Fresh from gaining a 2023 BAFTA Craft Award for Sound: Fiction, the sound team behind the House of the Dragon discuss the challenges and highpoints of capturing aural dragon DNA, writes Sheryl Hickey.
The sound team of 2022’s most anticipated prequel, House of the Dragon came together to discuss overcoming audience expectations, the benefits and disadvantages behind ADR, and the dangers of using AI to sample voices.
After scooping up the 2023 BAFTA Craft Award for Sound: Fiction, the team behind HBO’s House of the Dragon revealed how they executed their craft on the Game of Thromes prequel production which moderator Ben Nemes, MD & Founder, SpaceCrate, described as having “big shoes to fill.”
The Media Production and Technology Show panel brought together Tim Hands, Supervising ADR Editor, Adele Fletcher AMPS, Dialogue & ADR Editor, Doug Cooper, Re-Recording Mixer, Warner Bros De Lane Lea and Alastair Sirkett, Supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer.
The discussion began with Nemes opening the question of keeping the consistency between the two shows, “you have to occupy the same sonic universe,” carrying over from the epic success of Game of Thrones, and the daunting task of living up to high audience expectations.
House of the Dragon and ADR: Dragon DNA
Now with its second season on its way and with production about to start, Tim Hands, who first started behind the scenes on the pilot of GoT, revealed that after the gargantuan phenomenon that it was, living up to audiences’ enormous expectations led the team to making House of the Dragon a show in itself, perfecting “how we were going to handle the sound and what it would be.”
“I think my understanding was that when it returned to the screens, to be a sense of ‘we’re back’. So we had to have a feel to it that reminded me (of) where we had come from.”
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Alistair Sirkett elaborated: “The DNA of the dragons had to be brought forward.” Sirkitt found himself in an usual situation using a re-recorded mixer. He confirmed that working on such a juggernaut of a show was eased by being surrounded by people who you can trust, who know the dragons, and being supported by the HBO family. “(You needed to) feel like you’re in the same world but with different doors and windows.”
Hands revealed that the team “were originally told that there would be no ADR: zero. That was the original intention.”
Nemes questioned how does knowing there won’t be ADR manifest in the approach to recording?
Cooper explained: “You have to be aware that what you’re given, that’s what you’ve got to work with.”
Fletcher added: “In a way it makes you step up.”
Hands then explained that when it was decided ADR would be used, further things needed to be considered: “(You have to) make sure the actors want to do it and do it right…That you make sure that you get the performances that match melodically what’s on the screen,” he added that you use ADR to enhance the production and if performance is right, “if you let something be less projected, or if you go softer or you let the line go down… The first thing that’s going to happen is the showrunner or the filmmakers listen and go, ‘Well, that’s different.’ So their immediate reaction is I don’t want it because it’s not what I’m used to. So we have to work really hard to get it the same.”
House of the Dragon and ADR: A supportive environment
The panel discussed the Post Production of the series being carried out in the UK and the importance of feeling like someone’s got your back.
Cooper shared that “being supportive, having good co-workers and communicating what they know from above,” was key to feeling comfortable on such a large-scale show, to which Sirkett added it helped knowing “how we were going to cope with it, we felt supported by the producers.”
The takeaway for other producers is as Sirkett suggested: “Talk to us, give me the info you need - communication.” Nemes concluded: “That’s how it’s done.”
The panel went on to discuss working on something of such epic scale and maintaining co-worker relationships over such a production, as Cooper put it: “(You) meet people and get along with them for the duration of something this size. It’s all about who you work with.”
House of the Dragon and ADR: The Ethics of AI
Finally the hot topic of AI technology in production raised more uncertainties, as Nemes asked: “Where do you see AI developments specifically in terms of ADR?”
Hands brought up the debate with new programmes that sample voices and edit dialogue: “[When you’re recording] background characters, rather than a loop, you could record and use software to put a voice to it – i.e. put a female voice on my performance. But there’s a missing link – it needs the dialogue editor to create the voice in the first place, [the solution being that you] get an actor. You can sample actors’ voices but this is leading to very dangerous territory. Playing with peoples’ performances is dangerous, you’ve got to be very careful.”
Using AI in sound draws similarities with actors who don’t want to do ADR, with the panel agreeing that presently it is still a delicate subject, raising a wide range of questions, from copyright to ethics, and, indeed, who owns an actor’s voice…
Read more Behind the Scenes: House of the Dragon