The Sounds of The Slap

04 February, 2013 by IF

This article first appeared in IF magazine Issue #146

Even though Matchbox Pictures’ award-winning project was an eight-part TV series, sound designer Craig Carter treated it like a full-blown feature film.


“I think TV tends to be a bit kind of ‘let’s just get it covered’,” says Carter. “With most TV, it tends to be ‘you see a movement and you hear a sound for that’ – they’re not really doing anything that you don’t see. Whereas in cinema, we start to move into the more traditional role of what music does, which is try and describe the emotional state somebody is in and take up the storytelling, and that’s what we were trying to do with The Slap and I think we got there.”

That emotional storytelling was the key to the success of the series which was based on Christos Tsiolkas’ best-selling novel.

“The slap itself is like a volcano that allows this stuff to come out and all these grievances and things surface,” Carter says.

Each episode delved into a character’s life – and essentially mental state. For example, Anouk (Essie Davis) falls pregnant in episode two so the key for the sound team was to further depict that worry – sounds that make her fearful of committing to being a mother. Hector (Jonathan LaPaglia) carries around a lot of emotional guilt because of his situation with Connie (Sophie Lowe). Therefore, sounds such as cars are isolated but the sound of him smoking is increased, while Connie is in a fantasy world so there are “sparkly, soft” sounds. Harry, who has a bad temper, would have violent background sounds such as a distant car crash and this was embedded into the atmosphere track.

“So it’s really looking at each of the characters and looking at what sounds suited,” Carter says. “You’re trying to describe – like the DOP is trying to describe the look of a film – we try to, I guess, mirror that with sound.”

ABC’s Colin Jones was brought on as the series’ sound recordist – a position he’s assumed on many ABC series such as Angry Boys, The Librarians and The Adventures of Lano & Woodley. His preparation begins with the script.

“The script gives you an idea of where the locations are, the context – it gives you a good idea of how you’re going to mic it,” says Jones, who recently recorded the sound for another popular ABC series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

For The Slap, Jones used a number of Sennheiser mics for both interior and external dialogue/spot effects and atmosphere tracks (MKH-416, MKH-816, MKH 40). When the production went inside, Jones employed Sennheiser MKH 40s because they have low sensitivity in comparison to say the Sennheiser MKH-416s.

Lectrosonics radio mics (411 RX, SM & SMA TX) were also utilised on the series, but the boom was never too far away.

“I’ll keep running it because it’s actually matching the wider shot. But if you cut to the closeup and the radio mic is clear on clothing and is adequate quality and it matches that, then we’re fine.

“Then when we continue shooting and come in for closer coverage, the wide shot is no longer there so I can get the boom closer. But if I was just to have one or the other at that point, the qualities of the boom and the radio mic can be indifferent – they might not match.

“So if I suddenly stop using the radio mic and kept the boom going, acoustically they might not match and it might cause a jump in the quality when the mix is done. Because I’ve got the multi-tracks I continue with both which means that the mixer at the end of the day can choose what he feels is best.”

The sound was sent to a Sound Devices 744T four-track hard disc recorder.

Carter used two HD Avid Pro Tools systems for sound design on The Slap so he could run as many simultaneous tracks as he wanted. “When you get into sound design, it becomes about what shape the sounds are going to take and the mixing… it’s a creative and technical process so everybody has a take on that. But there’s a pathway that’s followed,” he says.

That pathway includes input from several sound crew members – a dialogue editor, a foley team and a sound mixer. Dialogue for The Slap was cut on a Fairlight system which is quite conventional and it was mixed on a Pro Tools-based mixing console.

Carter – who was in post for about 13 weeks on The Slap – estimated about 15 per cent of the series needed ADR (Additional Dialogue Replacement).

Carter, using Japanese Sanken mics, re-recorded “everything that moved basically” so the sounds could be brought even closer. “Sound recordists often have to get back further than what they want to from the actor and that’s why they use radio mics a lot,” he says. “But when you’re re-recording, I can be an inch from the sound if I want to be.

“The requirements are logged and shot-listed and then I go round and re-record those and re-fit those back against the picture. And that’s what is used to bring the reality forward to make it a little larger than life.”

The foley team also re-recorded typical sounds like opening doors and footsteps. “It’s essentially done because when delivery is made to other territories, they sometimes will just subtitle it but in a lot of cases they don’t – they replace the dialogue.” This however means that the non-dialogue sounds are also gone and need to be put back in.

“So that’s the primary function of foley recording and after that it becomes a inventive thing – in creating a reality or exaggerating sounds or making sounds larger than life.”

Jones adds it’s frustrating when the sound is overlooked – even though it’s the nature of the business. “In the band we’re the bass player. The director is the lead singer. The DOP is the lead guitarist. But we have to be there for the band to make the music”.