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The official poster!

Photographer Bridget Webber, who took the publicity shots of actors and crew during the Every Little Thing shoot, has created this stunning poster for the film.  Bridget is also preparing a postcard based on the same design.

EveryLittleThing

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STRANGE SOUNDS FOR SHORT FILM

 

ELT - Karl plays saw

Strange sound #1: The Musical Saw. We’ve been asked about the ‘musical saw’ which composer Karl Steven (pictured above) played for the Every Little Thing sound track. Yes, it really is a regular saw for cutting wood – but it’s marketed for use as a musical instrument.

The “Sandvikens Stradivarius” is made by a Swedish company. Each year it puts aside a few dozen saws which it thinks will make superior musical sounds. (Importantly perhaps, these are not sharpened!)

Karl was given one by his mother, who is Swedish, and he’s been playing it off and on for three years. “I just love the sound,” says Karl. “It’s so elegant.” He uses a bow (on the straight edge!) and produces different notes by bending the blade.

ELT - Chris + balloons etc

Strange sound #2: The Space Drum. Another strange noise on the Every Little Thing sound track was produced by a ‘space drum’. It’s one of many items among percussionist Chris O’Connor’s fascinating collection.

The ‘drum’ consists of three balloons sitting in plastic flower pots. Chris places a steel plate on top of them to create an unnerving screeching sound. The space drum was invented by Chris’s American friend Tom Nunn.

(Photos: Bridget Webber)

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HEAVENLY SOUNDS FOR ELT

Every Little Thing recording session

(Photos: Bridget Webber)

ELT - Kar; CU control room

Composer Karl Steven stands behind the raised desk in the control room like Captain Kirk in the Starship Enterprise. Spread out on the desk, dozens of sheets of music. A few metres in front of him is his ‘Scotty’ – recording engineer Simon Gooding. Karl presses the intercom button: “That was almost perfect” he says chirpily.

Through the big window Karl has a clear view of the studio. In there, three musicians wearing headphones smile back at him: Rachel Wells (cello), Cynthia Hsu (harp) and Finn Scholes (vibraphone). Beyond, in another soundproofed room, percussionists Chris O’Connor and Tim Stewart sit among their collection of tin cans, maracas and drums. And through a narrow window to the left we glimpse violinist Siobhanne Thompson in her own booth, tinkering with a glockenspiel. Bongo player Miguel Fuentes recorded his parts yesterday.

“That was very nearly fantastic,” says Captain Karl – tall, thin, dressed stylishly in his trademark black and grey. “Let’s try it once more.”

We’re in the famous Roundhead Studios, owned by Neil Finn, recording the music for the short film Every Little Thing. The studio is equipped with a Neve mixing desk once owned by rock gods The Who – “nothing quite like it in the country,” says Simon.

ELT - Simon + desk

Simon (pictured) has flown up from Wellington for this gig. Karl rates him highly: Simon has worked with rock bands and the NZ Symphony Orchestra, and on The Hobbit sound tracks. “You’re too good for Wellington, Simon,” Karl jokes. There’s a deadline looming – they have to be out by 8.0pm – but Karl manages to keep the atmosphere light and breezy.

Captain Karl is calm and encouraging. He hunches over the long strip of music sheets cellotaped together, following the musicians from note to note, bar to bar- keeping an eye on the big picture but spotting even the tiniest imperfection. Now he’s in the percussionists’ room, arms waving expressively as he discusses a specific phrase. He emerges – “cool, excellent” – and returns to the control room. There’s no need to go back to the start: “Let’s play from bar 40, and drop in at 46.”

PIZZICATO APLENTY

Karl’s percussion-heavy music score is complex and demanding. It’s just as well the musicians are some of the best in NZ: most of them play several instruments, and they’re in various bands and combinations. Chris plays drums with Don McGlashan.

Karl: “We need to allow the instruments to resonate a bit to provide a harmonic bed for the percussive stuff to sit on.” During warmup, he moves from musician to musician describing the type of sound he’s after. He urges them to use their instruments inventively. (Pictured below from left: Karl, Finn, Rachel and Cynthia)

ELT - Karl + 3 Musicians__09

Siobhanne points at her music sheet: “Those squiggly signs mean I improvise, and try to get non-violin sounds out of my violin.” Rachel is required to put aside her bow and pluck her cello strings during many of the tracks. (Correct name for this: pizzacato or pizz for short.) Karl tells the percussion duo: “Feel free to put in percussion if you see an insect on the screen.” Cynthia, taking part in her first-ever recording session, is using the extremes of her harp – the upper and lower notes – together.

AND A BIT OF ABBA

Karl is almost hopping with joy at the strange sounds that drift through into the control room. Because the film has scenes with insects, a thunder storm, and even an angel, Karl’s score is an exciting mix of percussive sounds and beautiful melody. One minute he’s throwing around words like “curioso” and “pizzicato”. Next minute he’s chuckling: “A bit of Abba never hurt anybody.”

A VISITOR

Roundhead owner Neil Finn pops in to say hi. Great excitement! But today he’s not a world-famous recording star, just a friendly muso. He leans at the door and listens a while. Has a peek at Karl’s three metre long music score. A few friendly words and he’s gone. His encouragement is a good omen for John, a Crowded House fan from way back.

We’re ready for another take. But this one falls to pieces after a few bars. The musicians keep time by listening to ‘click tracks’ in their headphones. But it’s easier than it sounds. Karl is diplomatic: “I think your interpretation of the rhythm differs slightly …”

The musicians are an honest bunch. A stream of apologies come through the intercom: “Sorry I was getting a bit lost.” “I came in too early.” “I screwed that up.” A round of laughter, then they begin again. Karl: “May the Force be with you, everybody.”

A SQUEAK IS DETECTED 

It’s going well, but Karl is missing something. “Unleash the saw!” Simon calls up the pre-recorded sounds of Karl playing the musical saw. The notes sweep from high to low like the title sequence from Doctor Who.

Plaintive violin. Angelic harp. Husky cello. Mellow vibraphone. They pause for an assessment. Cynthia the harpist: “Can we see the video please for my beetle cue?”

A mini-crisis looms. Simon: “I think I heard a chair squeak!” He and Karl listen carefully to the playback. Sure enough, there is a tiny squeak in among the sounds of cello and harp. In the studio everyone checks their chairs. But the culprit turns out to be the foot pedal on the vibraphone. “The foot of doom,” says Karl, keeping it light. Assistant engineer Ben Malone runs in with a can of CRC and the session resumes.

CELESTIAL SEQUENCE

Percussionists Chris and Tim sit amongst their collection of musical instruments – drums, cymbals, maracas (for the rattles), guiros (for the scraping sounds) – supplemented by ‘found’ items: a tin can, and a dried pohutukawa branch Chris picked up on his way to the studio. It’ll produce a nice rustling sound for the insect shots. Life as a percussionist is never boring.

The next challenge is a sequence in the film where the hero thinks he sees an angel. “This is the track I was worried about most,” Karl grins. From next door he cues a thunderous wall of sound – cello, harp, vibraphone and violin soar above a booming bed of drums. They’re joined by the pre-recorded voice of an operatic diva. The music builds. Reaches a crescendo. Then abruptly halts. “You told me to go for broke,” Karl grins in the direction of writer-director John Harris.

Come 8.0pm, a shared pizza, and the team disperses. Cynthia waits for a large taxi to take her and her cello home. This same group of musicians may never work as a team again, but today they have left a unique legacy – a vibrant and beautiful rendition of Captain Karl’s vision for Every Little Thing.

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Taking it to the next level

P1020462Meanwhile … across town in another darkened room … sound engineer Gareth Van Niekerk is working on another piece of the Every Little Thing jigsaw.

In his edit suite at Northwest Digital in Ellerslie, Gareth is adding the sound effects which – along with the music – will bring the film to life.

“How important is sound? Very. Music and sound design add to the overall feel of the film – taking it to the next level.”

Ironically, though, the audience shouldn’t really be aware of the sound effects he provides. “If it’s a good soundtrack you don’t notice it.”

Usually when a project reaches Gareth, most of the other work – editing, visual effects, colour grading – has been finished. He relishes the opportunity to “help with the storytelling. To bring life into it with the sound of the world.”

Some of the sounds Gareth uses are simply plucked from a sound library. Others, he creates in his Foley suite. (Named after its inventor Jack Foley, this is the room equipped with everything from gravel to china cups, where a Foley ‘artist’ creates everyday sounds like footsteps and hand movements to match the pictures.)

DOGS OUT, INSECTS IN

Every Little Thing brings its own challenges: like removing the ‘echo’ from the actors’ voices (the film was shot in a large warehouse), and taking out the sound of the neighbours’ dogs barking and cars driving past. He also has to create believable sounds for the movement of a beetle and a weta as they scuttle through long grass.

Gareth is tweaking some of the actors’ voices, too. The main character Harry Thorogood is pinned under a car in the middle of nowhere, so Gareth aims to give his dialogue “the sense of isolation. To make it feel as if he’s alone, and you are there with him.”

Gareth has a BSc in computer science from the University of Auckland, and he studied sound engineering at Auckland’s School of Audio Engineering. A decade ago he set up his own company, Northwest Digital. He does film editing and motion graphics as well as the full range of sound work – design, editing, mixing, Foley and ADR (additional dialogue recording/replacement).

THE BIG MOMENTS

His first job was as ‘nightshift sound assistant’ on Spartacus, then he moved on to doing Foley and dialogue editing on that series. This year his big commissions include the Ash vs Evil Dead TV series (editing sound effects), and the NZ-Chinese coproduction The Wonder (for which he is doing the Foley work).

And, of course, the big one! – Every Little Thing.

“The nice thing about Every Little Thing,” says Gareth,is there’s a lot of space so you can build to the big moments then drop back to nothing.”

And with those words, Gareth is back at his desk and his Protools software, working on a tapestry of sound effects which most of the audience will never notice.

 

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Playing with colour and light

Alana Cotton in dark

Every Little Thing continues its magical journey towards completion. The film is now in the hands of colourist Alana Cotton, who is adding her own brand of magic to Fred Renata’s pictures.

Step inside her darkened room at Images and Sound in Grafton, and you’ll find Alana surrounded by screens. There’s a wave form monitor, a vectorscope and a histogram – but that’s just the technical stuff: the means to an end. Alana’s real mission is to focus on the emotional impact of a scene: “What is the point of the story? What are we trying to say?”

It’s fair to say Alana’s job is a bit of a mystery to people outside the film world. When she specifies her occupation as ‘Colourist’ on official forms, people usually assume she’s a hairdresser. “But if they took one look at me they’d realize I’m not,” she jokes.

Alana Cotton at work

Colour grading is a time-consuming process that would drive some people crazy. But Alana loves it. “It’s hard to believe it’s a real job,” she grins. And life in a dark room? Well, she listens to a lot of music (see ‘Favourites’ below) and steps outside every couple of hours to ‘reset’ her eyes.

Alana uses Baselight grading software to match the colours in various shots, to highlight or subdue parts of a picture, remove distractions, draw attention to the important details, and change the hues.

“My job is helping the director and DoP to visually tell the story. To find the mood and tone.  To make sure the audience is looking at the right thing.  If the audience isn’t feeling what they’re meant to be feeling – I can help.”

OTHERWORLDLY EFFECTS

On Every Little Thing, Alana is having fun on some of the more unusual scenes, like those involving a celestial being. “We are introducing some subtle haloing and promist – bringing that otherworldly presence.

Every Little Thing is the kind of film we can really play with. It’s not immediately clear if what Harry is seeing is real or not, and we are playing with that idea in the grade – gently. Everything through Harry’s eyes feels a little different. It’s not necessarily obvious what or why that is … but on a second watch it would become more obvious.

“There’s also this lovely golden yellow tail light that pulses like a heart beat through the film, faster at the beginning with the adrenalin of what is happening and then slowing down and fading some. It seems to follow the pace of the film – and I look forward to accentuating and playing with this idea too.”

Unsurprisingly, she loves movies – across many genres (see Favourites). “When there is a strong grade specifically created to drive the story – like in Inside Llewellyn Davis or the latest Mad Max – I think it enhances the experience overall, and reinvigorates my passion for what I do.”

She admits she is ‘hyper aware’ of the colour grade of a movie she’s watching, but says it doesn’t distract her as long as the film is engrossing.

TRUE CALLING

Over the last eight years Alana has worked on a wide range of commercials, TV series (including Power Rangers), documentaries (including The ground we won), movies (including Deathgasm) and short films.

She could easily have followed another career path – “at high school I was a bit of a maths nerd”. But instead she went to film school (South Seas). She enrolled in writing/directing – “but very quickly realised I belonged on the post production side.” At Images she found her true calling as a colourist.

The best part of her job – besides the satisfaction of fixing problems – is working on exciting new ideas with directors and DoPs. “Perhaps bringing something to the project that hadn’t been thought of.”

She says that “as always” DoP Fred Renata has shot beautiful pictures for Every Little Thing, “and it’s an absolute pleasure to collaborate on this.” Alana is also working in with composer Karl Steven to create the right mood for the film.

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FAVOURITES

  • FAVOURITE BAND: Currently Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (soul/funk) and Freddy Fudpucker (folk with punk roots) – a Dunedin local, now based in Berlin.
  • FAVOURITE FILMS: In Bruges, Boy, Bad Education, Pan’s Labyrinth, Whiplash, anything by the Coen Brothers or Wes Anderson, Amelie. She also watches a lot of feature documentaries.

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TOP COMPOSER JOINS TEAM

One of the country’s most prolific composers of original music for film and television, Karl Steven, has agreed to write the music for Every Little Thing.

Karl Steven

Karl, a key member of the popular 90s group Supergroove, has created soundtracks for many documentaries, commercials and TV shows.  Recent work includes the drama series 800 Words and telefeatures How To Murder Your Wife, Venus and Mars, and The Monster Of Mangatiti.  (PICTURED: Karl Steven in the studio. Photo – Paul Taylor)

“I consider myself extremely fortunate to have Karl on board,” says director John Harris. “Music is hugely important in any film, and Every Little Thing presents quite a challenge because it encompasses life and death, beetles and birds, love and deception. Not to mention a car crash and a supernatural encounter.

“Karl is the right man for this challenge. He’s a brilliant musician and an extremely perceptive composer. I like his quirky sense of humour, and he’ll bring a light and intelligent quality – and some extra magic – to Every Little Thing.”

LIKE A PARABLE

Karl says he aims to preserve and help set the “dreamy, almost magical mood” that surrounds Harry’s unusual experience, “as well as striking the balance between the subtle humour in Harry’s situation and his response to it, and their high natural and supernatural stakes.

“To me the story is something like a parable, so I’d also like to give it a sort of timeless quality.”

AWARD AND DOCTORATE

In 2013 Karl was the recipient of the APRA PDA award for film and television and attended the celebrated ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop at New York University. During a break from full-time music work, Karl studied philosophy at the University of Auckland, and completed a PhD in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy at Trinity College Cambridge.

Karl is the son of a filmmaker and a writer, and trained as a sound engineer on both tape and digital media. He has a passion for the marriage of music, imagery and story-telling.

POLICE DRAMA

Karl’s earlier work includes the score and music supervision for Desert Road Films’ acclaimed police drama series Harry (a finalist for best original music in a TV series – APRA Silver Scrolls 2014), and the score for South Pacific Pictures’ drama The Blue Rose.

Karl is one the creative sparks behind Auckland’s “surf-noir weirdos”, The Drab Doo-Riffs. He collaborated with iconic New Zealand guitarist the late Ben Tawhiti on the soundtrack to Nova Paul’s experimental short film This Is Not Dying, which has screened at the George Pompidou Centre in Paris.

 

 

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And now it all comes together.

Paul Sutorius at work on ELTIn sunny Wellington, work has begun on putting EveryLittleThing together. Experienced film editor Paul Sutorius (War Stories, Ruby and Rata, Filthy Rich, 800 Words, White Lies) is locked away in an Avid suite at Park Road Post (pictured), selecting the best takes from the shoot. He says: “We’re trucking through. It’ll look really good, ultimately.” Mmmm!

Director John Harris, sitting anxiously at the back of the edit suite, is encouraged by the progress they’re making. “But the proof is in the pudding,” he says. “Are there enough ‘events’ in the story to sustain the audience’s interest for half an hour? We may have to get ruthless and take out some scenes.”

But one thing’s certain – the beetles, weta, morepork, thrush and ants will get plenty of time on screen. “They’re fascinating when you see them up close,” says John.

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