The Favourite: How an iPhone and a hairy hamster create movie sound

CNET | 11/28/2018 | Richard Trenholm
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Movies are often described as a visual medium, but what we hear has as much impact as what we see.

"Depending to what degree the director unleashes you," says movie sound designer Johnnie Burn, "you can hugely change people's interpretation of the image."

Burn - Name - Sound - Guinness - Surfer

Burn made his name working on the sound for the famous Guinness Surfer advert, as well as the avant garde Scarlett Johansson film Under The Skin. Director Yorgos Lanthimos was so impressed with Burn's soundscapes that he recruited Burn to work on his highly acclaimed and highly idiosyncratic films The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and his new movie The Favourite -- playing in US, UK and Australia theatres now.

Starring Olivia Colman, Rachael Weisz and and Emma Stone as feuding noblewomen, this blackly comic period tale required Burn and his team to recreate the sound of an 18th century palace -- using 21st century technology.

Burn - Phone - Process - Sound - Lanthimos

I chatted to Burn on the phone about the process of storytelling with sound, working with Lanthimos, and whether superhero movies are too loud.

Q: When you're making a period movie, does that come with a particular brief?

Burn - Brief - Yorgos - Stab - Disapproving

Burn: You certainly don't get too much of a brief from Yorgos, he lets you have a stab at it and then you might get a disapproving look if you get it wrong. But if you're making a futuristic film you can design your own soundscape, giving you the palette you need to paint pictures with sound and affect the drama. With period films it's constrained to what we know things sound like. It's a smaller toolbox.

Can you give an example of how you use sound to help create the world of the story?

Scene - Emma - Stone - Palace - Kitchens

There's a scene very early on when Emma Stone goes into the palace kitchens and we made it sound like the engine room...
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