On Location: The making of “Beholder” (Part 3)

Back to finishing the movie. We needed a score for the movie, and the only composer that I’ve ever worked with is Andrew Lockington, who has since blown up and become huge and way out of our budget range. So I called Andrew to ask if he had an assistant or someone that could score the movie for free but to build their portfolio and Andrew watched the movie and then said that he would score it. I have to admit that I let out a huge yelp and also a sigh of relief.

The reason that Andrew will always have my trust is because when I made Cosmopolitan – the movie worked with no music. That has never happened to me before. I usually have source music in mind and even make a mix CD for everyone before we shoot. But with this film, I had nothing. And I had no clue as to what to do for the score. Andrew watched it and said, “You’re right, it works with no score. But I think a four-string quartet would really work well.” And without another word I said, “Yes.” Because when you are working with talented people that you trust – the best thing you can do is trust them and not micromanage the hell out of things.

I waited for Andrew to do his thing and the music was not only perfect, but one of my favorite scores of anything ever. So when you collaborate with someone that knows what to do even when you don’t, never let that person go. Ever. And he brought in a fantastic musician named Michael White, who used really cool sounds that no one else has. This is because Michael goes down to the junk yard, gets cool scraps of metal and then plays them with violin bows and different combinations of musical instruments to record eerie and one-of-a-kind sounds. Listen for them in the final version of the film. The way he can arrange sounds into music is pure genius and I’m so happy that he lent his talent to this film.

But someone had to put those sounds on a track and someone else had to mix them all together. And that’s where the talents of Johnny Wilson, Jamil Hai and Tamara Johnson came in. Johnny and Jamil cleaned up our sound and came up with awesome sound effects to really sell the sci-fi aspect of the future. The cool thing about sci-fi is that you get to creatively think about how each and every thing should sound. Usually, I find post sound is all about making things sound as natural as possible. We decided to take our cue from Brazil and try retro sounds for the future. This was a tough call, because, generally speaking, technology is getting more and more quiet and things are getting more and more subtle. But quiet doesn’t play very well onscreen for this movie for some reason. It worked amazingly well in Gattaca but not so much in our film. Maybe it’s because we were going for the idea that Red Estates existed in a gated community which included a giant biosphere encasing the community.

So the sound design very subtlety alludes to the fake piped in sounds of an artificial world. Fake birds, fake chirps, no wind – a bit of an echo where you reach the edge of Red Estates. Then, when we contrast that with the coasts, it’s all very organic, very real, very flawed and not perfect – more human sounding. The music and the sound design go hand in hand in this, as when the coasts are represented the music also turns organic, guitar and very real feeling. More emotional and less controlled. Which, it turns out, is awesome in movies and not so great in relationships. But again, that’s a different article.

But I will say this: If any of you need to do a sound mix in L.A., run, don’t walk, run to Tamara Johnson at Smart Post Sound. You might say, “Gee, I wonder what kind of sound they used in the original Star Trek for the door on the bridge opening.” And Tamara will close her eyes and listen to the sounds fly through her mind and then open them and say “It was like this,” then she will do a perfect imitation of the sound and before you can say “wow” she’ll have it called up on her computer and have cut it in and will have played your scene back to you. Incredible.

Plus, you get the added bonus of this incredible machine called the Penteo. This machine can take any music – score or source (songs) and make them surround sound. Not just “my crappy receiver at home makes things surround” surround, but surround so real you will swear it was recorded that way. And she’s so down to earth that there is not a hint of attitude even though there is a staggering amount of information this woman is holding in her head. People with that much info can afford to be a–holes, because you need them and all that info desperately. But Tamara takes it upon herself to help you understand sound and what it can do in a way that no one I’ve worked with before has ever done. Needless to say, she’s got a fan for life. This is a film that is worth listening to for her original ideas and her skill at mixing. I would really love to read your comments about the sound design and see what you think. Should we have stuck with a silent future? Or does the retro sound work?

Then we had the insane pleasure of doing our color correct at a magical post house at In A Place in Laurel Canyon. This is the kind of thing that you never get over. It’s an old Hollywood house that has been converted to a color correct studio that is so gorgeous you wish you could move in and never leave. The place alone is worth visiting to get a quote if you are doing a color correct on your movie, but the people who work there, Dominique, Augie and Milton, are so phenomenally talented that you leave your color correct session more informed about cinematography than when you walked in.

Also, a word about festivals. Beholder just premiered to a sold out crowd at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin. The film was really well-received, and I’m dying to see it with an audience so I’m sad I wasn’t there. (As a side note, if you make feature films, the festival will fly you out, but not so much if you make a short film). I’m heading up to San Francisco to catch the premiere on Thursday, so if any of you are San Francisco based, please come to the screening so I can actually meet you in person rather than the comment boards on the site. It’s playing at the Viz Cinema at 7:30 p.m. I don’t know where that is now, but I will by Thursday at 7 p.m.!

And now for the moment of truth. Click on the image below to view the final finished film, Beholder. Thanks so much for letting me talk about the making of this film. I hope it was a fun ride and I really do look forward to hearing your thoughts – good or bad – about the movie. So please take a moment to write a comment or send me a private message.

And if you have a good story, please get out there and make a movie. Queer cinema needs you more than ever now. Do it. Don’t wait. It never gets easier, so there is no better time than right now.

Follow Nisha Ganatra on Twitter, and for more information on Beholder, visit the FutureStates website.

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