(Sound Editor)


- You are credited as "sound editor" at IMDB for THE 13TH WARRIOR. So, what did you do exactly on this show?
- I worked on the film, yes, that is correct. However, I was a very minor influence on it. I worked on the sound effects only; mostly foley, backgrounds and hard effects.
- Could you please elaborate on that?
- My work as a sound editor included foley editing, which would be things such as handling items, footsteps, anything people touched or would not be provided in a sound effects library. This is an area which I like to work in. Also, I worked in "conforming", which is a technical term for changing the film each time the picture editor made changes, which was usually on a daily basis. During my time working on THE 13TH WARRIOR, there were at least 5 different versions, each one different in slight ways, usually unnoticed by the casual viewer. I would take rolls of dubbed material and "conform" them to the latest versions. In doing this, I would have to make judgments as to where to remove material in shortened scenes, and how to add more material in lengthened scenes. This meant that I worked in most all areas of sound in this capacity. In other instances, I would actually cut background effects, sound effects, or foley.
- Is there anything about the way you do foley that is distinctly your own approach?
- What is the difference betwen a good foley editor and a bad one? What is the difference between foley programmed properly and foley which is never featured within the final mix? There are too many variables in the way in which we make soundtracks that affect how something is heard in the theatre to give an absolute answer. Do you watch the film in its original English version? Do you watch the film in the French dubbed version? If you have done the latter, then you will see that the mix of the sounds within the soundtrack have been altered. Foley and sound effects are far more prominent in the French (or any "foreign") version, because we have eliminated the original dialogue track, which includes much of the natural/original (production) sound. There are also the foley walkers (sometimes referred to as foley "artists") who perform the foley; their sensibilities and skill vary widely and an editor must choose the best performance and try to feature it in his tracks. There are as many variables as there are people involved in the foley process, and the foley process is just one of the many different disciplines gathered together for a soundtrack.
- THE 13TH WARRIOR seems to have been undergoing major revisions during post-production. Precisely when did you work on it?
- I worked on the first incarnation of the film.
- That is to say the John McTiernan version(s)?
- Yes.
- The movie starts off with some narration from Ibn (Antonio Banderas) in voice-over: I was wondering if this narration was added after early test screenings, to clear up things? Because it felt a little redundant, like it shouldn't be there...
- Yes, it was added for clarity. Any voice-over added raises a red flag that the storyline was confusing to an audience. In this case, the beginning montage was very necessary, because the story was so condensed and there was confusions over the motivation of the Ibn character and why the hell he wasn't in North Africa!
- Banderas is on a boat, and he starts to tell us his story in voice-over, and, basically, from now on, everything is a flash-back, till we go back onboard the ship, later in the movie. But I always fantasized that the original McTiernan version did not begin exactly like that, but more likely opened directly on the Baghdad scenes, and that there was no flash-back construction at all... So, how far am I from reality? On what scenes did the McTiernan versions you worked on begin?
- I don't remember exactly how it started, but I do know that the first version was in voice-over in the Baghdad scenes, as is the final version. The voice-over implied flashback. The action was condensed, as it is now. Actually, I don't recall much of a difference between then and now...
- OK. Now, what about the ending? They reshot it, didn't they? I heard that, in the original version, all the Wendols committed mass suicide (cutting their own throats with their own knives) and, also, that Banderas killed the plotting son of the old Viking King... Any truth in that?
- No, no, no! There was no suicide in the original version! And no killing by Ibn!
- Dialogue editor Frank Smathers told me that, in the McTiernan versions, "there was a huge problem with the ending"...
- This is true, and we all knew this. However, during our time there, the ending remained virtually the same.
- Spectators from early test screenings recall having seen one of the Vikings on the boat "blowing on some primitive foghorn", but in the final cut, instead, we see their leader yelling "Odin!!!". Do you recall this foghorn?
- Yes. Originally, there was a horn, and they blew it into the dark fog. This scene was shortened in the final version...
- Seems to me that I heard some heart beatings during the farmer hut scene where Ibn discovers dismembered dead bodies. Did you use other dramatic sound effects like this one, in order to enhance the identification of the audience with the hero?
- Constantly!
- What about the Wendols? Didn't they use bear sounds for their first scene?
- I did not get involved in the designed effects. Normally, however, we do indeed incorporate animal sounds in most effects of that kind, not to mention other areas you wouldn't normally expect!
- The final battle, at the end of the film, is constructed through slow motion. Does this represent some particular challenge in terms of sound?
- Any subjective treatment of picture represents a sound challenge, and can be dealt with in as many ways as there are directors. Normally, you cannot slow down sound to match the picture, because it affects the pitch and recognition of the sound. So, ultimately, the sound must be treated in another way, such as adding reverb or echo. Or anything else the director imagines... Regarding the battles, there were other sound editors on 13TH WARRIOR who specialised in the horses or weapons, but I was not one of them.
- I believe the film was first cut to get a PG-13 rating, then edited towards an R rating. Is the final rating something sound editors have to worry about?
- Yes, of course. The rating is more and more critical to a film's success, due to marketing expectations, and, in every case, the Ratings Board's decisions are either a result of sound, or assuaged by sound.
- Do you remember working on scenes that were not used in the final cut?
- No, not really... People sometimes don't understand that there are normally many, many versions of a film before the final one is released. Many of us who work on a film find the film is changing "daily"! Yes, the changes could be constant, and the "version" that people hear about may be different only in the number of frames in a shot, for example. There is no controversy over matters like that. Entire scenes may be deleted one day, and reappear the next. This is normal.
- Weren't you surprised that Disney did produce such a film?
- Well, Disney has many companies that make movies. SCREAM, for example, is also a Disney product.
- Do you know why they finally change the title, from EATERS OF THE DEAD to THE 13TH WARRIOR?
- No. They didn't ask me! (laughs) We (in the sound crew) do not know what the audiences thought of the title, even though the studio asked them their opinion of it in the test screenings. But, typically, studios do their best to market the movie through a good title. In this case, the EATERS OF THE DEAD title would not have attracted as big an audience as, say, a movie called ANTONIO BANDERAS. Focus the title on the main character, not the secondary characters. By changing the name from the title of the book, they shifted the emphasis from a group to a single main star, and provided for a poster as well.
- Were you aware of the first test screenings scores?
- No. No one in our part of the business really knows what the scores are. There is a difference between a 27 score and a 57 score, and the implications are even larger... Moreover, what the test screening audience thinks about a film is a carefully guarded secret. The director and producers do not want to share with anybody (not to mention the sound crew!) what the audience did nor did not like. If they announce these things and do not change them, then they open themselves up for second-guessing. If they fix something and the next test audience doesn't like it, they may or may not put it back. And if they do, they don't tell us why! The sound crew doesn't even get to work on a film until it has gone through many, many versions and it is ready to show to an audience. We never know what was in before and subsequently taken out.
- Anything you would want to add?
- I am not an expert on this film, only a minor contributor. You should ask the Director, the Film Editor (Supervising Sound Editor and Picture Editor), or the Producer, not a sound editor such as myself. These are the people who made the decisions regarding what you now see on the screen. I was not being modest when I said I was an unimportant person in this film. It's true. I was only one of a very large sound crew. I was not one of the main players. I am very involved in some films as a Supervising Sound Editor but, as you may have noticed, I was merely a "sound editor" on this one. When one works on a film, we are on a job. We are not the masterminds of great art, but merely the implementors. I have worked on many films, over 100. If I were to subject myself to intense interrogation for each film I worked on years after the fact, I would seek another profession! Most of us do not often deal with the public, and even our friends do not understand the dynamics of our vocation. Few people ask germane questions about film. To them, it appears as one way, while to us, it is almost totally opposite. Being "in the process" is more like working at a job, rather than creating something ourselves. We are more like house painters rather than the architect. Alan Murray is the one to contact about sound. He was involved in all the aspects from the beginning to the end. He has all the answers.
- Well, I can tell you that you were rather informative for an "unimportant person"! Thanks a lot for your time, Don.


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