TIFF 2021: Sound Editors Rob Bertola, Ayaz Kamani, And Kelly McGahey On Lakewood

DGC Ontario Feature Film Lakewood, directed by Philip Noyce, recently screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. A one-woman show that unfolds primarily in real-time, Lakewood follows Amy Carr (Naomi Watts), a mother out for a morning run when a friend calls with terrifying news: authorities are in pursuit of an active shooter, and her teenage son, Noah, may be caught in the middle.

Deep within a network of forest paths surrounding her home and miles from town, a panicking Amy uses her smartphone and a network of community members working together to ensure that her son survives the attack.

Ahead of the TIFF premiere of Lakewood, we spoke with DGC Ontario Sound Editors Rob Bertola, Ayaz Kamani, and Kelly McGahey about their work on the film, editing a thrilling story told in real-time, their collaboration with the post-production team, and more.

DGC Ontario Sound Editors Rob Bertola, Ayaz Kamani, and Kelly McGahey

How does it feel to have your film premiere at TIFF 2021?

Rob Bertola: It is always an honour to be a part of TIFF. We are all very excited to see the film in a theatre with actual people!

Ayaz Kamani: It feels good. Honestly, because this year’s been so rife with social detachment it’s hard to feel that it’s actually occurred. I imagine the premiere will be pretty convincing. I’m excited! 

Kelly McGahey: It’s an honour and humbling to be a part of TIFF 2021. This will be one of the first films I’ve worked on that premiered at TIFF, so it’s a monumental moment for my career. I hope the audience enjoys the film as much as I did working on it.

Describe what your process is like when it comes to designing sound for tense, suspense-filled thrillers like Lakewood.

KM: The process for Sound Design on any project is that we have a spotting session with the director, picture editor and producers. At this meeting, we all communicate and collaborate sound design ideas for the project while watching it together.

I’m selective and intentional with what sound effects I’m using. I ask myself what would this sound mean to the characters at this point in the film. Does this track feel appropriate for the tone of the scene?

For example, the beginning of the film is a typical day for our characters, without our main conflict. I chose tracks that were active and lively for ambiences like suburban activity and happy birds. As we follow Amy through the film, tensions and conflict become revealed. I took away activity and replaced it with sparse forest ambiences and melancholy birds. The ambiences are reflecting Amy’s anxiety and stress through her situation.

RB: Like most films, it is best to gather as much information as possible. Read the script. If the film is based on a book, read the book. Then at the sound spotting sessions, ask as many questions as you can and do a lot of listening. 

This film is very dialogue-driven, and Ayaz Kamani worked very closely with the director. Every film has its own set of priorities, circumstances and politics. It is your job to get to the heart of it. On Lakewood, the general tone, theme and feelings are “anxiety.” 

AK: As the Dialogue and ADR Editor, I was able to add to the preexisting suspense in Naomi’s performance by editing the ADR for the characters we never see. Whether by slightly adjusting the rhythm of responses, interweaving takes into something more emotionally volatile, adding breaths, and/or overlapping dialogue.

Much of Lakewood unfolds in real-time, with Amy Carr (Naomi Watts) propelling most of the narrative solo. How did you use sound to heighten that experience for the viewer?

RB: For the most part the drama happens over the phone, so we needed to make sure the incoming calls were supported with atmospheres to help us believe them. I added some static and futzing over-the-phone calls to help add to the overall anxiety. As Amy ran deeper into the forest, we delineated each new location with distinct and specific sounds. Kelly McGahey added some great details to the soundtrack. We wanted to keep feeling Amy’s frustration and anxiety, and worked hard to find the ever-shifting balance between sound FX, dialogue and music.

AK: I think the breaths were really useful in maintaining that connection between the viewer and Amy Carr. I remember sometimes while editing ADR breaths, I’d have to take “a breather” (sorry about the low hanging pun), but seriously I’d have to take a break because I’d be nearly hyperventilating. Maybe I have very empathetic lungs.

KM: Naomi Watts is a brilliant actress and we were layering on top of her performance. The story is told through Amy’s perspective so we played with that with our tracks and the mix stage.

I split out of ambiences to match the perspective changes we were seeing in the film, for example, if the camera went to an aerial angle I cut my tracks to match that. Other perspective changes would be Amy’s focus, like when she is fixated on a waterfall. I cut a great detail of the waterfall close up and when we switched to a medium angle shot I would split out my tracks to sonically match the camera’s perspective.

Could you describe your creative collaboration with the rest of the post-production team? 

RB: Philip Noyce, our director, was very open to our ideas and most of the collaborating happened with him. It was then our job to convey it to the various post sound departments. We also had a sound spotting session with the composer to decide on sound design moments.

AK: The majority of the creative collaboration I did was with Phillip, the director. I’d send him rough edits of scenes which I cut together with my notes after each ADR session and then we’d talk about it on the phone, he’d tell me his opinions and fixes, on occasion I’d assert mine, and then I’d make tweaks. 

KM: The creative collaboration with the other Sound Editors are always fulfilling and positive when I’m working on the Sound Dogs team. Rob, Ayaz and I have worked together on other films so we are comfortable communicating with one another and experimenting with ideas.

As a Sound Editor, we work closely with the Picture Editor. Lee Haugen was the Picture Editor for Lakewood. He did a fantastic job building a temp soundtrack for us to reference when editing.

What do you love most about working in Toronto/Ontario?

RB: I love Toronto. I think it’s the best place in the world to live and work! We have so much talent and support here. Toronto is a special place for sure.

AK: The few good friends I’ve made, also I like that it’s sunnier than Vancouver, all you need is a thick scarf.

KM: I love the community feel of working in Toronto. We work on large-scale projects but the crew feels tight. I love the diversity and storytelling in Toronto/Ontario. I’m glad to see our stories being recognized on international platforms.

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