The sci-fi action thriller Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie, and shot largely in the Czech Republic, received a nomination for Best Sound Mixing at this year’s Academy Awards. Czech soundman Petr Forejt - a veteran on numerous international projects – was part of the team, and although the film didn’t take the Oscar in the end, even a nomination is considered a major success. This Friday Jan Velinger spoke to Petr Forejt in Radio Prague’s studio, asking what it was like to work on Wanted as well as his first reaction when he learned he was an Oscar nominee.
“It was a really big surprise for me! Truly, I didn’t expect it. I got a phone call from a Czech journalist and I asked why they were calling and they said you were nominated, what can you tell us? As it was, I couldn’t get to the internet for three hours to read about it. It was a big surprise.”
How did the awards ceremony itself rate as an experience?
“It was a great experience for us and kind of a dream. It was really well organised and the show was just excellent. Once you step into the theatre watching the show is amazing. It was really perfect.”
The host – Hugh Jackman – was also very successful.
“Oh my goodness! I had a chance to work with Hugh Jackman here in Prague on a film called Van Helsing so I got to know him a little bit, but I was so surprised. First, he introduced the movies by singing and then a little later, dancing. Perfect!”
What was that moment like, that famous moment, when they read ‘And the winner is…’ ?
“Well, of course you expect that there is a chance that you can win. But when they said something else it was normal… you clap and say congratulations guys, you did it, and maybe it’ll be us next time.”
So, no disappointment?
“No disappointment at all. You have to accept it and if you think about it the guys on Slumdog Millionaire did a really good job. Somebody liked their work more than our soundtrack and that’s all there is to it.”
“Actually I had little chance to talk to her. I just waved when she passed by with Brad Pitt and later they left the theatre together at the end of the show, so there was no chance to talk to her. But after the Oscars there’s the Governor’s ball which is a really nice dinner with music, so I got a chance to talk to quite a few people there.”
I read that you got your start as a boom operator: how does that job compare to your responsibilities as a sound mixer?
“That’s right, I started as a boom operator almost 20 years ago before making to move to production sound mixer. As the boom operator your only responsibility is to the sound mixer: it’s your job to pick up good sounds with the microphone. But as the sound mixer you are responsible for the final mixed track on the set. So, you are responsible to the director, to the producers, and you have to deal with many people. I would say it is a bit more difficult: you have to know how to operate all the equipment which is not easy these days: everything is digital with hard-drives and all that stuff. You have to keep up with a lot of information, follow the latest style in work approach and so on.”
You are also ‘responsible’ to the actors, I imagine, because if they get their lines perfectly in a scene and if for some reason you don’t catch it, or the boom operator misses it, it must be a little unpleasant…
“That’s true, especially when you work with stars like Angelina or Morgan Freeman. They expect nothing less than complete professionalism on the set. If you say ‘I didn’t catch it’ or that you didn’t record something perfectly they would say ‘What?!’…”
So it doesn’t happen?
“So it… well, it can happen maybe once or twice on an entire shoot. But if it happens a third time you can be fired. For us it can be quite tricky because you have to work with so many microphones on the set: these days radio mikes are really popular, so you have to place them in the right spot to get the lines clean and to work without the boom as well. So, it’s quite tricky sometimes.”
That leads me into my next question, which is there must be scenes which are more difficult to get perfect sound, or sets even, where it is more difficult. Were there any moments like that on Wanted?
“Oh sure. It was fairly complicated with some of the locations. Half of the movie was shot in an old factory building: a lot of traffic, a lot of noise, very echoing. It think it was quite tricky for the sound guys on the set.”
When you work with actors like Jolie or Elijah Wood or others are there ever moments after a scene when you think ‘Yeah! He really hit it there!’ ?
“Everything is Illuminated had a lot of moments like that. The movie is really emotional, so there were at least a couple big scenes like that that were really perfect. Wanted is a different genre: its sci-fi action but there are two or three scenes there too when I felt ‘Wow’. The library scene near the end, when a bullet takes them all out: it wasn’t easy to shoot and it really wasn’t easy for the actors.”
Most people know that films aren’t shot in chronological order, making it difficult sometimes to keep the broader picture in mind: are you, as a professional, ever surprised by the final product?
Regarding sound, would there be surprises there, or would you be involved in the process even through post-production?
“Right: especially on American productions you are just a member of the team. For me that means recording the sounds on location and I then pass the final result to someone else who picks it up in post-production. Sometimes you do end up visiting the sound stage and see how things are going, and how the final soundtrack sounds. But most of the time you are the one who is really surprised.”
Can you see yourself working further afield in the future, such as in the US?
“I wouldn’t say it was easy to get work in the US: for one thing I am not a member of the union, second, I think there is a great number of good production sound mixers there already. But, you know, the Oscar nomination will give me the opportunity to work in other parts of Europe. I think that will happen.”
Here’s to the next nomination, and that you go all the way next time.
“Cool. Thanks very much.”
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