Tag Archives: Neo Noir

Nakatomi Profile: Benjamin Morris, Sound Designer

25 Oct

Nakatomi Profile is a section featuring interviews with collaborators and artists we have worked with.

Who are you? What is your background?

I’ve been an audio engineer for nearly 10 years, I come from a background in music recording and live engineering. My two greatest passions are sound and film, but it’s taken many years to realize that I can combine those two loves by working as a sound designer. Esoterica is the first feature film that I’ve worked on.

What attracted you to Esoterica?

It’s a great little film – beautifully shot, intriguing story. It’s not often that a film of this calibre gets made in Perth, so it’s a pleasure to be involved with it.

Do you have a process?

Layers – it’s all about the layers! When working on a project as large as this it’s important to concentrate on one element at a time, so you don’t miss some of the finer details. It’s tempting when you’re first handed a film to start working on all the sexier stuff first! Esoterica is full of sexy stuff – chainsaws, gunshots, and eerie atmospheres – stuff that every sound designer loves to work on. I had to restrain myself while working on this film; I got all the technicalities out of the way first so that I had a strong base to build on, and then got down to all the fun stuff!

I always start working on the dialogue first, which is the most important aspect of any sound design. Story is told through dialogue, so you have to ensure that an audience can clearly understand everything that is being communicated. Once you have the dialogue right, everything else just falls into place.

How did you approach the sound design of the film?

I snuck up on it from behind.

What is good sound design?

Sound design should be an invisible art. If you do it right, it should never draw attention to itself. The minute an audience member notices the sound design of a film, the illusion has been broken and they get taken out of the film experience. Sound design should draw an audience into a story, enhance it (and sometimes, explain it).

What is your favourite scene in terms of sound?

A few scenes spring to mind. There’s a scene in an art gallery I’m really happy with, and a scene in an alleyway that sounds great. On the whole though, I really enjoy the scenes where I was able to cut sick with the music! The score for this film is amazing, there’s a few scenes later in the film where I just pumped the music up and let it do all the talking. Those scenes still give me goose bumps even though I’ve seen them hundreds of times.

What were the biggest challenges?

Coming on board quite late in the game was tricky, I would really have liked to have spent a few more months with the film. Also, much of the film was shot in the middle of the night around Perth, when the city is almost silent. I spent a lot of time trying to create the illusion that the city in the film is a lot bigger and badder than sleepy old Perth.

What is the relationship between composer and sound designer?  Are there overlaps?

The relationship between composer and sound designer should always be a close one, good communication between the two is vital. It is important that they are on the same page in terms of the tone of a film. A composer basically acts as sound designer for most of the non-diegetic sound of the film, sound that doesn’t come directly from things we see on the screen. They write music to create mood in a film.

The overlap occurs when music is not present in a film. It’s then up to the sound designer to maintain the mood of a film by using atmospheres and other sound design elements.

Give us your top ten films from a sound perspective and why.

1. Apocalypse Now


The soundtrack of this film is sublime, everything from the voiceover to the effects editing is masterful. The term “sound designer” was coined because of Walter Murchs’ work on this film. He pioneered techniques in this film that still seem fresh today. The opening sequence is amazing; I love the way Murch ties together the sound with the vision.

2. Barton Fink


A great example of a film where sound design is integral to the narrative, and not just there to reinforce the visuals. The Coen brothers worked very closely with sound designer Skip Lievsay to create a soundscape that helps explain the subjective viewpoint of the main character. The most amazing use of atmos I have ever heard in film.

3. The Empire Strikes Back


Ben Burtts’ contribution to film sound is immeasurable. After designing the sound effects for Star Wars, George Lucas made him sound designer on Empire, and it’s the best example of his work. This film still sounds flawless by today’s standards.

4. Alien


Another great example how atmosphere is used to create mood. I love the self-destruct countdown sequence at the end of the film, the way the tension is built up without the use of music. It worked so well that James Cameron ripped off the idea for the sequel!

5. No Country For Old Men


The sound is so immersive that I didn’t even realise the lack of music until my friend pointed it out to me towards the end of the film.

6. Saving Private Ryan


Speaking of immersive, the opening scenes of this film are incredible. The use of subjective sound techniques really takes you into the reality of the battle in the most brutal way, and makes the scenes that much harder to watch.

7. Seven


All of Fincher’s films sound amazing, but this is a personal favourite. Count the number of police sirens used in the atmos – it’s relentless.

8. King Kong


Most big budget films these days have great sound design, this is a step above though. The sound effects editing is amazing, great creature sounds too.

9. Eraserhead


Alan Splet was the king of abstract atmosphere. The industrial sounding drones in this film are hypnotic, I could watch this film with my eyes closed.

10. Animal Kingdom


I thought I’d mention this one because it’s the best sounding Australian film I’ve seen in a long time. Great score, great naturalistic sound design. And a voiceover that sounds nearly as good as the one in Apocalypse Now.

Check out the ‘Esoterica’ trailer

17 Aug

If you haven’t already done so then you must check out the trailer for Nakatomi Pictures’ upcoming neo noir thriller ‘Esoterica’.  Don’t be alarmed if your browser is cropping the video.  Simply click on the red headline of this post to go to a dedicated page.

Nakatomi+Brains?=this post

9 Aug

Ruslan Kulski runs Brains?, which features news about filmmaking in the world’s most isolated city, Perth.  The delightful Mr Kulski took time out on a Saturday to meet with us and grill us about our sophomore feature ‘Esoterica’.  This week the site will feature several of our pithy responses on a range of topics.  Below is the first video in the series where we were asked a seemingly simple question; “What is Esoterica?”. Check out the site and don’t forget to subscribe!

Nakatomi Profile: Jeremy Levi, Actor

18 May

Nakatomi Profile is a section featuring interviews with collaborators and artists we have worked with.

Who are you? What is your background?

My name is Jeremy Levi.  I began my performing career as a singer/songwriter in the mid to late 80’s.  Whilst studying English literature at UWA I sang with The Paranoids as part of the Perth Indie music scene.  After my English degree I completed another three years study at WAAPA doing the musical theatre course.  Weird, I’m not into musicals at all.  But the training was excellent.  After graduation I moved to Melbourne where I was lucky enough to find work in theatre, musical theatre, television but mainly short film projects.  I returned to Perth in 2004 where I have continued to work in all areas of performance and most recently resumed my songwriting career.

What attracted you to Esoterica?

The script, the script and nothing but the script.  I didn’t meet any of the other players until after I’d read the screenplay.  In this line of work I get to read a lot of scripts.  As a film buff, I also read a lot of famous screenplays of well known films.  Esoterica was one of only a few I’ve read that I was compelled to finish in the one sitting.  It just held me from page one.  Sam Fuller once said about reading scripts that; “…if I don’t have a hard-on by page 10, I don’t bother reading the rest.”

Tell us about the role you played?

Y’know…I don’t think I will.

Do you have a process?

Collaborate, collude and conspire.  Theatre is the domain of the actor but film is a director’s medium.  Most of the people working on a feature film have been doing so for months or even years before the actors sign on.  When I’m lucky enough to find a director who respects actors as creative artists (as with Sam on this project) then I try to first, understand their vision for the film and secondly, embellish and/or plunder the depths of that vision in collaboration with them.  My job as an actor is to elicit an empathetic or emotional response from the audience that takes them inside the story.  Because film is works on such a microscopic level, compared to theatre, I always try to get as much information from the director as possible to channel my performance along the desired path.  Knowing the size of the shot, the planned editing around the shot, the pace of the scene and its place in the flow of the film are some of the areas that are invaluable to a screen actor’s performance.  These are amongst a multitude of factors that I like to know about so I can be on the same page as the director.  It’s his baby and I’m privileged to be invited.

What was the shooting like?

This was a very difficult shoot overall.  But the question is “What was the shooting like?”  The shooting of the film was one of the best film experiences I’ve had.  Even with the shot/take ratio in place, I felt I had enormous freedom to refine the character from take to take.  Half of my performance comes from collaborating with the director and working off the other actors.  I was fortunate to be working with some of the best in the business on this film.

What have you done since the shooting of ‘Esoterica’?

I followed Esoterica with a role on Stormworld which is a 24 part children’s television series.  I performed in a play Three On, One Off at the Subiaco Arts Centre, and I took the lead role in Meaning-Maker Productions short film Trigger. Trigger was selected to screen at the Cannes International Film Festival, which is an enormous triumph.  I am currently writing songs for a new CD which I hope to record and release this year.

Give us your top ten film performances and why.

I came up with about 50 top film performances which I’ve struggled to narrow down to 10.  My criterion for a “great” screen performance is generally one that makes my subconscious curse very loudly, or one that makes me want to quit acting.

1.  Christian Bale – Empire of the Sun.  I was on holiday and about to begin my final year at WAAPA when I saw this.  This was the first time I’d been so intimidated by another performer that I felt I should just quit.  This little 11 year old kid was so disciplined, so focused and able to access such reserves of emotion, that no 11 year old should even know, I felt I was watching a master.

2.  James Stewart – Vertigo.  As much as I love pre-war Jimmy, post-war Jimmy is as good as it gets.  Hard to pick a favourite with Jimmy Stewart but that scene where Kim Novak is showing off her new hair colour and wardrobe, while Jimmy can’t hide his disappointment is a lesson in understated acting.

3.  Heath Ledger – Brokeback Mountain. So much has been said about this already.  I waited over a year before watching this film so as to view it without being influenced by the extraordinary hype it carried with it.  I think this performance will stand the test of time.  That said, I didn’t sleep after I saw his Joker in The Dark Knight.

4. Viggo Mortensen – The Indian Runner. This is an example of how the actor’s subsequent performances only serve to highlight how powerful he was in this role.  This is almost a dictionary definition of “intensity.”

5. Brion James – Blade Runner. More than any other actor who has ever played a replicant or variation on that theme, Brion was, for me, the most brilliant.  The interview that opens this film is spellbinding.

6. Toshiro Mifune – Seven Samurai. I’m a huge fan of Mifune and Kurosawa.  I started watching Kurosawa films long before I ever entertained thoughts of becoming an actor.  Mifune plays completely against type in this masterpiece and is totally amped throughout the entire film.

7. Lee J. Cobb – 12 Angry Men. Love The Cobb in anything, but this one was my introduction to his work.  Jack Klugman also puts in an excellent performance in this one which I was unprepared for having only ever seen him on television in Quincy M.D.  Cobb is one of those rare actors who like Crowe and Penn, can portray such frightening, raw masculinity and yet reveal, in the same character, an incredible vulnerability.

8.  Robin Wright-Penn – Unbreakable.  Not on this list because it’s so male dominated.  For one amazing scene in a fairly average film she had to be included.  That moment when she questions Bruce Willis about his possible infidelities is so heartbreaking.  One shot, one take of pure, raw emotion.

9. Tony Curtis – The Boston Strangler.  I grew up in Bunbury watching Tony Curtis in films like The Purple Mask , The Prince Who was a Thief, Son of Ali Baba and Houdini (which I must have seen nearly 10 times – before VHS was invented!)  His performance in this film is as good as acting gets and it is still a mystery to many why this film didn’t revitalize his career.

10. Naomi Watts – Mullholland Drive. This was like that moment watching Ed Norton for the first time in Primal Fear.  The carpet is pulled out from under your feet and you fall flat on your back with your subconscious yelling WTF?  Where did that come from?

Honourable mention to John Cazale.  Five films, all nominated for Best Picture.

Nakatomi Profile: Robbie Studsor, Screenwriter

7 May

Nakatomi Profile is a new section in which we will be interviewing collaborators and artists we have worked with.

Who are you? What is your background?

My name is Robbie. I was born the year Octopussy came out and Luis Bunuel, Dennis Wilson and Gloria Swanson died! It was also a month before Slayer released Show No Mercy and on the same day Charles Manson and Roland Barthes were born. I Grew up in a town that looked like a set from Mad Max spending lots of time playing in old car wrecks and mineshafts before I saw the movie Jaws.

I’m currently trapped in an ongoing PhD thesis that falls somewhere between the ideas of Georges Bataille and the films of Mario Bava.

What is your process?

Similar to the scene in Apocalypse Now when Martin Sheen smashes the mirror in a drunken haze, except with MORE nudity.

Where did the story come from?

Caffeine, a segment from a Stanley Kubrick documentary, the photography of Weegee, the music of Bohren and the Club of Gore and the director’s last minute decision NOT to make a Western!

What are some of the influences?

For the most part – 60s & 70s European crime cinema (Giallo, Krimi), Film Noir, Hitchcock, Lynch, 70s neo noir (Polanksi, Pakula, De Palma etc), Val Lewton and Boileau-Narcejac

Do you have a favourite scene?  Why?

I’d love to say a scene pertinent to the plot, but let’s go with the kid in a cage bit. There’s something about Pyjamas and chainsaws…

What is good screenwriting?

I don’t think anyone really knows.

What type of stories do you want to tell?

I hope that one day I could tell a story like Roger Vadim’s sexual conquest autobiography titled Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda.

Give us your top ten films and why.

My top ten list always changes, but today it goes something like this, in no particular order:

Rear Window

The critics agree! And how can you argue? For me Rear Window, The Birds and Vertigo are equally perfect, but the day I did this list Rear Window kept coming to mind as being particularly perfect (if that makes sense).

The Devils

Being a ladies man is really funny if you’re Jerry Lewis in a women-only boarding house, not so much when you’re a Catholic priest accused of bewitching the convent in France during the Renaissance. Add a sexually bitter, deformed mother superior and a depraved, masochistic inquisitor and you know things are gunna get hot!

You don’t make a film like The Devils unless you’re really angry and whatever Russell was channelling (maybe even Urbain Grandier himself) it comes off the screen with so much energy you can almost feel the heat coming off the burning stake. Fearless!

12 Monkeys

Though I love Brazil, for me, this is the perfect Gilliam film.

Jaws

Jaws is more important to me than both my kidneys and simultaneously made me realise both movies are sharks are awesome. You’re kidding yourself if you think there is a better film of its kind, absolutely kidding yourself. Oh, but the shark looks ‘so fake’, if you’ve ever said that you have a heart of stone and DESERVE all the CGI in world. ‘But it also started the trend of movies being summer blockbusters and…’ ZZzzzzz.

Danger: Diabolik!

Mario Bava is my favourite director and it was hard to pick only one of his films. For some reason this list looked better with Diabolik on it than Black Sunday, The Whip and the Body, Black Sabbath or Kill, Baby, Kill! If you’ve never seen it, try to think of a comic-book, candy-coloured, surrealist spy film where the bad guy always wins… what more do you want? People who love this movie because it’s camp have NO idea.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Imagine if the playboy mansion was under the sea…except Hugh Hefner has an unhealthy obsession with murderous revenge and instead of women there is a pet seal, underwater burials, and a giant squid. Fun, dark Disney at its live-action best. “Eat your pudding Mr Land”

Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors

This film is deep, beautiful and mysterious…oh, and it has more visual kinetic energy than the Evil Dead! An “art film” that requires a fucking seatbelt.

Woman in the Dunes

A wonderful Japanese existential nightmare about a young entomologist trapped down a sand pit (don’t worry he’s not alone, a woman also lives there…in a house!) An absurdist classic I find strange, sexy and sandy.

Smiles of a Summer Night

Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Ingmar Bergman. At the moment I’m obsessed with this film in particular. A clever, romantic masterpiece.

Sunset Boulevard

Norma Desmond descending the staircase, explaining that is there is ‘nothing else, just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark’ then briefly looking straight at the frame always chills my blood.

“Beefheart’s Bath”© by Chris De Groot

4 May

Here is “Beefheart’s Bath”, composer Chris De Groot’s favourite track from Nakatomi Pictures second feature ‘Esoterica’.  The track appears over the most visceral and terrifying scene in the picture.  ‘Happy’ listening. Click on the link below to hear this very creepy track.

Note – the track begins quietly; your speakers aren’t broken!

The Annexia Ensemble – Beefheart’s Bath