Sound of Silence: Behind the Scenes with Jungle & League Against Cruel Sports
In May 2016, the League Against Cruel Sports released a thought provoking and shocking new advert as part of its anti-snaring campaign. Snares are small wire ligatures that are usually hidden in hedgerows and forests in order to trap wild animals. These ‘land-mines of the countryside’ are legally killing an estimated 1.7 million animals a year. Snares are indiscriminate and trap both wild and domestic animals in the most horrendous circumstances.
The League Against Cruel Sports approached director Paul Murphy to conceive and create a ﬁlm, as part of its ‘What If’ campaign that would portray the plight of a trapped animal. The result is a powerful and at times hard to watch ﬁlm entitled ‘Silent Enemy’.
Paul says, “There wasn’t a brief from The League as such other than the film should, in the most graphic way possible, show the effect of a snare on a wild animal. Like ‘Fox’, the film that I made for The League in 2014, I decided to use a human to portray the anguish, pain and slow death that a trapped animal has to endure.”
After auditioning 25 actors, Murphy asked Shaun McKee, who recently appeared in Alice Through The Looking Glass, to play the role of a jogger who heads off into the woods for a run. Murphy says, “While writing the script I tried to imagine what it must be like to be held for days by a thin piece of metal wire, just lying there, dying slowly. It must be terrible. Shaun really understood what I was after and gave me a great performance. He even did the stunt himself, for real, thirteen times.
“The challenge was to make a film that would shock people enough so that they may understand those feelings but without it being overly gruesome or horrible. I didn’t want people switching the film off too early. ”
Jungle’s Chris Turner completed the sound design. His brief was to make the first half of the film feel very much like an ad for a sports brand, luring audiences in before they see the snare take hold. He was then challenged with a ‘death’ scene that needed to be uncomfortable in its reality and allow viewers to get inside the head of a man who is trapped and dying.
To achieve this, Chris’ first task was to carefully review the edits with Paul Murphy.
He says, “It was important to form an emotional connection with the runner, the beauty of the space and the freedom of being in nature. In order for the sound design to have maximum effect, I was very keen there be a range of perspectives; close up to give us intimacy and a shared journey, distant to show the effort and exhilaration of the run and cut-aways to allow the viewer to enjoy the beauty of the space. In pre-production I requested the runner had interaction with different textures – dry ground, wet ground etc. This was to broaden the spectrum of sounds I could use and to build a rhythm within the cut.”
Paul had worked with Chris previously on ‘Fox’ and knew that he was the man who could take the new film to another level. “I wanted the viewer to feel slightly uncomfortable while watching the film and this approach was very much helped by Chris’ sound design.”
Chris used close up breathing sounds to create an emotional connection with the runner and create the exhilaration of the run. He used sounds in nature that are foreboding, such as the woodpecker in the opening scene; at other times he emphasised relaxation, with the sound of a robin in the cut away to the bush and the airiness of the leaves in the trees when the camera looks up. He also heightened sounds when the camera was close up on them to create greater dynamics within the audio mix and change the rhythm – for example, when the runner runs through the puddle or when he jumps on to the log.
Chris says: “From a sound point of view, the most challenging shots were the slow motion running ones, but they are essential to the film. I experimented with no sound, just breathing slowed down, just footsteps, and ended up with a mix of different things depending on the shot.
“I’m extremely happy with the balance of sounds used to deliver the emotion of the film and the thrill of running; the timing of the cuts and how they allow the rhythm of the sound to build to the snare.”
The next challenge was the snare and what follows. In Chris’ first draft everything was extremely heightened and exaggerated - for the wire around the neck he used twisting wire and plastic, scratchy noises, distortion juxtaposed with silence. “Paul didn’t say so but he hated it, for him everything needed to sound real. I was a little deflated because I really wanted to disturb the viewer with the power of heavy sound design, I knew I could manipulate maximum discomfort.”
Chris’ next draft made everything real but it didn’t work for him. “I knew there had to be another way. I deleted all the location sound and replaced it with my own voice, this allowed me to do something that was incredibly powerful.” In the final edit, the only sounds that you hear are the struggle to breath and the choking with occasional leaf and foot movement, and what you don’t hear is everything else. “The location sound had heavy rustling of leaves, bird song and other sounds that served to distract from the brutality of choking to death and what I was able to achieve with it gone was to dictate what the viewer focused on. Many of the breathing sounds used different processing to trigger different emotions, reverb, distortion, volume etc. and my favourite was muting some exhales to make the listener very uncomfortable.”
Paul says, “In the final scene, my camera was only a few inches from the runners face so the sound really needed to be intimate and descriptive. The choking sounds Chris created are guttural and heart wrenching, exactly what I was after.”
There were many challenges along the way but Chris points to the main one for him, “For the first half of the film many of the shots had been filmed from a quad bike and therefore I had to create all the running sounds in post.”
And did he use any special kit? “Yes my voice and it hurt for a week after.”
For Paul the biggest challenge of the whole project was the lack of budget, “In relative terms, the budget was practically non-existent. We shot and made the film for a tiny fraction of what it would normally take to make an advert like this. Saying that, some really great people jumped on board to help with the project, from BAFTA award winning actor, Peter Egan, who provided the voiceover, to the stunt coordinators who handle the Bourne and James Bond movies. I was really moved by how far people were prepared to go to help get the message across.
“So far the film has done amazingly well and has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people online. I am really hoping that the film goes someway to having snares banned.”
Category: Charity , Corporate and social
Genre: Music & Sound Design