Hollie Birkenhead & Anna Gurman
ONLINE APRIL 2018
CUT TO [space] June 2013
Between them, they have worked on films as diverse and iconic as ALIEN (1979), CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981), BLADE RUNNER (1982), LEGEND (1985), BATMAN (1989), GOLDENEYE (1995), TRAINSPOTTING (1996), THE BEACH (2000), 28 DAYS LATER (2002) and THE HOURS (2002). Editor Terry Rawlings and Sound Mixer Ray Merrin [who sadly passed away in January this year] have been in the industry for a very respectable five decades. Merrin has been nominated for four BAFTAS, including two in the same year for HILARY AND JACKIE (1998) and LITTLE VOICE (1998) and two for his sound work on HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE (2001) and HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (2002). Rawlings has been nominated for four BAFTAS and one Oscar [for CHARIOTS OF FIRE] and was recognised with a Career Achievement Award in 2006 by American Cinema Editors (ACE). DIEGESIS writers Hollie Birkenhead and Anna Gurman caught up with the duo to ask them about the challenges they face in constructing the film space and soundscape, what it was like working on ALIEN, and just who has the hardest job...
TR: My job is editing the film. I get the rushes in the morning and I make the cuts during the day. We work on this until we're happy with it. We then send it over to a sound editor who will fit the sound and so forth. Then we deal with it as far as music is concerned, and when all these things are organised, we pass it over to Ray and it goes into where he works [sound re-recording mixing], where he makes everything that we planned work.
RM: We hope!
TR: We try to. Sometimes we don't get it right.
On the challenge of editing sound and image...
RM: For me, personally, the most difficult would be dialogue films in a way because "crash, bang, wallop" films are easier to input noise onto. It's the wrong word: noise. People don't like that word. But with dialogue, you have to smooth everything over between each cut. When you're filming one angle then a different angle and the atmosphere behind that angle changes, you have to cut tight and then put an atmosphere track over it, whether it is inside this room or outside, with birds. So they are more challenging in that respect.
TR: I think the most challenging film I worked on was THE SAINT (1997). When we finished the film, they wanted to keep a character alive that had previously been killed off. So to try and make that work with what you had was very difficult. We had to keep coming up with ways to keep her in it until they managed to get more money to make it work properly.
On genre and editing...
TR: Most films have the same problems and I don't think one of them is any more difficult than another. But if I had to choose it would be comedy. The reason is because as soon as someone has told you a joke and you've enjoyed it, if someone else tells you that same joke, it doesn't mean anything. So you're working on a film that's got funny sequences in it which you work on for the first time and get it as well as you can. When you look at it again nothing seems funny anymore so you could cut yourself away from what was good in the first place.
On space, place and atmosphere...
TR: As far as space films, westerns or any other genre goes they are all roughly the same. You are trying to create the atmosphere of that film, that story. If you are good at what you do, you would just switch yourself into that mode when you do it [To Ray:] Do you agree?
MR: With films set in space you create sounds that are slightly different so nothing comes across as normal. You are striving to produce a different type of sound that's not boring, whether it is a sound inside a spaceship or something throbbing in the background. The sound editor for ALIEN, Jimmy Shields...
RM: Yes, Masterman would make most of the sounds work. He would talk with me to ask if certain things would work before the director would see it. It's collaboration; team work with everybody. The sounds for ALIEN were created from anything we heard that was different, just by listening to things we normally take for granted because we don't listen in life.
On taking audiences on a journey...
TR: You have to work out how far you can take someone when you're trying to frighten them. In ALIEN I always thought it was like pushing someone into a corner. You keep on forcing them further and further back, but you've got to know when to stop. Creating that sort of atmosphere is all about timing.
RM: Sound then brings it to life. Ridley Scott said that 60% of the ALIEN film was the soundtrack. When we saw it in its uncut version it didn't have a "wow" factor until the music and sound effects were added. I brought along family to the cinema to see it and they were jumping out of their seats. The cinema needs to be able to deliver good quality image and sound to create that space and experience.
TR: A good example would be the rain room scene in ALIEN; the chains are swinging, the water is dropping down and you're creating endless space with the water all around you.
RM: Surround sound helps as well.
TR: Yes. You can place the sound in different positions so that it comes from exactly where you want it to. Like 3D sound.
On who has the hardest job...
TR: No, me! No, I respect him highly and he does me. And we both have interesting and difficult jobs. I have to get it right before Ray can make it sing.
This interview first appeared in DIEGESIS CUT TO [space] issue 6 (2013). Read the issue here and the rest of our print magazine archive here.
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