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Interview with Max Phillips of Seize The Night

Here at the Emerald Gore Society we are very excited about the fast paced sci-fi horror short film, Seize the Night.  When it comes to Horror or indeed any film, it’s more often than not the sound that makes us react - whether a footstep in the shadows or a zombie eating the brains of a victim, sound is everything.  As viewers we just take it all for granted but so much work goes into getting those sounds and music in just the right places to heighten our scares and thrills.  I was fortunate enough to speak to Max Phillips from Seize the Night and find out more about the sound designer/mixer and his work.    

Max, welcome to the Emerald Gore Society.  You are the sound designer/mixer for Seize the Night, tell us about yourself and your background in sound.

It started  in my early teens playing guitar and piano in bands, I ended up finding a job in a local pub learning live sound engineering and taught myself how I could record my own stuff at home - after some time I got into making digital music like drum n bass and dubstep. Through meeting enough bands and artists I got into producing EP's and albums, then I met a mastering engineer.  When I was in college as a part of my music tech course we had a module where we had to help the film students and make some music for their films. I remember spending as much time on sound effects as I did on creating the music and I loved it so from then on I just wanted to do audio, weather is was to go out finding the weirdest thing I could record or sat with and instrument n see what I could get out of it and the best thing it was to compliment a visual so it was collaborative and you could really show it to people.

When I think of Foley artists, my mind goes back to early horror films with the terrifying creaking door and claps of thunder – of course then I thought the sounds were real!  When did you first become aware of sound effects in film/TV/radio and what inspired you to begin to create your own?

I think I first realized about sound when I watched films like Jurassic Park and Star Wars, after a while you realize that there's no way they had a real T-Rex or lightsabers lying around.  When you watch the behind the scenes and see them layering all these different animal sounds and synthesizers to make them – I was just amazed. I realized it was the same sort of thing I did when I was putting together drum samples and layering guitars together and it just seemed so creative so I had to do it.

Today’s sounds are mostly computerised, from a head being decapitated to the good old creaking door, which ones have you found the hardest to replicate?

A lot of the sounds from ‘Seize’ mostly start by a recording, being a Sci-Fi horror film there's a nice level of layers and processing sounds to get what you want.  Something I was constantly keeping in mind was the grade of the film, that it was very cold coloured and I really wanted my sound to do the same.

I remember being amazed and somewhat disappointed that the sound of the TARDIS was originally nothing but a humble key being dragged down a piano wire until it became synthesised – are there still sounds being replicated using the traditional Foley method?

Some sounds are kinda like being shown how to do a magic trick, you were completely baffled then you realize how simple the trick is.  But you really can’t beat the old school, when you spend a day getting as much fruit and veg, then just tear it all apart and throwing it around. I salute anyone who's ever lost a bit of sanity sitting for days in from of a synth or tape machines just trying to get "that sound!"

 

When it comes to sound design/mixing, we can’t forget video games. As they become more realistic in graphics, the sound needs to keep up.  What are your favourite examples and have you done any video game work yourself?

The media of film and games is definitely starting to merge. With games becoming more cinematic and a broad range of styles, I think the ends are going to meet somehow, in games from one spectrum to another.  One of my favourites is Journey just for its beautiful artistic nature and soundscape, I can quite happily watch a walk through of that like a film.  It’s truly stunning and it really shows all games don't have to be about shooting something - that being said Alien Isolation is a great game to play, just ‘cause it is scary as F**k!

I have done some of my own works, recently some mobile games that were great because they were age appropriate for my little brother to play, have some games in the pipeline which are definitely in sci-fi realms so cannot wait for those puppies to come out all singing and dancing........... just with giant plasma grenades and big teeth!

 

 

Seize the Night is a horror film and would have a need for a specific range of sound effects.  What challenges did you need to overcome on this project and what was your favourite effect that you produced?

My favourite had to be the flash/plasma burning grenade, just all the different layers that went into it - can’t beat a bit of post processed cooked meat for burns. One of the more simple ones but very pleasing was the hissing sounds, just adding a little extra to them made them just right.

 

When faced with challenges on a film set, obviously negative noise is a big problem, especially in a horror film when tense situations can rely on that ‘hear a pin drop’ moment.  How do you handle these situations, especially if shooting has taken place in a busy city such as London?

 

Being in all the hustle of London there no way the city isn't gonna come through a recording on the street.  Lawrence Brightman and the assistant recordist did a great job considering what a tight spot they were in to record.  Dialogue editing was something I really sat with to make sure the city wasn't taking any attention so you were really sitting in the story, of course with the help of Eric Elick's score sitting nicely to pull out the dialogue in the mix and make sure it was nice and prominent throughout.  A lot of the scenes were gluing together nicely with some multiband soft ratio gating and a dialogue denoizer, every now and then a bus or truck would pass and some lower tones creep up so you have to manually notch them out, you just watch the scenes one by one until the distractions from the characters and story are gone. Dialogue editing is definitely an art form all by itself and has to be treated thus.

 

Of course when talking about sound, we can’t forget the inevitable soundtrack, leading us from pure tension to despair at the drop of a note.  Tell us more about working the score into the finished film and how Seize the Night differed from your other projects overall?

 

Erick did a great job putting his pieces together, going through the stems for the soundtrack, we had a lot of back and forth making sure he was happy with my mix, with Emma and Eric giving feedback to get as much out of it as possible.  Getting the big score sound to get some adrenaline going and making sure the punches and explosion were still shocking you.

Knowing what you do and with advances in technology, which film would you love to go back over and redo the sound and what is your favourite example of sound done well in a film, particularly horror/suspense?

I’d love to redo Alien 1979 and do a Dolby atmos mix that would be a lot of fun.

Great examples have to be Paranormal Activity for is low sub sounds acting as a suspense soundtrack and if you haven’t noticed it then it’s the reason your hair stands on end before S*** goes down! No Country for Old Men did some really interesting things for me like trains passing in the strangling scene. Not sure if it was Carter Burwell or Craig Berkley that went with it but it’s really made me treat my ambiance like a score and pick my spots.

Seize the Night is just about to take off with film festivals and future screenings where audiences will be reacting to your work throughout the film, which is very exciting.  What’s next for Max Phillips?

Can’t wait to see how the festivals take this on and what the future holds for Emma Dark, I hope we get to work together soon. I’m currently working with Merlyn Roberts and director Steve Lyons with their 1000bc Serurta, just finished the soundtrack for the trailer and finishing the first half. Working on J.C Ralls new short thriller Kathryn set in the 1890's which I’m looking forward to scaring the S*** out of everyone with. I’m on all sound on that one, from boom to score so I’m really excited.