Amaze – Autism Australia

The Crew:

Director: Gabrielle Bullard – First A.D: Kim Ingles – D.O.P: David Franjic – Assistant Camera: Michael Gordon Hill – Sound Recording: Hassan Lahrech, Producers: Elizabeth Reeder – Holly Hayes – Wardrobe: Louise Patterson, Lighting: Savage

A brand new four years campaign has been created to promote awareness on people’s behavior towards autistic people. The campaign will run three 30″TVC’s that should start airing April 2nd 2019, launch will be on World Autism Awareness Day.

I’ve been called on this project to assist with location sound recording. After reading the treatment, I was really intrigued to see how this shoot would unfold, we were going to work with autistic people as the heroes of the stories. During pre-production, I was explaining to the the production team that we might need to be a bit creative with sound recording as some autistic people do have serious issues with physical contact and handling. It took me a lot more thinking than usual, I immediately thought of the worst case scenario, not having the option of wiring the heroes with a lapel mic!!

Panic did not set in as there are many other options to work with, like hiding microphones as close as possible to the talent, but still, I like to have crisp and clean dialog recorded properly, in close proximity of the voices. I prepared a basic recording kit with my trustworthy Sound Devices 744T, a radio mic with a Sanken COS11D (I love that little mic, very easy to hide and it sounds great!!), a shotgun mic Sennheiser MKH8060 on a boom pole and that was it. I had to rent two additional Lectrosonics radio mics and three IFB for the Agency, Client and Director to monitor the sound during the scenes. Fairly easy…

Photos credit: Bonnie Savage (

Click to enlarge the Gallery

Day 1

We rolled in with all the gear in an office in the Melbourne CBD, set up pretty quickly, I like to meet the actors before hand to break the ice and make friends,  if I need to mic up a lady, I usually quickly run to the wardrobe department, in this case the hilarious Louise Patterson, or the make up artist to ask for help, fixing a mic can get pretty invasive, some people don’t mind, others are freaking out…

Being on very high alert, I discreetly asked who was the autistic hero for the first story, someone pointed me to Chloe, she was having her hair done… I asked the  assistant director, Kim Ingles, how comfortable Chloe would feel to be wired, she did not have an issue. I went happy and gently introduced myself, explaining calmly what the process would be like, Louise, the wardrobe artist, was really helpful in getting the mic in the right spot. Gabrielle, the Director, mentioned that Chloe did not have any dialog in the script, I told her never mind, it would be very good to capture her presence, breathing and movements, less work in post for foley’s and it’s the real deal if it’s usable!

Everyone was standing by and ready for the first scene to be shot, when the Director walked on set, sent the roll over cue, camera was rolling, sound was rolling and… action! That’s when we heard a live bagpipe blasting out in the street John Farnham’s ‘You’re The Voice’ tune, soon to be joined by a very loud singer… I looked completely depleted and powerless at the director… There was a street corporate event rocking it loudly, all you need for a clean and crisp dialog recording on top of the uncontrollable, centralized loud air conditioning system in the office… What a great start!! The event didn’t last very long though, about fifteen minutes, then everything went just fine, to cover all bases, we recorded some wild lines in the quietest part of the office so the post production department would have more clean material to work with, we wrapped the first spot around lunch time…

The second story was happening in a cafe with two actors and a male autistic hero. That set was even more of a sonic environmental challenge!! The scene was to be shot near the kitchen area which had massive suction fans that could not be stopped, yes, we were shooting in the middle of business hours, switching that off was not an option! I did my best to hide the lapel mics as close as possible to the actor’s mouth. In these situations, I like to take my headphones and pass it to the Director so she could appreciate, in an augmented reality fashion, the sonic environment and challenge first hand! Gabrielle was very understanding, she looked at me and said: ‘Today is not going to be very good for you, don’t stress, it’s not your fault…’ Very sweet of her…

To damage control that, the only alternative was to go back to the production team’s hotel room and do more wild lines as a back up, failing that, I suggested ADR in post if the wild lines were not usable for lip sync…

Day 2

Was happening in a Woolworth supermarket, the trick of the day, we were going to shoot with autistic children! I had been warned that the first kid would be fine but I might not be able to mic him up. On the other hand, I was told the second kid was a more complicated case. Gabrielle discreetly told me: “No boom for him!”. Creative mic placement kicked in really fast!! I rushed to the cashier where the scene was happening and started looking for options, managed to hide the shotgun mic pretty close to the action, I had two additional Lectrosonics, one on the acting ‘Mum’, the other one on the onlooker passing nasty comments (part of the script), it sounded pretty good everywhere…

The down side to my set up, the shotgun mic was pointing directly towards the automatic doors of the supermarket constantly opening and closing, with customers walking in and out, traffic was coming through as well! I opted to hook my Sennheiser MKH50 diametrically opposite the shotgun mic, hoping to counter act the unwanted traffic noise. I quickly built a made up 50cm x 50cm card board screen placed just behind the MKH50 to reduce background traffic noise. The result was pretty good!

Oscar, the first autistic hero was a sweet heart to work with, he was taken in a quiet place in the staff room of the Wollies, where we had the make up and wardrobe set up… Once he was ready, I asked if I could approach him to mic him up and he let me, to make him feel more comfortable, I slowly went to him and with a peaceful and very calm voice. I introduced myself, I told him that I’ll be his new friend for the day, he smiled and seemed very happy with that. My approach to mic him up was simple, I knelt down so my eye level was lower than his, I felt this psychological position would be far less intimidating for him than me standing up from my six feet tall, looking down on him… He was very relaxed and he was wired in no time, very cooperative! We shot the scenes with him with no problem at all.

Then came Scott, the second autistic hero, we started rolling without wasting time, I was looking at David, the DOP, constantly and quickly picked up that he was quietly filming! That’s when I decided to let the recorder roll with no interruption, the Director was calmly resetting the takes and the intensity gradually climbed up. At one point, the voice of Rachel, the acting ‘Mum’ became so shaky, I had to take off my headphones, it was becoming too emotional for me to bear!! It was an incredible eye opener and a pretty strong moment to experience. It does really make you appreciate first hand what some parents of autistic children have to deal and put up with… It was so emotionally charged!! I had never seen something like this before!!

We eventually managed to get all the shots Gabrielle needed and finished packing up really quickly, peak hour customers were flowing in, it was time to go! When everything was packed up, I ran to the BWS, just besides the cashier (how convenient!!) and bought a six pack of Hoegaarden that we shared with the remaining crew and Director in the staff room! I really needed that to digest the day!! Incredible shoot!! My hat off to Gabrielle, the Director, for managing the set in a such a calm and controlled way!! Awesome job from the entire crew!!!

I’m sorry, I don’t have a link to point to just yet, I will keep you updated when the TVC’s are being released!

Coming up next: Sovereign Hill, Ballarat.








Village Cinemas – The Nom Noms

This was a challenging but very creative project! I love animations and cartoons, not only because I have not grown up yet, but for the simple fact that when characters are created, it begins with a mental picture and some sketches, then evolves to print, and finally ends in animation. When the animation is finished, we see mute characters acting on screen, with no sound and no life, that’s where we, the music and sound heads, come in! What I also find very interesting is the character development phase, in which you invent a personality for a character. That part was done by a few people, Brad Wilson as Creative Director, Leah Dunkley as copywriter, Nick Philips as Art Director and international legend, Producer Roy Ami. They developed 5 characters, Salma The Nacho, Koolio the Ice Cream, Frank The Hot Dog, very cute!! Kernel Corn, the pop corn pack and Pop, the soda. When  the drawings/characters development phase was done, I was called in the Agency to take the briefing. I was shown the characters, been given the actions that they would each do, alone all or together and it didn’t take much time to get some ideas flowing for music and sound design. The very first idea that came to mind as a reference was my favourite animation film, The Incredibles, I fell in love with the movie, the story and particularly the Music. Michael Giacchino is simply a music genius! I really wanted the music track to be along the same vibe to give the characters a similar heroic feel. I suggested that as a reference to begin with and see how it would turn out once the Music demo would be done. To accomplish that mission, I needed help and decided to bring two of my really good friends and partners in crime on board, Australian Rock legend Phil Ceberano and Maitre Yacine Mdarhri Alaoui both extremely talented and accomplished musicians, with Yacine loving Jazz, that was a perfect fit. They worked as co-composers. After taking the briefing from the Agency, I set sail to Phil’s place at Aloha Studios in Bentleigh, where we work regularly together and started discuss the project with them. I brought up the reference of “The Incredibles” and that was the beginning of the music scoring stage. When Phil and Yacine finished the first Music demo, I was really happy with the result and confidently called the Agency to let them know that we were on a very good track. I took a few days to work on the sound design part. When I mixed both together, we ended up a great and really dynamic track that was fitting the brief and suggestions I had made. I was getting more and more confident! We sent the material to the Agency and was glad to hear they were loving it too. They sent the track to the Client and that’s where we really started working!! The Client did not think it was a good track, fair enough, music is very subjective and you can’t force someone to like your taste… We received a completely different brief, to which we were more than happy to work with and make sure it all worked out, we went back in the alchemy room, brain stormed on new ideas, versions, other angles and  it was time for me to let Phil and Yacine work their magic. They scored another 3 or 4 different demos and variations, I went back on my end to work more in depth on the sound design and when ready, the agency was very happy to present the new versions to the client. Unfortunately, the client still did not like the new propositions… That’s when Phil looked at me and said ‘That’s enough!! We need to sit down with these guys and figure out exactly what they want!”. I started to become a bit nervous… We organized a new meeting with the Agency and did just that! What I really appreciated in Phil, was his very calm, relaxed way in handling what was becoming a complex situation, with so much confidence he managed to get us out of a sticky situation by simply saying: ‘Look, we can score and produce anything you like but if you don’t give us a clear briefing and a reference, we are not going to go in any good direction, all we know is from now on, we stop additional demos, you give us a clear reference with a new budget!” I looked at Phil stunned, he kicked my foot under the table, I kept quiet. And that’s exactly what they agreed to do, they gave us a new budget, a new Music reference; Kanye West (I almost cried), and we headed back to Aloha Studios, Phil and Yacine started all over again, when they were done, I mixed the new track with the sound design and sent that off to the Agency. When that track was finished, the client was finally very happy… That’s was the most important and all that mattered! Click HERE to view our reference. I’m sorry, I’m not going to point you to the Kanye West reference, I just can’t, I don’t want to make you cry!