Netflix’s Sacred Games has won hearts in the world of cinema. Stepping beyond the storytelling and lending a ear to the score and sound design, Creative First caught up with Anish John, sound designer for the series.
Can you tell us a bit about how you started your career in sound design?
Like several others, I was drawn to the world of sound through music. Initially, I wanted to dabble in music production and recording, and I figured I needed some training to pursue this ambition. Ultimately, this led me to FTII where I was drawn into the world of films. Over time, my attention shifted from music to cinema and sound design.
Your first film credit is from 2008. Eleven years later, what are some of the biggest changes in the way sound design is done?
When I was starting out, analog sound was winding down and everything was becoming digital. We went from making film prints to DCPs. Today, we have more flexibility and technology available to us. We have formats such as Dolby ATMOS that provides us with unlimited scope to create the most effective soundscape. The biggest change however, has to be the advent of OTT platforms. Netflix and Amazon changed the game. We have access to such amazing world class content at the switch of a button. Not only are we watching these excellent shows, but we are also making some ourselves. Going to the cinema is no longer the only option.
How do you keep evolving as a sound designer?
The constantly changing cinematic environment ensures that sound design evolves too. Nowadays, sound designers need to be very flexible. We need to understand the requirement of not just the story or script that we are working on, but also need to take into consideration the format of any given project. While working on a commercial theatrical release, two important things I have to focus on are impact and scale. While on a show like Sacred Games, I found myself working on more intricate, finer details of sound design because the viewing experience is that much more intimate.
In addition to Indian cinema, you’ve worked on international films such as Million Dollar Arm and Something Like Summer – were there any noteworthy differences in the way the two prioritize sound?
There might have been a difference in the past, but now, filmmakers in India are very aware and invested in the art form of sound design. We realized how an effective use of sound design can enhance storytelling and the film watching experience. Now Indian filmmakers acknowledge and appreciate sound design as a tool of storytelling.
Can you tell us a little about the process of developing a “sound style” – how much is the director involved?
Typically, the soundscape of the film, or the style of sound a film is designed in, is discussed between the sound designer and the director right from the scripting stage. There is a constant exchange of ideas throughout the filmmaking process. Filmmaking is a very collaborative process. If one does not collaborate, then you fail to utilize the talent of your crew.
Can you tell us about the technical set up used for Sacred Games?
Netflix is a very large organization that operates in about 190 countries. When a show like Sacred Games premieres in 190 countries, you can imagine the amount of work that goes behind that. Language versions and subtitling needed to be done in order to reach this diverse audience base. We had to facilitate this along with delivering the show to the Indian audience. In terms of the technical set up, sound device recorders, Aaton Cantar recorders, Lectrosonics, Schoeps and Sennheiser microphones were used to capture sound on location. Post production was done entirely on the ProTools platform.
Dialogue delivery is half of acting, yet many times the directors leave dubbing entirely to assistant directors or sound design teams. Has this been your experience – and do you think it’s the right way to go about it?
I think it eventually boils down to the trust the director has in his sound design team. In my experience, most directors are very involved in the process. If dubbing or ADR is happening primarily to replace or match what was captured on location, then that’s more of a technical job that the sound designer is better equipped and trained to handle, than say the director. If the director has approved the performance while filming on location, and we are trying to match and recreate that in the dubbing booth, a voiceover recording is probably more creative and most directors will be more involved in that process.
What was the most difficult sound you ever had to capture?
During the filming of Newton, we were recording the sound of a chopper. We had dust flying everywhere. Our eyes, mouths, clothes – everything was covered in dust. Staying focused on the job was quite challenging but at the same time a lot of fun.
When you take a holiday, do you hear more than you see?
I haven’t been on a holiday in a really long time! But, I do observe life very closely when I can. I love observing people, spaces, and sounds. What really catches my attention is the way a specific sound reacts in a particular space or environment. This really helps me when I am trying to recreate something similar on a project that I may be working on.