Anna Bertmark is a Brighton-based sound-designer who has worked on films such as The Queen, The Goob and most recently, Love/Me/Do. Bjournal spoke to Anna about her job as a sound-designer and her life in Brighton.
Why did you decide to be a sound designer?
I didn’t really know there was a thing called a sound designer until I was looking for work after I graduated from university and I wanted to be a music producer and record music, but at the time a lot of the big studios were closing down because of falling CD sales. iTunes was taking off and equipment was much cheaper so a lot of people were recording at home. I got a job with a guy called Paul Davis, he’s a sound supervisor and he worked on ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ so he’s very much an art-house sound designer and he needed an assistant. So I started working with him, making tea and just helping out and slowly started assisting the sound editors. It was really nice to be surrounded by people who cared so much about what they did and it rubbed off on me, to be able to affect the audiences experience in the cinema, so that made me decide to become a sound designer.
What do you actually do as a sound designer?
A sound designer is like a costume designer. They’re responsible for creating the style and overall delivery of the sound in the film. It starts with reading the film script and having a chat with the director and asking them about what style they want, what type of film it is, and ideas they might have. All the sounds in the film apart from the dialogue are added afterwards. So it’s a big job to recreate the sound to make it seem believable. Sound shouldn’t be noticed, it should just feel right. They also liaise with the director and film editor and other members of the sound team, sound recording mixers who are more on the engineering side. We sit for a few weeks in this big studio like a cinema with a huge mixing desk and just tweak things so it sounds good for the cinema. My job is to make sure everything sounds good and delivered on time. It can also mean that they are responsible for one sound in the whole movie. For example, Batman, they have quite a few sound designers and one or two of them are in charge of the sound of the Batmobile.
The movie industry is quite male dominated, do you work with many other female sound designers?
Yeah there are quite a few now. I meet more and more young women who have discovered it and are coming out as freelancers. A few years ago there weren’t that many but now there are quite a few more and it’s really great that so many more women are discovering what a cool job it is. It’s very encouraging.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m in the middle of doing the sound for a documentary about a Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. He started the mindfulness movement and I spent a week in the Buddhist Monastery in France where he lives and I recorded a sound library of the place, all the bells they have and the gongs and the nature surrounding it so I’m using that for the documentary. It’s amazing, it’s a dream job and I get to work with some amazing people. Jack Stew is one of the best foley artists in the world (Slumdog Millionaire, Brighton Rock, Never Let Me Go), he does all the footsteps and all the tactile sounds. So it should be good.
What has been your favourite project so far?
It’s really hard to choose. Usually the project I’m working on at the moment is my favourite because I’m so focused on that but I would have to say The Goob which I worked on a few years ago. It was incredible experience. I got on board really early before they had started filming so I had lots of time to plan the sound design from the script really. By the time I had seen the rough cut of the film my ideas just slotted in really nicely and it worked out really well. It was good to have time to sit and plan things I had never done before, some experimental things made it into the cut of the final film. And everyone was so nice and so great to work with and are still great friends today. It’s also a really great film as well, lots of noisy cars!
What is your favourite thing about being a Sound Designer?
The people I get to meet, and the stories I get to work on, I can never predict what it’s going to be next. Every film is different and I get to work with all these genuinely passionate people who just want to tell a good story. It’s taken me to so many different places, like the Monastery in France and to F1 Race Tracks. I’ve had some really cool experiences. I love reading a script and getting completely obsessed with it and then planning to create the best sound experience for the audience, and the first time the director hears the sounds and they’re happy, it’s a very satisfying experience.
Are you able to distance yourself from your job when you watch other movies? Or do you find yourself wondering what you would do differently?
I can distance myself now. But sometimes I will hear something and think ‘that was a bit lazy, you could have gone further with that’ but I also understand that what it’s like to do it so I usually think to myself ‘there must have been a reason they did it like that and not another way’. I went to the cinema recently actually and there was a well-known sound from a sound library, and I knew the file name and everything but it’s fun I don’t really mind it. Usually if it’s a good film I can just enjoy it. Also, if a film is good I can also say that it was well done, in terms of sound design, I can appreciate it much more.
You’ve lived in many different countries. What was that like?
When I was growing up I was moving around in loads of different places and it was quite stressful as a child because you don’t feel like you can stay in one place. On the other hand it gave me a chance to experience different cultures and understand how the world works and you get a different perspective. It comes in really handy when working on films because you can adjust much easier because every film is different. It’s been a real asset for me.
Why did you decide to settle in the UK?
I went to school in Sweden but I really wanted to be a music producer but there was only one course in the entire country, and it was really north by the Polar Xircle where there was an average three hours sunlight and I just thought “no”. I’m from the South so I didn’t fancy it. I then heard that there were loads more courses in the UK. I got into Rose Bruford College to study Music Technology in London. I had made loads of friends and there were more opportunities in London than there are in Sweden. People take more risks.
What is your favourite thing and least favourite thing about the UK?
It’s really tricky. My least favourite thing is probably that you have separate taps! They aren’t as common over here. It’s silly things like that, in Sweden everyone has triple glazing and mixed taps and no damp and here people don’t tend to prioritise those things. My favourite thing is that it’s very socially spontaneous, and it’s easier to chat to people you don’t know. People here are friendly. There are more chances to take risks over here, and it’s easier to do things over here that I enjoy.
You live in Brighton, what is your favourite thing about Brighton? Why did you choose to live here?
I lived in London for about ten years and I’ve lived here for about five years. I will never get over the fact that you can walk everywhere. Everything is about a ten minute walk and I love that, it makes life much easier and more enjoyable. And the fact that it’s by the sea and it’s not far from London where I work a lot, or Gatwick so I can fly home to Sweden.
So what are your plans for the future?
Just to keep doing what I’m doing. I love my job and love my life here. I would love to meet more directors who are excited about sound, and I’d love to work on bigger budget films which I am doing more of. I’ve got a couple of exciting projects lined up but I’m not allowed to talk about them much yet, it’s all bit under wraps at the minute.
Do you have any plans to go back to Sweden at all?
Not in the near future. I go back about four or five times a year because it’s about four hours door to door so it’s not too far. It means I don’t miss it that much. If I did go back, I would go back to somewhere where there is more of a movie industry.
Anna mentioned after the interview that there is an event taking place at Lighthouse, an arts and culture agency here in Brighton. They also have the UK’s leading mentoring scheme for budding filmmakers. The event is called The Sound of Story and takes place on the 17th and 18th of November. Anna herself is doing a workshop on the 18th and there are many other talks by composers
and sound mixers. You can find out more about The Sound of Story here.