The sound of terror or tenderness, a ripsaw or a ripple, is integral to mood, narrative arc, indeed success in cinema and British sound engineers have rapidly established a global reputation as being among the best in the business at delivering those crucial bits of auditory intrigue.
A case in point is the current BAFTA and Oscar nominee, Ben Wilkins, a Wandsworth-born, London-trained sound engineer who has spent the last 20 years in Hollywood as a supervising sound editor and mixer. Wilkins is nominated for his work on Whiplash, a film that has already won the Grand Jury and Audience prizes at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and can safely be categorized as one of those sleeper, must see, thrillers that is generating multi-award winning buzz.
The intense story of an aspiring young jazz drummer and his determination to achieve greatness at any cost while under the scrutiny of a megalomaniacal music teacher is heavily dependent on aural nuance as well as crisp, clear sound to deliver the full impact of what is a decidedly visceral film.
According to Wilkins, Whiplash is one of the most realistic sounding films Ive ever worked on. I do a lot of horror and science fiction, which is like a license to go creatively insane, but Whiplash is a real set of environments with real events happening in it. A major turning point in a film, a face slap for instance, can have huge implications for the narrative, but if it doesnt sound right, it wont feel right to an audience. I can reveal that for this film I arrived, after much trial and error, at a real slap sound that I recorded on myself. My arm was very sore, but a true artist suffers for his work.
The sound in Whiplash has already been recognized as something special by virtue of 2015 BAFTA, Oscar and Association of Motion Picture Sound (AMPS) nominations, but Wilkins reckons it has much to do with the overwhelming dedication of those he learned from in London, and those who are following in his footsteps now.
Wilkins said, Something has been happening in Hollywood over the last 20 years. The British have been steadily getting nominated for, and winning, awards for sound mixing and editing. Slumdog Millionaire, Les Miserables and Gravity are a few recent examples and that expertise and, more importantly, success has not gone unnoticed by studios in Hollywood.
Lots of big budget American films are being mixed in London. Not because of tax breaks or cost savings - London is hardly a cheap place to work - but because of the local talent there. I work primarily in Hollywood these days, but it was London where I was given an invaluable chance to learn a trade I love - as so many do - as an unpaid runner, making tea and fetching lunches at a recording studio.
Since those early days Wilkins has worked on an impressive list of more than 120 films, including a string of critically acclaimed soundtracks for Candyman, Stargate, Twister, Starship Troopers, Fast & Furious 2, The Last Samurai, Robin Hood, Star Trek, and now Whiplash.
Adds Wilkins, After more than 20 years working overseas in relative obscurity, its a huge honor to be nominated for a BAFTA and return to the West End, where it all began for me.