gomes worked on Eric Khoo’s Mee Pok Man (1996), Royston Tan’s 15 (2003), and 7 Letters (2015), where he mixed the entire film for Dolby Cinema release. His other credits include Netflix’s Marco Polo, and several HBO productions, including Grace, which won Best Sound Design and Music Composition at the 2015 Apollo Awards, and Halfworlds, which won two consecutive Apollo Awards for Music and Sound Design.

Photo: Nemesis Pictures

EXPERT TIPS

Photo: Pamela Ho

Sound Advice for Aspiring Film-makers

Get the audio supervisor on-board as early as possible, even before shooting.

Even if there’s no dialogue in the scene, keep recording the sound — it’s a point of reference for the sound guys in post-production.

Factor in time for post-production. Some Hollywood films take a whole year for sound alone!

Listen to lots of films.

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