Confessions of a sound engineer: Horror movies are hardest
Often overlooked, sound is an important aspect of commercials, films and TV shows
The next time you watch a movie, pay close attention to not just what you are seeing but what you are hearing, as well.
Each sound - from the pen scribbling on paper to the crunching of footsteps and the rousing background music - is there because a sound designer, like Mr Rennie Gomes, wants you to hear them.
The managing director of local sound post-production facility Yellow Box Studios, who is in his 40s, said: "All that you hear, it is my job to ensure that the sound is all there. Down to the smallest of sounds, such as when someone brushes their hand against their hair, that sound is deliberately added in a place like this."
"This" refers to his underground film mixing facility, which was built according to the strict standards of audio company Dolby.
Mr Gomes revealed that it cost more than $4 million to construct.
As he fiddled with hundreds of levels and knobs to edit sounds while speaking to The New Paper, visuals from an upcoming film played on a screen the size of that in an average movie theatre here.
The names of the films Mr Gomes and his team have worked on might ring a bell.
He has worked on local films such as Royston Tan's 15 and Eric Khoo's Mee Pok Man, and he has even helped mix sound for local anthology 7 Letters.
This job requires immense focus, and you work alone, sometimes putting in 18-hour days. It can be a bit creepy.Sound designer Rennie Gomes on sounding horror movies
Mr Gomes also sounds international films and TV shows - he had a hand in some HBO shows, including Grace, Serangoon Road and Halfworlds.
Anticipating this reporter's inevitable question, Mr Gomes said: "But no, no Game Of Thrones. I wish I did."
Much of his work is to add sound to advertisements. Well-known agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi and Ogilvy & Mather engage him.
Be it a commercial, film or TV show, the process of putting together sounds for a piece of work can be time-consuming and go on for some time.
"There are so many layers to sound. A movie that runs for 90 minutes can sometimes take three, maybe four, months," said Mr Gomes, who has been a sound designer for about 20 years.
These layers include not just the characters' dialogue but also everyday sound effects called foleys and the background music, which is used to create a certain kind of atmosphere.
Mr Gomes said one of the hardest genres to sound is horror.
He said: "The timing is so precise, and sound is so important in making people scared. Imagine if you watch a horror movie without the sound, chances are that it would look like a comedy instead."
He admitted that when he is sounding horror movies, he stops before it gets too late in the night.
"This job requires immense focus, and you work alone, sometimes putting in 18-hour days. It can be a bit creepy," he said.
The solitary nature of his job is also why he does not have private screenings in his state-of-the-art theatre.
Mr Gomes, who is married, said: "Yes, there is this theatre, but after spending so much time in the dark here, I would much rather go out and talk to real people, not the ones I see on this screen."
A love for film is what guides Mr Gomes' work, and part of what keeps him going in this field is the encouraging film-making scene here.
He was appointed one of 19 jury members for this year's National Youth Film Awards - an annual competition organised by *Scape that serves to recognise young film-makers.
"It is an exciting time for films in Singapore. We are seeing more and more people who tell all sorts of stories, and it is important to keep the momentum going," he said.
Secrets of the trade
- Obviously, a keen sense of hearing is required.
- Watch as many movies as possible, to better understand what works (and what doesn't) when it comes to composing the sound for a scene.
- A short clip can take a long time to complete, and sound designers need to be patient people, who can work without getting distracted.