Red Stewart chats with Jumanji sound editor Julian Slater talks Welcome to the Jungle and working with Edgar Wright…
Julian Slater has been working in the film industry since the early 1990s, usually in varying positions in the sound and audio departments. His extensive filmography covers television shows, independent movies, and blockbusters, ranging from Murphy’s Law to Mad Max: Fury Road, though he is best known for his frequent collaborations with British writer/director Edgar Wright.
The latest film he worked on is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. We at Flickering Myth had the honor of speaking with him about the movie and his career as a whole.
First off, congratulations on Jumanji [Welcome to the Jungle]. The sound design in it was absolutely incredible.
It’s good fun, yeah. It’s a good movie. The chemistry between Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black is really good. It’s an action movie, but it’s also a comedy. It’s great.
I want to take about your career in general, but since Jumanji’s out, I did have a few questions regarding it. Obviously it’s a sequel to the original Jumanji that came out in the 90s with Robin Williams. When you were designing the sound, I was wondering, did you consult with the various editors or mixers that had worked on the original Jumanji, or did you rewatch the film and try to hearken back to it in a way. Or was it like, you were given a clean slate and told to do your own thing. Obviously respecting the original, but more do your own thing than pay homage to it?
I love the original. And in fact, just before I started Jumanji, I, last Christmas when I knew I was going to be doing it, I rewatched it with my two young boys. And for a movie that is 20 years old, the special effects really hold up, and it’s a great sounding movie as well. But this one is kind of like a reboot, it’s not much a sequel, it’s more of a reboot. And as such, there wasn’t really a question of using [stuff from prior] or even paying homage.
When you see the movie you’ll kind of understand, but…they go into the Jumanji computer game. So it was really a question about creating a new environment. You know, it’s based in a jungle, but it’s a computer game jungle, so you don’t have to be realistic necessarily. So it was really a question of kind of starting from scratch and trying to make all the environments sound realistic, yet have a different [sound] to them so they weren’t based in reality.
Right, the movie remains a childhood favorite of mine as well. Robin Williams was a phenomenal actor. You talked about creating this jungle environment, because obviously that’s what the original was about and that’s what this one is as well. When you go about crafting that sound, are you doing it purely from a studio or is there any recording of outside sounds to incorporate into the movie? I remember watching a documentary, for example, on the making of the Pixar movie Ratatouille and they actually had to hand-create all the kitchen sounds. I thought that was pretty fascinating. I’m wondering, what was the process like for you?
So it’s a mixture really. I don’t know how much you know about the process of what I do, but the various areas of the sound process….we have the dialogue editor, who takes care of all the words, and will shoot the ADR where it’s needed because the production’s not good enough because it’s quite noisy. He’ll shoot ADR and clean up all the [existing] dialogue.
And then you’ve got foley, which is recreating like certain [sounds], so I guess Ratatouille’s a good example, where anything that’s specific to the action you then foley. So for example, this movie has got a lot of….the bad guys riding these motorcycles, so all the suspension, creaks, and like every time they go over a jump and land, we re-record it. We got motor bikes in and record it kind of [suspended]. And when they’re driving through heavy brush and foliage, you get all the foliage in and kind of smack it. Smack the foliage with cane sticks and stuff to try and get some groovy sounds and stuff. So that’s that.
And then there’s also the sound design aspect, which is a mixture of kind of going out and recording stuff. And then I’ve got a library of loads of other stuff that I then also use to try and manipulate to make something new. So for example, some of the jungle atmospheres are….backgrounds from around the world. We don’t have to be location realistic. I’ve got stuff from Costa Rica, I’ve got stuff in there from jungles in Brazil….So it’s a mixture of recording stuff and then taking existing stuff. You see, I don’t have the luxury of going to all the corners of the world to record [sound] from scratch. But I have various libraries that I then manipulate and kind of rework to tailor to the specific job.
And have those libraries been acquired from your past films?
Yeah, its a mixture to be honest. It’s like, a commercial library that you can purchase. At the end of every movie I kind of archive everything so that I’ve got it for the next time around because, if I’m going to do a car chase movie again I know that I’ve recorded a whole bunch of stuff for Baby Driver, so I’m probably going to delve into that. And then there’s also libraries from other productions….Sometimes I’ll trade a library, I’ll speak to someone whose movie [has] got a certain group of sounds in them, [and] see if I can trade some sounds with them. But, there’s a bit of a black market of sound editors who try to [sell] stuff, and then you purchase stuff, and then….you record and create stuff.
That’s very interesting sir. If I may ask, is sound very much legally binding? Do you have to go through studio executives and make sure there’s nothing violating copyright laws? I remember from my film school days how, if you wanted to play a clip from a TV show, you had to get all sorts of rights tied to the dialogue and individual recordings. It’s very complicated, I was surprised.
No, it is. As an example, I did a movie a few years ago called Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which had loads of computer games’ sounds. But we knew that we weren’t going to get them. It was going to be way too expensive….to get clearance for those effects. So we recreated them from scratch. So, you have to be very careful. Things like phone rings you have to get clearance for using. You can’t use any music. You have to be very careful… yeah, you have to be very diligent. Because if something slips through the net and gets out there and you have no clearance for it, then you could be in trouble.
Speaking of Scott Pilgrim, I remember reading about your work on it and how you said it was fun to recreate the sounds from past video games. When it comes to sound design, would you rather create your own thing or do a homage depending on whatever the director asks you to do?
You always want to create. Every movie is unique in its own way. And so my job is to make the soundtrack mix well. If you look at all the [recent] movies I’ve done, they all sound unique in their own way. Scott Pilgrim sounds different to Mad Max and Mad Max sounds different to Jumanji and Jumanji sounds different to Baby Driver….and also, it’s just a matter of kind of professional pride really. I want each movie that I work on to sound unique and for it to have something fresh and something that maybe, someone hasn’t heard before. Even people who aren’t in my industry. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than someone listening to work that I’ve done and….commenting on it in a positive manner. So it’s always about trying to push the boundaries of what you can do I would say.
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