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Working with Mel on Hacksaw Ridge

by Ausfilm

Soundfirm is on a roll this awards season after completing picture post or sound post for the three Australian films in contention for the Oscar® awards: Hacksaw Ridge, Lion and Tanna.

Last Sunday night Hacksaw Ridge claimed top honours at the 64th annual Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards in the FX/foley and dialogue/ADR categories.

Ausfilm sat down with Soundfirm CEO Roger Savage to chat about the company, working with Mel Gibson, the Dolby Atmos system and to ask what’s in the drinking water at the studio.

Tell me a little bit about Soundfirm and its history.

Soundfirm was established in 1983 as a sound post facility and has been responsible for creating the soundtracks on many well-known Australian films. In fact, six of the 10 top grossing Australian films of all time have soundtracks completed by Soundfirm. We have facilities in Sydney, Melbourne and Beijing and in all three we offer a full post service for picture and sound under one roof.

So Soundfirm does more than just sound only as the name would suggest? What facilities/services do you offer?

Yes, we added picture post to our repertoire four years ago so now we are offering full post services.

Some well-known films our team completed full post on are The Dressmaker, Looking for Grace, Chasing Asylum and Red Dog: True Blue and we’re currently working on Garth Davis’ Mary Magdalene.

Equipment wise we can use Resolve and Mistika in our grading suites with 2k and 4k projection. We also have an open house policy as far as graders are concerned so you can choose your own grader from the list of available freelancers.

How long have you been in China and what well known Chinese films have you worked on?

Our history with Chinese films goes back to Jackie Chan’s first international hit Rumble in the Bronx in 1995. Then in 2003 we established Soundfirm Beijing which was the first private post-production company in China. We have the largest and the best Atmos mixing room in Beijing and we often exchange staff and send some of our Australian mixers to mix in Beijing. Again, we have worked on a lot of very high-end Chinese films including all Zhang Yimou’s pictures up to Flowers of War including Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Kung Fu Hustle and John Woo’s two Red Cliff films.

Three Australian films are up for Oscar nominations this year and Soundfirm has been involved in all of them. What has been Soundfirm’s involvement in Hacksaw Ridge, Lion and Tanna?

We did the picture and sound mix on Tanna, which was a small, charming independent film. In Melbourne we did the sound for Lion including the Dolby Atmos mix and for Hacksaw Ridge we also did the sound design and mix in Atmos.

I was thrilled when Andy Wright and Rob Mackenzie – Soundfirm employee and previous Soundfirm employee, respectively, received Oscar® nominations for both sound editing and sound mixing, as well as a BAFTA nomination for sound for Hacksaw Ridge.

So does that mean you are serving some special water at Soundfirm for all your creatives?

If only it was that easy! This is a huge achievement for our industry and Soundfirm. It demonstrates that we offer world-class talent and services. We will be cheering the boys on for a win come the ceremony on February 26 but we won’t be drinking water.

What was the experience like working with Mel Gibson on Hacksaw Ridge?

I was particularly thrilled that Mel and the film’s producer Bill Mechanic had enough trust in us to let us complete the sound design in this country, for this very challenging film soundtrack. We had the advantage of housing the offline picture editing within the Soundfirm building, so having access to John Gilbert (picture editor and 2017 BAFTA winner) and Mel while they were picture cutting was great.

Working with Mel was wonderful, often he would jump into the booth to try out a new ADR line then that would be cut and given to John to slot into the overall edit.

We understand Lion and Hacksaw Ridge were mixed in Dolby Atmos. Can you tell us a bit about Atmos for feature films and your Atmos mixing room?

The use of immersive sound, which is what Dolby Atmos is, is a huge advance in cinematic sound and it’s not just for action films. We try to encourage all film directors to consider doing an Atmos track. Soundfirm Melbourne’s mixing stage was Atmos from its beginning in 2013 and is the only one in Australia.

Both Lion and Hacksaw Ridge benefitted from having an Atmos mix but for different reasons. Lion because of what was done with the music and atmospheres and Hacksaw Ridge because of the ability to put the audience right in the middle of a battle with 360 degree sound all moving in different directions – bullets whizzing all around and explosions happening behind them. It’s a great example of how powerful immersive sound can be.

Interview reprinted with permission from Ausfilm.