The toys in the box for sound design seem endless, you get lost very quickly making things that sound fun
Screen Scene’s Niall Brady talks about how he started as an audio editor, the evolution of audio post production and diving into sound design rabbit holes
Daryl Moorhouse: So it’s the Tinpod and today our guest is Niall Brady Screen Scene, sound supervisor, sound editor. Is there any umbrella phrase you would use to kind of turn what you do or is it just a sound guy.
Niall Brady: Sound editor is that the fray is what I do is I cut sound for picture. So, and then depending on the job then a title comes with it. And that can be anything from supervising sound editor, sound designer, dialogue editor, ADR editor so but all of it encompasses sound editing, cutting sounds for a picture.
Daryl Moorhouse: And full disclosure, we have a background. We went to college together way back when, about four or five years ago, maybe it was this.
Niall Brady: Before my hair went gray.
Daryl Moorhouse: Looks very distinguished there.
Niall Brady: Thank you very much.
Daryl Moorhouse: So maybe when we were in college I would have strained the broadcasting side of things. You would have worked across the film side of things. Maybe just tell us briefly where you went after college and then your journey through to where you are today and in screen scene,
Niall Brady: okay, well, when we’re in college, like I kind of felt that post was where I would like to go. I did some picture editing, but I also did a lot of editing of sound on projects. Be it my own project or other projects and I always really liked that. So even when we’re just at that stage, I think might’ve been track laying on an early version of pro tools and we were also using a version that Avid had called audio vision. And I just felt … I always enjoyed the sound editing adding sound Picture. And so initially I started as an assistant editor in screen scene and with other people and I often track laid projects in Avid for the editors after hours or they’d go, can you cut some sound for that? And I’d happily do that and do it in Avid.
Niall Brady: And so I always had this leaning towards. I always enjoyed editing sound. So in the early days as an assistant editor, I found myself doing that quite a lot. Then I left that job and then when I came back I went and traveled abroad and when I returned Screens Scene contacted me and asked me would I work as exclusively as a sound editor using protocols on a project that they were doing a documentary series. And I said to them, yeah, I’ll do that. But it was going to be on pro tools. I hadn’t really used pro tools before, but I knew the choices I wanted to make and what sounds to put here or there. And so initially for me and that job was a steep learning curve to figure out what buttons did the things I wanted them to do in pro tools.
Niall Brady: But essentially the theory is still the same. You want to put that down there. And so there’s just began like you move from project to project, there’s no great plan. You just find that you’re, the next project comes in and you’re doing that. And then you’re hoping that all those stages, maybe you get to assume bigger role or you get to do something more and all the time you’re learning. You never go into a project going, I know it all now. More likely you go into a project going, Oh God, how do I do this?
Daryl Moorhouse: What do you think of when you started on the first episode you see worked on your very first project, you went away, screen scene, then came back and said, can you work in this project? What do you think it was about you that may be differentiated from others? Presumably Screen Scene would have a lot of interns of people they’d bring through, but they wanted to bring you onto that job. Was it just right time, right place, or did you think was. Or had you done a particularly good job or was there something, do you think that made them think, maybe this guy’s worth a shot.
Niall Brady: This guy doesn’t mind coding sounds after hours. Probably-
Daryl Moorhouse: Enthusiasm.
Niall Brady: Yeah. Yeah. I’m like, an ability to do the job, and I had an interest in, I always had an interest in cutting sounds and I always had an interest in even when I was listening to music in my teenage years, I always liked things that have been put together like say the or but where people are layering sounds and picking sounds from different spheres and then putting them together in strange ways. So that idea of montage always interested me and even back to Del Sol and things like that were so that always interested me. So no doubt that came across to the editors and when they did allow me or when they did ask me to cut sound like, well, Oh God, well that sounds pretty good or that’s better. There’s some ideas there and that person so and that suits and we can go and mix that now.
Niall Brady: And maybe that lifts that program a little bit above of what it could have been. So it’s assumed they just felt like he has an interest in it and maybe there’s something in this and there was no doubt I enjoyed it and if you don’t enjoy sound editing and sound in general it will quickly get old and tiring. So you have to have an interest.
Daryl Moorhouse: I’m interested when you say the music side of things that you had … I remember that from when we were in college is that you always had a number of factors, the music that you had introduced me to, but it’s not a common thing. I mean, do you find working with other sound editors that a lot of them would be, let’s not say music, but would have had an interest in music and through that kind of came to sound editing because you have to have that passion for sound and audio of some description and I would imagine a crossover music a lot.
Niall Brady: Yeah, definitely. I think to like most of my peers and colleagues would have probably done played in bands during their teenage years. Done a sound engineering couse, exclusive sound engineering or moved from music or had a great interest in music. And from that then discovered, oh look, there’s this field that’s not quite music, but it’s using the same tools or using some of the same muscles and that’s actually enjoyable. So very definitely I can’t think of any … well, [inaudible 00:05:52] myself. Most of the people I’ve worked with have a music background or have a sound engineering background. It was one of the things I think is a disadvantage to myself is I’ve never done an engineering course as per per se everything I’ve kind of learned about sound has been self-learned as such.
Daryl Moorhouse: You mentioned if you don’t have an interest, if you don’t have that passion, that the job will get old pretty quick. So for somebody who hasn’t worked in that sphere, why is that the case, is that because you’ve got to be dedicated, you got to put the hours in?
Niall Brady: You’re going to be doing long hours. So you’re gonna work on some stuff that maybe you’re not crazy about, but you still have to give it your all. You’re kind of like, like day one I was learning to take clicks and bumps out of dialogue lines. 15, 16, 17, years later I’m still doing that. I’m still drawing clicks and bumps out of dialogue lines and that’s to some people that’s not interesting or that that’ll get old very quickly. That’s one of the things you do. It’s not the thing you [crosstalk 00:06:56]
Daryl Moorhouse: Is part of the overall process. So it’s not just that for that sake. It’s part of to get this thing to a final piece that worked well, we’ve got to do all those things.
Niall Brady: You still got to do those things and you still got to spend you might be there at 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning and you’re drawing clicks out of a line of dialogue and that’s kind of the basic stuff. So you’re still doing that. So if you don’t have an interest in making something in your ears and your head sound better or feel better and if you’re not doing it for yourself in some way or getting some sort of satisfaction out of it, you will quickly kind of lose it’s good in it. You’ll find that difficult. Like I say again, if you’re not always working on the stuff that you like, but you’ve always got to think of it about how you’re learning and how what you can get out of a job or what you can. Okay, well what’s new skill can I learn from this job? Even if you don’t, if you’re not particularly mad about the job itself so.
Daryl Moorhouse: And so what I’m interested in is maybe kind of what is the, I know you work on a lot of different projects and there are different demands and different systems and different way it works. But let’s say generally speaking, what’s the timeline or the structure for a project you work from day one through to completion?
Niall Brady: With the basic structure is, without talking about timelines or schedule or anything, is that an edit of the picture of the film or TV show is made. Then we are given that editor, the editor will have worked on it in a way where they won’t have worried about how clean the dialogue tracks are, how dialogue plays, how a scene plays together. It may be a little bumpy and lumpy. They may not have put in environmental backgrounds into the scenes to fill out the track. They may have used temporary music. So basically you get that coat and then your engineering editorial, you’re cleaning up the dialogue and adding sound effects. You cut the sounds, you cut them in a way that when the mixer gets them, they will be able to … That things won’t be tied together and they’ll be split on the mixing board as such.
Niall Brady: So that they have time to make the various changes to EQs and verbs and all that sort of stuff. But, and then so you’re preparing all the time in the adage of preparing that material for the mix. And then that mix happens and the mixes when you blend all those, you blend your dialog against your facts, against your music. And at the end of that you have a mix of the film or TV program.
Daryl Moorhouse: As you proceed, have you done a rough pass on mix then saw that sort of comes to the mixer and real or are you just delivering stuff flat for them to kind of work with?
Niall Brady: Over the years when I started, we delivered flat. Everything was at zero and then everything will come up on the board a zero and then the mixer would make turn up and turn down as he went.
Niall Brady: Now, because we’re working in pro tools and everything is essentially in pro tools from start to finish and our mixes the way we’ve created our workflows, that’s template we work in editorial moves into the mix. So any volume graphing and panning or anything I’m doing choices I’m making are then going to the mixer intact. So from the start now like when I started there was a very definite delineation between sound editing and sound mixing that’s gone now and there’s a lot of blurring between those lines now.
Daryl Moorhouse: Is that because of timelines because it’s quicker. Or is it just the technology.
Niall Brady: The technology I think. And an expectation also. Like again, when I started as an assistant editor, the editor would simply cut dialogue, maybe put music against it and it will be very, they do very little. But now editors in pictures picture stage are expected to do much more evolved sound guide tracks. Where they’re adding effects, they’re adding music, they’re maybe putting in reverb effects and stuff like they’re making much more choices than they been asked are expected to do much more during the edit. I think the expectation all along is that it’s evolving quicker and better. And which is good because it’s begins to, it takes the shape, it takes a shape and people begin to be able to make decisions about things. If you’re leaving everything okay, we’re not making the decision, we’re not going to do that right up until the end of the mix. It kinda leaves too many questions and also leaves too much pressure on the mix where people are having to react to everything. Whereas if something’s been worked and worked through it, they get used to it and they can make it better call on it. So that I think it makes for better sounding films. Certainly the soundtrack is much more evolved.
Daryl Moorhouse: Your first conversation with a project goes live with the director or the editor or the producer or whoever it is, who’s going to be the principal of contact. Is that a creative conversation? Is it a practical conversation? Is it Niall? Listen, just fix up the bumps we need nice for the music or does it depend per director, what it might be a much more engaged kind of here’s the tone of the piece. Here is the feel we need, here’s the kind of reference things that you want to look at. What’s the nature of that conversation or the guidelines that you’re given.
Niall Brady: Like I mean outside of essentially you would, the editor and director would work closely together, very closely together and they would have a final cut of the film. This is a very linear way of doing it. They have a final cut of the film. You go in and you sit with them and you watch the film with them during the spotting session and they tell you we want ADR or here we want this sound effect here. That’s the music that stain or the music that’s gonna start here, it’s going to end here. So you get a pretty prescriptive version of the film. And from that then you would, during your editorial phase, you’d work through and you’d address all those things and so your principal contact is initially with the director and editor and then with the director and depending on if the editors through the project or not, it depends on the project. Different projects have different ways of working, but that’s a very basic way of doing it. Your point of contact is the director and it’s also the director’s vision. So I mean, and what the director’s idea is, so if they don’t want sound in a scene well, that’s what you do there. So it’s their vision it’s the director’s idea of what the story is so.
Daryl Moorhouse: And might have be a case that one director might say, okay, I want things lush and layered and lots of stuff. Another director might say, I just want to keep it simple. I don’t want to have a huge kind of sound design kind of thing or are those kinds of variations where your creative approach is dictated by the director?
Niall Brady: yeah. Yeah. And it’s up to you to … what you’re trying to do is interpret the director’s notes.
Daryl Moorhouse: Because they are not a sound person.
Niall Brady: No, no.
Daryl Moorhouse: So they are trying to say this is my vision, you have to say how do we do with sound?
Niall Brady: Yeah. And they’re asking you to bring something. So someone may say, I don’t want it. I don’t want to add anything to this at all. It’s perfect as it is. And then let you go. Then you have to use. You kind of think, well this has to play. That’s fine when you’re watching it at home or on a laptop or, but that this may need a bit more filled out because it needs to play in a theater and it needs to hold up in a theater and not feel thin. So then if someone says, I like it the way it is, that’s all you have to do with, then you have to kind of interpret that note and go, well how do I feel this track but not clutter and get in the way? So you just kind of interpret those notes. The story will always tell the director of what they want it’s not that a director will have a very definite all the time. Very definite “I only do sound like this.” They’ll have, it’s generally dictated by the story.
Daryl Moorhouse: Are you ever in a position where you might be able to make the decision around the type of music that’s you’d or is that dictated to you generally?
Niall Brady: That’s always a decision made in editorial. It’s one of those funny things and I’ve said it like often when I say I … Someone asks you what do you do and you say I’m a sound editor and how do you pick the music? And then you say no, and then people just lose interest [crosstalk 00:15:24] because they go isn’t that the sound? And you go, well no. So we never picked the music. Very rarely do we pick the music.
Daryl Moorhouse: Might it be if you’re on a small project, a short film with our art, maybe not even on that instance?
Niall Brady: Not even in that. The only music we generally pick is background music to play on a radio in the background where it might be live music and you just go but mostly because in the edit phase, that’s where the director and an editor and working really closely together and they’re making all those decisions and they know where the music’s going to be and they’ve temped it. So like the older music is such a strong element of the storytelling that I really, that that’s almost 95%, 99% in shape by the time we get it. So to the great disappointment of many people, we don’t put the music.
Daryl Moorhouse: So over the course of the last 12 months, you worked on three pretty varied projects which are probably indicative of, you look at the last 15 years of the nature of different projects you’ve worked on. Maybe just to kind of talk it through some of the different ways in which those work because of the nature of the projects.
Niall Brady: Yeah. So in the last 12 months there was Lenny Abrahamson’s The Little Stranger, which was a reasonably large budget film for Ireland and had a long, long post schedule. There was Rosie, which was much smaller budget and had a quicker post schedule. And then there was Blood which was a TV series for virgin, which was six parts and so they all had different demands on them. Always, you’re trying to bring your best work to them, but you also have to work within the envelope of the particular job. So say with the little stranger. We started that last November actually, and we finished it in June, beginning of June. So that was for me, that’s the longest we’ve worked on a job and I worked with my colleague Steven Fannigan on that one.
Daryl Moorhouse: Is that a bit more of a luxury when you have time? Can you get to or does it just mean that the project are bigger or so you’re-
Niall Brady: So it does two things. It’s not that I found on it that you’re never putting on the dressing gown and putting on the slippers and smoking your pipe going we have so much time here, but what you just had was you had a lot more to do and what you started on the Monday and you were kind of going, well, okay, I’ve loads to do to fill my work till Friday as opposed to starting Monday and going how do I get eight days work into the next five days? So you have different demands. But with a film like that, what we did on that film as we started during directors cut, which is I’ve never done that before, so director generally has. After the assembly’s done, they have 10 weeks to cut their version of the film to present to producers.
Niall Brady: So we started during that period. The reason we started during that period because the little stranger is a ghost story or is a very atmospheric film, so it was something that they want that Lenny and Nathan Nugent, the editor wanted to explore during editorial because it very much would inform their picture edit and what they were doing. So for that reason, and because again, it was a film of a different budget. They had a requirement to do an audience screener. So we started November. The first audience screener was sometime in January and that was an audience screener where people from the public are picked and they come along to a cinema expecting to see a film. And so the film has to have a robust track of sorts that feels like a film .
Niall Brady: You can’t put up on the screen oh, this is a temporary track. We’re sorry for the things that don’t feel like a normal film.
Daryl Moorhouse: It will effect their assessment of even if you tell them they’re still gonna Think, oh, that doesn’t sound right. You can’t get an objective assessment.
Niall Brady: Yeah, exactly. So with that in mind, so we had to create it, we had to have something in progress that would work in that environment for the screening, for the audience screener and also within that time, all through that long period of time of editorial sounds like a long time. But we’re constantly reacting to cuts changes.
Daryl Moorhouse: So they are chasing their changes.
Niall Brady: Yeah, yeah. So like December they had a producer’s screening so there was a turnover to sound and we did a version of again, like there’s an expectation that that’s a good sound and track.
Niall Brady: Then January we had another screening, there was another audience screen at the end of February and then quickly you’re into Easter then, and you just, and you’re always, I think we might’ve started on cut six of that and then I think it might have finished say cut 18. And in that time they, Nathan the Lenny are changing the cut and presenting different versions of scenes and working at. So there’s always something to react to. So you’re kept busy. Yeah but also with that particular one, like Steven Flannigan had to he worked the sound design on it. It is a major part of the movie because there is a presence in the house. What that presence is, how that presence evolves through the film and that’s not something that they could finish picturing and then go, oh, we’re going to do all these things now and it’s going be all right in the end that hatches just had to evolve and they had to find their way through that and find out what that was.
Niall Brady: And there is a thing like, I think it was Nathan that said it, I remember him saying that a long time ago was you can’t jump from week three to week 10. You just can’t do that. You have to do the intervening weeks to get to the … There’s no way you can, if you shortcut stuff, you can’t do that. You’ve got let the tone, there’s no-
Daryl Moorhouse: you’ve got to let it build essentially.
Niall Brady: You’ve got to build, you’ve got to explore things. You’ve got to go, okay, that’s not working. They had to explore all those alleys to get to the place where they felt like that was the film that they wanted to make. And we were as best keeping up with them. And we knew like five days before our screen at, okay, right, we’re getting a turnover now and okay, that’s the one we’re working on. That’s the one they’re going to be screening. Let’s bring all of our work to that as far as possible. And also be in a position to react to those changes. Rosie was a very different process because it was smaller film, but it existed on momentum and energy because the story is a very contemporary story. It’s a story about homelessness in Ireland and the broken housing system we have.
Niall Brady: And it was a story about now. So that required a different momentum and then on that they shot, I think maybe march, April, May, I can’t remember when they shot march or April, they locked it in June. We had a four or five week edit on it and they had a really good edit of it. We just had to keep that momentum going and then we delivered a track that was very full and like the situation Rosie is in, it’s busy and it’s noisy and there’s a lot going on. And so we kept that momentum going and then that locked. Five weeks later we mixed it and we mix it in two weeks. It was a shorter mix, but that film required momentum and that was the right thing to do on a film and it required different things. So it was again, a very different model. But the story will always give you guidance as to what the workflow should be or what it should sound like.
Daryl Moorhouse: We mentioned that you are going to be common with the podcast when we put a couple of tweets on Twitter just to ask if there were anybody who are interested to have a questions for you. And we did have three or four people came back to us with very interesting questions of what I wanted to do was try and rather than throw a whole lot of questions at you. Try and pick the questions which I feel are probably indicative of the questions that if we were to go into [inaudible 00:23:24] or even other people in the industry and say kind of what would you be of interest. So the first question I’m going to put to you is from a Shawna who we actually asked to record the question set into it. Just give us that feeling of being in the room. So we’re going to play this back to you and just maybe you could answer it first thereafter.
Shauna: In relation to the to the vast array of work you’ve done across TV series, movies, documentaries, and shorts in all the years you have worked, how have you adapted your skillset to keep up with the changing environment in the sound industry?
Niall Brady: Oh God, that’s a hard one. You’re constantly doing is like.
Daryl Moorhouse: Or even more broadly, what are the technological change? I mean you mentioned earlier the fact that now the editor is getting closer to mix and that’s a technology has facilitated that change. Are there other changes RX might be maybe an example where, I mean I don’t know how long you’ve been using our expert, has that made things that were hitherto impossible more possible.
Niall Brady: Yeah. Like that’s … So the technology constantly changes and gives you new tools to do jobs and new ways of working. So you get those tools are always interesting and it’s always good to have a good working knowledge of as many of those things as possible because like the right tool for every job. So RX is one of the big things that all of us have started using, which is a tool for that allows you to remove sounds or it gives you a very visual representation of the waveform and what’s you can take a beeps and buzzes and clicks that maybe you wouldn’t have been able to isolate many years ago.
Niall Brady: But now so you know that’s a tool. So you and say years ago, not years ago, couple years ago, most of the reverb units would have been outboard units or if you had something that was within in the box as such, it would use so much computing power that you wouldn’t be able to use it. But as technology has evolved and gotten faster, you have more, even the ability to lean on more plugins within your sessions because they’ve all gotten more efficient and better. So.
Daryl Moorhouse: Are your hardware boxes getting dustier by the year or are there some go to the ones that you still use?
Niall Brady: For me in editorial, there’s nothing outboard. It’s all in the box and for the mixers, say the re-recording mixers, I would be hard pushed to tell you when they last used something outboard – everything’s plugins. So that idea of the re-recording and mixing has kind of in the way I’m used to working, the way we work in Ardmore Sound is everything’s live, so we’re not never rerecording so we’re never sending something really outboard – out to another reverb. So in that sense. So that’s the big change is that you, there’s an expectation to do more but you can do more and you’re able to do more. So you do do more. So, which is great. It’s really good.
Daryl Moorhouse: Final two questions for you. First one is if you could say, if you think about what would your piece of killer kit, hardware or software the most important tool or asset that you think you have in terms of your workflow?
Niall Brady: Depending on what title and what I’m doing if I’m working as a dialogue editor, it’s RX, no doubt and a piece of kit called Ediload, which is a piece of kit for a piece of software for conforming and that’s on a job like a little strange where we were constantly changing our cuts and conforming. Cuts and I mean conforming. What I mean is when the picture editor makes changes, we have to make changes to our timeline and what is common in both timeline so you’re not losing material so you can remake your cut to match their cut. So it’s a piece of software Ediload, which you can’t do without. Then in design work, it’s Altivebr for sure any of the reverbs. And there’s another delay tool called slapper and I started exploring it till last night called Sound Particles, which is just … So there’s kind of toys in the box for sound designing are just seem endless. There’s this again and you can get lost very quickly and just making things that sound fun, but then do they are interested in are different. But do they lend themselves to the story at the end? So there is like you can just go down.
Daryl Moorhouse: Rabbit holes.
Niall Brady: With plugins for design. Yeah. But it just, it’s what you come out of the rabbit hole with at the end of that. Is it any use to the film or not? so that’s, yeah.
Daryl Moorhouse: when you step back and listen back to this the next day and say what does it fit in the context of everything else it was fun to do. And everybody we are interviewing with just asking them who should we interview next? Could be anybody. I mean the ethos of what we’re doing is really just conversations with the creative community. It doesn’t matter how difficult they are to get or whatever. Don’t make that part of your consideration. Just who do you think would be a good person for us to interview and we’ll try and get them.
Niall Brady: Oh God, that’s a hard one there. That’s a really hard one you put me on.The people that endlessly fascinate me because it’s post, there’s two people that I think editors are always really interesting because they’re actually the one person after the producer. I think they’re the ones that have the most close relationship with the director and have the biggest bearing on how a story feels. So I think feature editors or any editors are really interesting people. And then another person that I think is interesting, it might be a bit more technical, but I do think it’s interesting is colorists because for grading, because they’re kind of the ones who bring a spring, the picture together and often in similarly to a rerecording mixer where they’re balancing levels, trying to create the conceit of something happening. Something that was shot over two days feel like it was shot with the same lighting structure over two minutes. They are the ones who are putting that together.
Niall Brady: So I think colorists and editors are the two people that I think are really interesting.
Daryl Moorhouse: Niall Brady, I want to say thank you very much for doing a podcast today. I really, really appreciate you taking the time and I know some of the people that sent in questions will appreciate your feedback and it’s very interesting just to find out about what is a craft really and just even to what’s really nice to see. It’s just that you still have the same passion for it . 15, 16, 17 years in. I think that’s why the work is so good. So-
Niall Brady: Thank you.
Daryl Moorhouse: Thank you very much.