A look behind the scenes at the process involved in creating the audio for a short promotional trailer

One of the joys of creating music and sound for film is that you never know what’s going to turn up on your audio doorstep.

I say that without cynicism, as surely having a string of creative predictabilities is akin to the ubiquitous desk job – something I’m fortunate is now in my past life!

So it was that director Andrew Loverage from After Midnight Productions asked me to create the soundtrack for award winning writer Alan Keen’s forthcoming book ‘Midnight Inferno’.

A trailer for a book?, well yes, this is of course the 21st century and trailers are no longer only the preserve of movies. It’s a multimedia world out there and people expect a certain amount of visual eye candy be it a film,game, music release or book, and anything that can make a product stand out from the crowd can give it that much needed edge in an arguably overly cluttered media consuming world.

I was given a script brief on the already shot film, in essence a guy is on the shore of a lake contentedly listening to a radio whilst engaging in his ornithological pursuits (well it takes all sorts!), when the environment is disturbed by the approach of an unseen spacecraft.

An intense light is beamed upon our unsuspecting victim, who then suffers a rather violent death at the hands or should I say bit of a drill (although we don’t know for sure the cause of his demise).

The 1 minute and 39 second trailer ends with normality returning to the peaceful countryside, the radio now splattered with blood, and a scene cut to the visual details of Alan’s intriguing new book.

Sounds simple enough, however the audio challenge for me was that there was absolutely no sound or recorded dialogue, meaning the whole trailer needed to be constructed from scratch, here’s how I did it.

We wanted some music that sounded like an American folksy bluegrass track, so I wrote and put together a short banjo riff with a suitable underlying rhythm, all in the usual high quality way I’d create any piece of music. This music had to sound like it was being broadcast and played through a crackly transistor radio, and the obvious first thought was to simply apply an effect like an equaliser to degenerate and recreate that sound.

I then remembered that I had one of those FM transmitters buried in a box (the kind that let you send a signal from an mp3 player to an in car radio that were popular about 10 years ago). So I did exactly that and transmitted my finished track to an old FM radio whilst recording the output from it’s mono speaker through a dynamic microphone and tweaking the tuning on the fly to get that authentic crappy tuning sound, so what you hear is the real thing not a simulation, including my voice attempting an impersonation of a stereo typical redneck American disc jockey!

Andrew had provided his usual ‘beep’ cues along a 25fps timeline to enable me to accurately hit the cues (which for me being blind would otherwise have been impossible).

We needed an earthquake type of sound to announce the arrival of the alien craft, stock sfx didn’t seem to cut the mustard, so I initially went with a sub white noise rumble I came up with on my Novation Bass Station 2 synthesizer, a machine which excels at sub bass sounds. I often use this in tracks to give bass that cinematic speaker rattling boost.

We came to realise however that this trailer would predominantly be viewed online, meaning that much of that luscious sub bass would be wasted on all but the best pc and laptop speakers. After a brief revisit to the drawing board we settled on a modified thunderclap with just a hint of sub rumble, which brought the sound up into the correct frequency to hopefully appease everybody’s ears.

I used a varied selection of samples played through Native Instruments Kontaktsampler to construct the rest of the trailer. this included the scream and blood splatter from our unwitting hero (you may recognise actor David Gurney as the hapless thief from 2014’s Nyctophobia film – whom it should be noted is yet to survive a whole movie alive!).

I did apply some additional VST audio plug-ins to give additional ambience and width spread to certain elements of the mix.

We had originally intended to have the radio come back in and play to the end of the trailer, however I realised that this didn’t give the whole audio enough sonic variety, plus the graphic about the book needed to be emphasised more.

with this in mind and with the directors agreement I added a simple but effective sci-fi type drone for the final section, interlaced with a smattering of cinematic percussion from Project Sam’s excellent Orchestral essentials sample library (a good choice for cinematic work). A stereo morphing radio chatter effect and discordant metal scrape put the finishing touches to the piece.

although only a short track, constructing something from literally nothing gave me an appreciation for the work the sound engineers do when creating authentic environments for radio dramas etc. The work has to be sonically accurate in terms of cues and be convincing enough for the listener to be transported to the place the subject matter is intended to take them.

I had the luxury of having visuals to accompany my soundscape, but nevertheless it was a gratifying experience to have worked on this short project. I hope that the trailer will do the job it was designed for and bring Alan another successful novel.

You can take a look and listen to the results here at the following link

Chris Ankin (c) 2015

Thanks to all at After Midnight Productions


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