Living in Crime Alley | World Building
When you receive the first cut of a film, the rushes are in, and it's naked of any post-audio - it's at this point where two thought processes begin to duke it out. The one that goes, "awww yeah, let's paint a beautiful audio picture, and the other that goes "where on Earth do I begin?!"
That was very much the case for director Rob Ayling's 'Living in Crime Alley', recently shot and edging closer to the post-production greenlight. I was given a good amount of freedom to build a version of Gotham rooted in visceral realism. We wanted to emphasise the foreboding claustrophobia in this town - sounds and elements that are drenched in unease. Of course much of what you hear, you don't see - but without these additions in audible world building, so much of the atmosphere and empathy we feel for the principle characters, is lost.
We wanted that gritty realism, as if Gotham was your neighbouring city (not that you'd want to be tethered to it), but it's without doubt that Todd Phillips' 'Joker' sparked that thought process.
Thumping bass from next door / down stairs, neighbouring domestic violence, sirens, city ambience - it's all there, and plays a crucial role as a character itself.
| Notably Passive
In audio design, as tempting as it can be to fill space with some element of sound, this isn't always the best practice. Does the film or game need that element? Does is add anything to the audience / player experience? I've found that by asking these straight forward questions, often the answer is no, leaving the produce to breath by utilising silence.
As a professional noise-maker, silence is by far one of the most underrated and powerful tools you can utilise in the edit. With subtle use of foley, you can really begin to build an authentic experience, that feels rooted in the space. Especially when playing with tension. You place these elements super low in the mix, barely noticeable, but if you then mute those tracks during playback, it'll feel deadly off, and you'll be un-muting quicker than you can throw a Batarang. Not one space contains dead-silence, meaning there's always something in the air - room tone is by far one of the most crucial elements to record here, during a shoot, it'll add that authentic polish to a scene, whilst often being a great patch for cuts in the dialogue edit too.
As above, even the smallest inclusion of breathing adds humanisation to a scene, something you wouldn't necessarily notice, but stripping it away means limiting the amount of your intended authenticity, and emotional output.
| Walls Tell Stories
More often than not, we're sat or stood in a space surrounded by walls. What's on the other side of each one? Each wall tells a story.
That's exactly what we did within on key scene from 'Living in Crime Alley'. A tentative conversation is taking place, yet surrounding the space, delicately placed in the mix and panned to an appropriate position are dark organic recordings, all lending themselves to establishing a greater sense of fear for our characters. They live within this world, and it's our job as audio designers to paint that picture for the audience.
The above shows the dramatic EQ filtering techniques used to help place these elements within a scene. Making them feel 'there', emitting from a specific direction, and point of interest. As mentioned, each space has a tone and a reverberation within it, designing this reverb is specific to the room, and what's contained / actioned within.
| A Balancing Act
'Living in Crime Alley' saw me take on an Audio Director role, overseeing the delivered output of all audio assets and elements from sound design, foley, location sound, and soundtrack.
Of course any soundtrack is supporting a film emotionally, but it's my job to balance that with other elements aiming to do the same. 'Living in Crime Alley', in its composition has an excellent soundtrack by Christian Lloyd. I made sure to allow the soundtrack to breath whilst carving space for the aforementioned foley, sound design etc to tell their story alongside.
All audio is working towards the same goal, so a cohesive practice in syncing these elements emotionally and in their action is super crucial.
I feel we achieved this well in Rob Ayling's 'Living in Crime Alley' - it's a film I'll hold dear as it caps of a year of new practices, techniques, and creative methods - all rolled into one gig.
'Living in Crime Alley' is directed by Rob Ayling.
Director of Photography is Ross Wilson.
Edited by Barry Wilkinson.
You can watch the trailer HERE. 'Living in Crime Alley' will be released soon!