A band hits the stage at a music festival, their music blasting over the crowd as they passionately sing along. The people clap to the rhythm, belt it out to the chorus, their voices mixing with the music. It’s loud, it’s natural and it sounds so real. But it isn’t, not exactly.
It takes a lot more than staging a music festival to make it sound like a musical festival for a movie. While the images are there, dancing and playing across the screen, there’s a whole crew making the noise behind the scenes.
Michael Orlowski, a Full Sail University graduate and now the school’s dubbing stage engineer, knows how it’s done. In November, he won a Best Sound/Sound Mixing for a Feature award for his work creating and layering the sounds on the film “Renee.”
The Crystal Reel Awards, which recognize great work in film and television in Florida and consists of a panel of Emmy, Grammy, and/or Oscar-winning judges, awarded six Full Sail graduates and several faculty members with wins for their work.
Sound develops the story
What stands out about the sounds in “Renee” is how much music plays a role, and how it underscores Renee’s story the entire way, allowing you to hear and really feel how she does, said Anne Watters, the program director for film at Full Sail. In the film, which premiered at the Florida Film Festival’s opening night in April, Renee is struggling with drug addiction and self-harm. It follows her as music, friends and a drive to live help her triumph over it all.
“The whole film focuses on sound telling the story,” Watters said. “It’s much more subtle, but it’s much more powerful in a way.”
All throughout the beginning of the film, Renee is isolated and alienated from everyone. The music is sparse and quiet, sad. At the music festival, she is finally getting back in touch with her life before drugs. She’s with friends, and the music brings them all together again. The moment feels so victorious; the layers of sound make it feel so real.
And that wasn’t easy, Orlowski said. More than 70 people were gathered to create that atmosphere of sound. Actors, students, faculty members and volunteers stood together in Full Sail’s dubbing stage, which was turned into a massive karaoke room. With headphones on blaring the film’s song, streaming the words across a movie-theater-sized screen, they all sang together. That was layered on top of a CD track of the song, along with painstakingly chosen sound effect claps that matched exactly to the already filmed rhythm of the clapping of the actors. Orlowski describes sound mixing like a giant problem in a movie that he loves to solve.
“You feel the story come alive,” he said. “It’s a struggle, but it’s so rewarding.”
“Renee” previewed at the Florida Film Festival and may be in select theaters soon. For more information about the film, visit reneethemovie.com. For more information about Full Sail, visit fullsail.edu
It’s all about the little details when it comes to sound, but they can make a story intriguing or distracting. They propel the story forward and add atmosphere, emotion and drama without being noticed all the time, and that’s what it’s all about, he said.
“I never want the sound to take away from the story,” Orlowski said.
C.A. Barrow, the 2011 Full Sail valedictorian, can relate with his experience as production designer for the short “Men of this Life,” which he won a Crystal Reel Award for Best Art Director/Set Design for a Short Film. Barrow said he loves the clues that a character’s environment can give.
Barrow created surroundings for the film set in the ’20s, ’30s and ’50s by pouring over design books of the times, picking details that would make it feel real. At one set while they were filming, characters could walk right through decades. His crowning achievement was a study room that much of the action takes place in. Deep cherry wood envelops the characters in darkness, setting the serious tone of the scenes.
“You’re creating this world for them to get lost in … if the audience questions where they are for a moment it kind of breaks that world,” Barrow said. “It’s just about keeping the audience believing that what they’re watching is real.”
Creating worlds is what Full Sail is all about, Watters said. She loves being a part of making students into real filmmakers.
“It’s all about the vision, it’s about innovation and pushing the envelope on our art forms,” she said. “It’s a great place to grow as an artist … you just have to bring your story.”
“There’s not anything that gets in the way of that process here,” Orlowski said.