Monday  June 3, 2002


Toronto's finest at work

Alex (EvenHand's esteemed editor) and I had the weirdest experience yesterday. We were walking down Queen Street in Toronto and suddenly Alex jabbed me in the ribs and gestured toward a parking lot we were approaching. There in the middle of the tarmac was a shirtless guy with a cinderblock on his shoulder. He was a real-life Old Man with Brick! Insane. This guy didn't have his cinderblock tied to his ankle, but he clearly wasn't afraid to innovate; he had stuffed the holes in his cinderblock with little pieces of broken cinderblock. I guess he didn't want anyone to think he was carrying it just because it had holes in it and would be lighter, no sir. As we watched he put it down, carefully rearranged the fragments in their notches, and perched on it, looking very pleased with himself.

All right, what the hell are Alex and I doing in Canada? It's a long story which I'll abbreviate to its essentials. Cypress has had a longstanding business and personal relationship with the founders of Atlantis Films, a Toronto-based television production company (now a Film & TV empire called Alliance Atlantis). We first met the Atlantis boys when we were pitching A Child's Christmas in Wales. They loved the idea and said if we were able to find a U.S. broadcaster they would finance 50% of the production costs from Canadian and foreign pre-sales. After we succeeded in corralling a PBS station (WTTW in Chicago), they were true to their word and our first co-production with Atlantis was off the ground.

Over the years we have co-produced several TV MOWs and a couple of miniseries with Atlantis. As our business relationship grew, so did our friendship. So, when one of the guys was in New York several months ago we had dinner together. I mentioned that we were hoping to raise post-production funds for EvenHand and would probably start showing scenes to potential distributors. He offered to give us a deal if we used the post facilities they own in Toronto: Tattersall/Casablanca. I couldn't say "No," so here we are.

Down the street from our hotel

Toronto kind of looks like an American city and the people kind of look like Americans but you soon realize that it's different. Their money is multi-colored and they have a $2 coin (huge pain in the ass; they weigh about four pounds and seem to accumulate in one's pocket alarmingly fast). Plus, the dominant graphic on their cigarette packs is a big box that says stuff like: SMOKING CAN KILL YOU. As if that's not weird enough, they use the metric system. I suppose we arrogant Americans will persist in measuring ourselves in inches and pounds and gallons until some alien force makes us stop.

You betcha!

We've spent the last week and a half mixing the film. The mixers, Dino (dialogue and music) and Eric (sound effects), sit at a huge console with faders and lots of buttons and tiny glowing LEDs. Alex and Garrett (Supervising Sound Editor) and I sit at a desk in the back making arch comments. Tom, the sound effects editor, pops in occasionally when we need some new cool effect. Elliott stays in some mysterious dark room in the back with even more equipment and gets the tapes rolling and fixes things when various machines cease to function properly.

Dino and Eric work their magic

As each reel of the film plays, Dino and Eric start to balance the numerous sound elements which consist of several tracks of production (or "synch") dialogue; special effects and sounds (dogs barking, birds chirping, lawn mowers mowing); foley (footsteps, clothes rustling - all that stuff that you think is real but is not); ADR (added or replacement dialogue from both loop group and principal actors, including the police dispatcher (me)); music (score and source) and ambient room or street sound (added to smooth transitions from one cut to the next). All of these elements are combined together to create the soundscape. EvenHand is by no means a complicated film in terms of effects or sound design, but most scenes still combine dozens of separate tracks that all add up to a realistic sounding scene.

Fifty or so lines spoken in the film by the Bills were replaced with ADR , although you'd never know it (and almost always for technical reasons -- low sound level or excessive background noise). Both actors were extremely adept at fitting the words perfectly into their on-screen mouths. Loop group added ambient dialogue for the background of many scenes or new voices for inexperienced actors. Much of the sound work was devoted to enhancing scenes with different effects: when Mather punches Francis the sound of the punch is entirely artificial and composed of three different elements. After the punch when Morning starts yelling "Unlatch that door, motherfucker!" we have a couple of dogs in the neighborhood start barking. When Donald complains about Mather we have a lawnmower droning in the background. And birds sweetly chirp everywhere in San Lovisa, even when Morning is cursing and roughing up some hapless criminal.

It's a time consuming process, but the reward is a film that sounds great -- especially the more stylized moments (the Carol scene and the climax of the film).

Yes, the hotel lobby features fake salmon
swimming amongst the small change

After each day of steady progress on the mix, Alex and I roam around Toronto attempting to find a restaurant (it's harder than you'd think). We then return to our respective rooms at the Comfort Suites Hotel and collapse. When I mention where our hotel is (Jarvis and Dundas) various Toronto natives delightedly remark that we're in the heart of Toronto's red light district or "hooker central." As I drift off to sleep I hear them squabbling outside. It's hardly Times Square in the good old days, but this is Canada after all.

I give up -- what the hell is "Golf Leafs Golf"?
Some kind of naked hockey/golf hybrid?

- Joseph Pierson

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Copyright 2002 Cypress Films, Inc. All rights reserved.