The Sound Of Halloween

Opinion and Insight 161 Add to collection
As giffgaff is back this year with another successful Halloween film, Wave sound designer Dugal Macdiarmid reveals his creative process
The Sound Of Halloween

Halloween is growing to mean three things: tricks, treats, and giffgaff’s annual horror show. It’s back for its fourth year and fast becoming a highlight of the season, with over 3 million views in just a week and gleaming reviews from all angles.

It’s often said that in horror movies soundtracks are the scariest part - so why not find out from the sound designer who worked on the films - Dugal Macdiarmid - about how far he agrees with this statement and learn a bit about his process.


Q> How important is the sound design in the giffgaff spot?

Dugal MacdiarmidWell I would say very important, and I'd like to think everyone involved would agree! When you think of sound for horror you think of big jumps and screams. Yes they're certainly there but I normally spend more time on the subtle uncomfortable sounds that are almost subconscious. If you're able to make a scene feel tense without any obvious trickery then the jumps can be even more terrifying.

 

Q> What’s the creative process for your sound design on these films? 

DM> Having a great working relationship with Tom and Abi at giffgaff, and Tracy at Like Minded Individuals means I was able to get involved almost at conception. I saw the treatment very early on so was already trying to come up with a 'sound palette’. We weren't too sure what music was going to be used so the first thing I did was chip in with a few ideas. Once Rockwell's 'Somebody's Watching Me' was suggested we knew that was the one.

Thankfully the track was decided before the shoot so I was able to join them on location at The Ministry of Sound. They'd had a club mix done which I wanted to punch through the amazing system which sounded incredible. Recreating the sound of a big club system is something we can do in the studio, but it's never as good as the real thing. Experiences like that are great. Firstly it's just loads of fun to go there and record random ideas as they pop up, but it was a real treat seeing the location recordists at work. They don't get the credit they deserve and it made me realise how important it is to have a closer dialogue between our two disciplines.

Once a rough edit was in place, Tom and I started to chat about how to approach the sound. This involves referencing anything from films and music to nightmares we might have had! One particular reference was from a film 'Don't Breath'.

I loved the tension in this scene, and although we didn't have any close fighting sequences, I thought the minimal close mic approach would work perfectly.

With this in mind, we got the lead actress back in for a few hours to capture loads of scared breathing and moving. This added a really visceral layer to the overall sound of the film.

 

Q> Anything spooky happen/any interesting stories whilst in session for these?

DM> I was convinced my studio was haunted while we were working on the project. I would hear weird groaning sounds coming from under the sofa, there ware strange unexplained smells and I had that horrible feeling of being watched.

Turns out it was Tracy’s dog Daisy, but it was scary, nonetheless.

 

Q> What’s your favourite overall use of sound design in any horror film, and why? 

DM> Tough one. There are so many great horror films that scared me to death when I was a kid, but I don’t think the sound design has stood the test of time. The Shining has to get an honourable mention, more recently It Follows was pretty damn good. The Dawn of the Dead remake sounded great but I absolutely loved 28 Days Later. It’s just raw and gnarly.

 

Q> Any particular moment in that film sound-wise that stands out?

DM> I think the guttural primal nature of the zombies is so well considered. That would have been the idea pre-production. These zombies aren’t slowly chanting 'brains', they are human made sounds but with all traces of humanity removed. So believable and terrifying. Add the amazing score and you end up with a film that sucks you in, scares the shit out of you, then throws you out the other side.

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Genres: Music & Sound Design

Wave Studios, 2 years ago